Liquid Gold: Energy Privatization in British Columbia
by John Calvert
In case you think the Premier’s climate action commitment is anything more than a hoax let me tell you a bit about the incredibly dirty privatization of BC Hydro.
Just before Christmas I took a day long economics course sponsored by the BCGEU and taught by John Calvert. One part of the course was devoted to the changes made to BC Hydro by the BC Liberals and the costs we will all be facing as a result. John has just published an excellent book on the topic called Liquid Gold: Energy Privatization in British Columbia, and I urge everyone to take the time to read it. It will teach you just how our government goes about taking apart our public institutions and using them to make billions for their buddies.
The BC Liberal government has decided to destroy BC Hydro, W.A.C. Bennett’s public power corporation, for the benefit of their friends and corporate backers. No other privatization in Canada comes close to the cost, size and underhanded trickery involved in this one.
Bennett built this corporation because there was no other way to ensure the development of our natural resources, the costs involved were too prohibitive for private businesses to take on. What resulted was a crown corporation that provided clean, extremely cheap electricity to business (far too cheap), and inexpensive electricty for taxpayers. We have had the second lowest rates in North America for the last 20 years and this common asset is the reason.
Gordon Campbell, always attuned to the wails of the corporations who said that BC Hydro had an unfair advantage, decided to open up the goldmine. IPP's (Independent Power Producers), were given insider information in the form of a comprehensive study paid for by taxpayers as to where to place their ‘run of the river’ power plants which were touted as a wonderful environmental innovation. These profiteers have taken out 535 licenses most of which are on First Nations land claims and for which no compensation is planned.
The projects are unquestionably an environmental nightmare. The Parks Act has been changed to allow these smooth operators to clearcut transmission lines through the pristine wilderness of our parks just by asking for the park boundaries to be changed. The projects are small often only in comparison with huge hydro dams. They are not small in any environmental sense. They require large holding reservoirs, access roads -- all the usual disturbances -- and our salmon runs and other wildlife habitat will vanish all the faster as a result.
BC Hydro has been forced to give up it’s transmission lines to a separate corporation called BC Transmissions. Hydro is no longer allowed to create new power. It must now leave this task to private businesses: the run of the river projects. Even worse, BC Hydro is now forced to buy uneconomic power (power that is inconsistently available) from the projects:
“Private developers can thus obtain prices through BC Hydro contracts that are much higher than either the price BC Hydro would pay if it generated the energy itself or the price it would pay to out-of-province suppliers if permitted to rely on this market for some of its future energy requirements [BC Hydro buys low from outside BC in low use hours and sells high during peak hours because the market price of energy fluctuates hourly according to use]. In short the government’s policy framework has resulted in a very sweet deal for private power interests in B.C.”
Citizens can stop this. Unlike columnist Bill Tieleman of The Tyee internet news, I do not believe what the Liberals are doing cannot be stopped and cannot be undone. We will have huge court battles, but if we stick to the principle of 'no taxation without representation' I believe we can fight these multinationals. We must point out that our governments signed trade agreements behind closed doors, with no public input, no due diligence, no public debate and against the public will (polling has proved this time and time again). Therefore our public assets are being sold illegally under the guise of fair market or free trade.
I believe the courts will ultimately uphold this as the basic principle of democracy. Citizens are not less than their governments: governments only serve at the pleasure of the citizens. When we elect them, they do not become our parent and we are not unschooled children. Government is a tool meant to carry out our vision. Did any of us envision massive raw log exports, salmon killed by sea-lice and oil tankers slopping their poison down our coasts? Of course not. Nor did we authorize the sale of our rivers and the destruction of our BC Hydro assets.
The whole idea that BC is facing a power crisis has been manufactured for profit. Read the book and find out the real reasons your BC Hydro rates are about to make a huge jump!