Yesterday during budget estimate debates I took the opportunity to question the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources on a number of topics involving clean energy projects, the Columbia River Treaty Entitlement and the folly of proceeding with Site C.
The line of questioning was designed to get the Minister to recognize that continuing to construct Site C is a fiscally reckless way forward. My questioning culminated with me asking the Minister directly:
Why are you not making a decision today to terminate Site C?
I was not very impressed with the responses I received.
A. Weaver: I have a series of very short questions on the Columbia River entitlement. My first question is: how much power is British Columbia entitled to under the Columbia River entitlement?
Hon. M. Mungall: The Columbia River treaty is under the purview of the Minister for Children and Family Development. It’s not under this ministry, unfortunately.
A. Weaver: This line of questioning is very germane to the topic at hand. I would suggest the minister should be able to answer this question, because the amount of power that British Columbia is able to get under the Columbia River entitlement is exactly the same, almost precisely the same as the amount that Site C would provide.
My question, then, to the minister is: how much is British Columbia getting, on average, from electricity sold to the U.S. spot market that could otherwise come to B.C. under the Columbia River entitlement?
Hon. M. Mungall: It’s $125 million at current market prices.
A. Weaver: What does that translate to in terms of per kilowatt hour or per megawatt hour, in terms of costs, that is being sold?
I didn’t mean this question to take so long. It was almost a rhetorical question, because the answer is about $40 per megawatt hour, and that calculation is done very, very quickly.
The reason why I wanted to ask that question is I would have hoped that the minister would be on top of this file. Because $40 per megawatt hour is less than half what the projected future cost…. The revenues being brought to the province are $127 million a year. Why is B.C. Hydro not considering power available under the Columbia River entitlement to meet this hypothetical demand in either the low or medium forecast?
Hon. M. Mungall: Sorry I was taking so long. There’s no need to be antagonistic. I was just trying to get some further information to provide to the member in reference to his question. He doesn’t want that, so okay.
The reason why B.C. Hydro isn’t looking at the Columbia River entitlement is partly that the Columbia River treaty is up for renegotiation. I would hope the member would know that. As a Columbia Basin resident, it’s one of the things that we’ve been working on since well before 2014, the first opportunity to give notice for renegotiation because the treaty comes to an end at 2024. It’s one of the reasons we’re not able to ensure that it’s with any certainty.
I see the member for Kootenay East. He will know this as well. Any Kootenay MLA will know this and know what’s going on presently with the Columbia River treaty.
A. Weaver: Frankly, I find that answer quite remarkable. Of course I’m aware about the Columbia River treaty, and Site C is not to be built any time before 2024…. I mean, it will be 2021 before that’s built. The reality is that there is power available today, firm power to the amount available for Site C for any interim costs.
My follow-up question to the minister is this. Why is it that we have about 170 megawatts — or 117, I believe it is — in the standing offer program that’s gone through and there’s no call for power? Why is it that B.C. Hydro did not put a call out for power at ten cents a kilowatt hour and take, accepting those applications in the standing offer program…? Because we know that the price of Site C, as noticed by the BCUC and the ongoing tension cracks that we’re seeing, is going to come in higher than that. Why was no call for power at ten cents per kilowatt hour issued?
Hon. M. Mungall: First, the standing offer program and calls for power were different types of programs.
The call for power — B.C. Hydro did calls for power in 2003, 2006, 2008. After the last one, the recommendation to the previous government was to go forward with Site C rather than another call for power. Their rationale, at the time, was that B.C. needed more firm power, not more intermittent power and that intermittent power was being generated at a higher cost than what B.C. Hydro felt they could do in terms of constructing Site C.
That’s the reason why there hasn’t been a call for power since then. The member will note this government took action in terms of bringing Site C to the B.C. Utilities Commission, as that decision to move forward without a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission was done by the previous government, not ours.
A. Weaver: I correct my previous statement. There are 137 megawatts in the standing offer program ready to go, including 15 megawatts of an amazing solar facility by Rocky Mountain Solar in the Cranbrook area ready to go — on private land, with support of the local community, transmission lines through the property, ready to go, scalable to 50 megawatts. Give them a price. They’ll deliver. We have examples of pump storage on Vancouver Island and in the Kootenays as well, ready to go, but again, B.C. Hydro is not bringing them into the fold.
So my question to the minister is this. In light of the fact that we have the BCUC, why are you not making a decision today to terminate Site C? For four years now, the B.C. Greens have pointed out the fiscal folly of moving down this path solely to deliver to below-market contracts that were signed with LNG proponents that have left British Columbia. Why, based on all the evidence, are we kicking the can down the road until December when a decision could have been made in May, it could have been made in June, it could have been made in September, and it could be made today?
Hon. M. Mungall: I just wanted to ask my staff a quick question. The member brought up pump storage, and I interpreted that to mean pump storage that is active in the Kootenays, and that was something I wasn’t aware of going on. The reason why I wasn’t aware of it is because it’s actually not taking place in the Kootenays. There may be proposals that are currently being developed by some entrepreneurial individuals, but in terms of it actually existing right now, it doesn’t. So I was just curious about that.
To answer the member’s question about why a decision isn’t being made today, why a decision wasn’t being made in May or in June. I think looking back in terms of what has happened over the summer…. The member was very active in it, so I think he knows the answer to those particular timelines.
In terms of today, well, we’ve been very clear with our process. We’ve sent things to the B.C. Utilities Commission, as we committed to the electorate that we would do, as we committed that we would do in our supply agreement with the member and other members of the Green Party. That process has now finalized in terms of the BCUC’s report on November 1. And as we’ve said, to answer the member’s question, we have to do our due diligence. We have to provide appropriate analysis of the B.C. Utilities Commission report. We have to do that due diligence, and we have to take the time appropriate to do so, and so we are doing that.
That being said, we also recognize that there is a lot of uncertainty for people. I mean, I can absolutely empathize with people in the north. I know that members opposite in the B.C. Liberal caucus are representing their interests very well in terms of wanting to make sure that a decision is done in a timely manner, and that’s why we’ve committed to doing that by the end of this calendar year.