VICTORIA – The first of a series of BC Hydro rate increases takes effect in April 2014, adding $8 a month to the average residential power bill.
Rate increases of nine per cent next year and six per cent in 2015 are the highest of a series of increases over five years announced Monday by Energy Minister Bill Bennett. The B.C. Utilities Commission will be directed to set rate increases that total up to 28 per cent over the next five years, then determine what rates are needed for the following five years, Bennett said.
Commercial rates are going up the same amount.
Bennett acknowledged that rate increases are being kept low by using a "rate smoothing" account that defers more than $1 billion of the utility's debt. That account won't begin to be paid down until after 2020.
BC Hydro CEO Charles Reid said the latest rate increases are driven mainly by a large increase in capital spending, including seismic refits of old dams at Campbell River and Ruskin, turbine expansions at two Kootenay power dams and other upgrades. BC Hydro's "big build" era of 1973 to 1982 produced rate increases totalling 113 per cent.
BC Hydro cited an annual survey by Hydro Quebec that shows BC Hydro customers currently pay the third lowest rates in North America. Montreal and Winnipeg customers pay less, and Seattle and Miami residents pay slightly more.
NDP energy critic John Horgan said Bennett avoided the impact of private power purchases on BC Hydro's rate increases.
"We're going to have increased debt for the next five years," Horgan said. "They're going to continue to take a dividend from a company that can't afford to pay one, and the consequences for people are going to be higher costs."
Bennett said the 10-year plan calls for the government to "wean itself off" dividends from the utility, but the five years of reductions don't start until 2018.
The government has instructed BC Hydro to shut down the gas-fired Burrard Thermal generating station in Port Moody by 2016, saving an estimated $14 million a year. The forecast electricity surplus over the 10-year plan allows that, but the facility will continue to be staffed for its grid stability function, Reid said.