` Columbia Journal- Hydro Sell-off is a Public Rip-off
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Hydro Sell-off is a Public Rip-off
by Rudy Lawrence

they mean higher rates for everyone.

With the third lowest rates in North America and a stable supply of non-polluting energy, BC has an electricity system that is the envy of the world.

Now, the BC government is preparing to break-up BC Hydro, privatize future power generation, and hand over one third of all jobs to Accenture, a private international corporation with head offices in Bermuda--all without public consultation and without the support of British Columbians.

Instead of focusing on the provincešs needs, the government is driven by giant energy companies who will be the only winners under the proposed restructuring. We need to look no farther than Alberta to see why this is a bad idea. Alberta was once one of the cheapest electricity jurisdictions in North America. After their energy restructuring, prices have skyrocketed and are 300 per cent more than here in BC.

So why do it? Energy Minister Neufeld claims BC is out of power. This is a manufactured crisis not supported by the evidence. We have the tremendous advantage of storing energy behind our dams. We buy power when price is cheap and sell the stored energy when the price is high. The 2002 BC Hydro annual report shows that almost half of imports are turned around for export. Importing power is only done as a shrewd business move or like last year, when water levels are extremely low. This year, water levels are expected be 106 per cent of normal.

We currently have such a surplus of power that we are spilling water at the Peace and Columbia River dams. We also have 1400 megawatts per year that will return to us from the downstream benefits of the Columbia River Treaty starting in 2003. This will power 500,000 BC homes a year.

Of course we need to continue to develop new sources of power, but there is no need to break-up BC Hydro to do it. There are many possibilities. including river projects, wood waste, wind power and other green projects which, in combination with a beefed up Power Smart program, could meet our needs well into the future.

Any project--public or private--will be supported by debt, and BC Hydro is in perfect position to make these future investments. While Minister Neufeld has said that the company is broke, investment houses continue to rate BC Hydro highly with an AA- credit rating. If we privatize future power generation, we allow someone else to own the asset and we pay rent, through our electricity rates. If we invest publicly, we make mortgage payments and own the asset at the end of the day. Clearly, BC Hydro remains our best choice to meet future energy demands.

Providing electricity is not the same as selling toasters. Every single British Columbian relies on electricity to power their homes and businesses. Stability and reliability are key features that would be lost if we dismantle BC Hydro and privatize future generation. When private energy companies say they want "the right climate" for investment, they mean higher rates for everyone. That will make a few energy companies happy, but the rest of us will pay the price.

Email, write or visit your MLA. It is time to speak out before it is too late.

Rudy Lawrence is a director of the BC Citizens for Public Power, a non-profit, grass roots group formed to provide a voice to the overwhelming majority of British Columbians who support public power. He is also the President of the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations (COSCO). Citizens for Public Power can be reached at www.citizensforpublicpower.ca or call 604-790-3352

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