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B.C. freezes hydro rates as government mulls Site C decision

Premier John Horgan said Site C is a “big challenge” as legislature takes a week off.

Construction work has been underway for more than two years in the Peace Valley on the Site C hydroelectric dam, near Fort St. John, as seen in this 2017 photo.

Courtesy/Peace Valley Hydro Partners / Metro Web Upload

Construction work has been underway for more than two years in the Peace Valley on the Site C hydroelectric dam, near Fort St. John, as seen in this 2017 photo.

British Columbia has promised to freeze hydro rates until April 2019 as government considers the fate of the Site C dam.

The province announced the rate freeze on Wednesday, which must still be approved by the B.C. Utilities Commission, as the legislature was preparing to take the next week off, giving ministers a chance to consult with northern communities and First Nations on the future of the under-construction megaproject.

According to government, BC Hydro rates have increased more than 24 per cent in the last four years, and more than 70 per cent since 2001.

Rates are set to increase by another three per cent next year.

“British Columbians deserve a break on their bills,” said Minister of Energy Michelle Mungall in a statement. “We’re going to make sure that BC Hydro is working for the benefit of all British Columbians and that its rates reflect that commitment.”

The province is planning a comprehensive review of BC Hydro’s operations next year with an eye towards identifying “changes and cost saving”, it says.

Any changes as a result of the review will be reflected in rates starting April 2019.

The decision to freeze hydro rates was criticized by Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who accused the NDP of using energy as a “political tool.”

“If the NDP truly want to make life more affordable, freezing hydro rates without developing an energy strategy – which will simple saddle our children with these costs – is not the solution,” Weaver said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Mungall and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser will travel to communities and First Nations affected by the Site C dam next week, Premier John Horgan said.

Their visit comes on the heels of the B.C. Utilities Commission report on Site C that found the project’s budget could surpass $10 billion (up from $8.8 billion), will likely miss its 2024 in-service date and that BC Hydro and the previous Liberal government had overestimated energy demand when approving the dam.

The NDP government has promised to decide by the end of the year whether to carry on with construction or to kill the project altogether – which would cost $1.8 billion on top of the $2 billion already spent.

“This is not an easy choice. We’re going to be grappling with it for the next couple of weeks,” Horgan said Wednesday. “The BCUC report makes abundantly clear … that the project is going to be without any doubt over budget and it’s going to be without any doubt off schedule.

“I now, as leader of the government, have to look at what the consequences of our decision will be … on ratepayers. One our economy.”

He blamed the previous B.C. Liberal government for pushing forward with the project without the BCUC’s oversight.

“The previous government made a choice -- a multi-billion dollar choice – based on what appears to be no policy grounds, faulty forecasts from BC Hydro and, mostly importantly, it seemed they were driven by one thing and one thing only: Get it past what Christy Clark called the point of no return,” Horgan lamented. “We could have avoided a lot of grief if this had been done three years ago rather than last month.”

Earlier this month, B.C. Liberal MLA Mike Bernier urged government to go forward with the dam.

“Do we want to have 100 years of clean renewable power, or are we going to write off $4 billion, go back to zero and start over?” he asked.

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