` Columbia Journal- BC Energy Plan Shocking Pay-off
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BC Energy Plan Shocking Pay-off
By Marco Procaccini

The BC Liberal regime's recently released energy plan looks to be anti-consumer, anti-ecology and a pay-off to the private energy firms that support it, say public power advocates.

Liberal energy minister Richard Neufeld introduced the policy on Nov. 25. He said it is intended to "maintain low-cost electricity or promote public power in BC by seeking out greater efficiencies. He insisted the BC Hydro would remain in public hands, despite the government current move to sell over 30 per cent of the utility's operations to the private Bermuda-multi-national firm Accenture, and the plan to break up the utility into several smaller firms.

Accenture, formerly known as Arthur E. Anderson Ltd., has been associated with the California energy disaster by consumer and public interest advocates, as it was the auditing firm for the now bankrupt Enron Corporation. The California state government has since banned it from doing business there.

"We have abundant, diverse and - in many cases - untapped energy resources," said Neufeld. "The plan is designed to harness their potential to meet our future energy needs, stimulate investment and generate revenues to support public programs like health care and education - all in an environmentally responsible way."

He says public ownership of power; environmental integrity and a secure power supply are key features of the plan. However, it also calls for greater private sector corporate involvement in energy production and distribution, and BC Hydro will be blocked from producing more power to satisfy growing demands in order to let them into the system.

In addition, the government has hinted that it is planning to lift the utility rate freeze brought in by the NDP government in the spring, and large increases are expected in order to pay for the cost of profit for private sector energy firms.

"In fact, it guarantees higher prices, calls for the privatization of all new power and one third of the existing company, and promotes polluting energy sources," says Mark Veerkamp of Citizens for Public Power, a coalition of individuals and public interest groups working to stop any of the government's privatization plans for Hydro.

"The government won╣t allow BC Hydro to build new sources of electricity for British Columbians. By law, only private energy companies will be allowed to create the new power our province needs for the future," he said. "This is like saying that all new hospitals will be private ones, and still trying to claim there is a public health care system."

Veerkamp has found frightening similarities between the Liberals' plan and the measures introduced by governments in Alberta, Ontario and California-all of which ended in disaster.

"If we experience brown-outs, black-outs or rapid price increases (like happened in Ontario, Alberta and California, who╣s to blame?" he asked. "BC Hydro╣s mandate to ensure secure power supplies will end. Private energy companies will be accountable to foreign shareholders, not BC taxpayers."

"The energy plan is part of the ministry's goal of generating $24 billion in investment and 8,000 new jobs in the energy and mining sectors over the next six years, and government's overall plan to revitalize the provincial economy," Neufeld said.

But most economists and business analysts from across the political spectrum just don't agree, Veerkamp says, as the devastating impact of higher rates and lower service quality, as well as the financial insecurity, of the private sector energy firms has wreaked havoc everywhere these measures have been introduced.

". The credit rating of many private energy companies including Aquila are at or near junk bond status while BC Hydro's credit rating is AA2," Veerkamp says. "Relying on the private energy sector to produce future supply was the mistake made by Ontario, Alberta, and California where, even as prices rose dramatically, the private sector could not be relied upon to produce future supply. California is embarking on a program of public investment to stabilize their energy supplies and prices."

The Tory government in Ontario recently scrapped its deregulation and privatization plans for Ontario Hydro, after huge rate increases led to widespread business and personal bankruptcies and an increase the province's jobless rate.

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