- Sept 2020
Flaws in BC’s reach for US Solar Energy
A California heat wave is exposing flaws in the BC government’s plan to import more American solar power, says Laureen Whyte of Clean Energy BC (CEBC).
In a media story published in June, BC Energy & Mines Minister, Bruce Ralston said California produces a lot of solar power during the day. And since it is often surplus to what is needed, it can be purchased at much lower rates than what BC Hydro is obliged to pay B.C. producers under electricity purchase agreements.
“It’s very, very cheap because they produce so much of it,” Ralston said. “It’s clean energy.”
“The California power grid is on the verge of collapse,” said Whyte. “There have been rolling blackouts since Friday and this week has been even worse. California has also relied on access to import electricity from neighbouring states if needed, but they are now in a shortage too. Is this the market BC is supposed to rely upon for an ever-growing percentage of its electrical supply?”
The high temperatures have Californians cranking up their conditioners. Lightning strikes have started wildfires that damage the state’s electrical infrastructure. Experts agree that climate change is a significant cause of the extreme weather and they expect climate-related disasters to become more severe and more frequent over the near-term.
“If US West Coast climate events get worse, that only increases the risk to British Columbia that American electricity won’t be available when we need it,” said Whyte.
Under current legislation, BC Hydro is required to have enough power generation of its own, or contracted, to meet provincial needs. The BC government introduced a bill to end “self-sufficiency” in June, but withdrew it after losing support of the opposition parties amidst protests from First Nations, who are active investors and operators of independent power production, and municipalities that benefit from IPPs. Bill 17 could, however, be reintroduced in the future, a move Whyte says is not in the best interests of ratepayers.
“Energy security is just as important as buying at rock bottom prices,” she said. “Cheap California solar is great until it’s not available because of a heatwave or wildfires or transmission congestion. Then what do British Columbians do?”
The government thinks Powerex, BC Hydro’s energy trading subsidiary, can buy excess California solar for $25 to $40 a megawatt-hour. BC private power producers are likely in the $50 range for new projects, with costs dropping rapidly.
“Not only is BC-generated electricity secure and reliable, but British Columbians have benefitted from almost $10 billion of IPP investment and many jobs in communities where unemployment is high,” said Whyte. “As CleanBC is implemented, that could mean tens of billions of investment and thousands of jobs building and operating BC renewable energy projects.”
When calculating the benefit of American solar imports, there is more to consider than just the cost. Comparing slightly lower prices to energy security combined with the economic benefits of BC power production, BC wins every time.