Like other provinces with abundant water resources, British Columbia generates the vast majority of its power from hydroelectricity. In 2014, 95% of BC’s power consumed was generated at hydro facilities located throughout the Peace, Columbia and Coastal regions, ranging from large storage hydro facilities to micro run-of-river projects [i]. The bulk of hydro generation is operated by BC Hydro, a provincial crown corporation with 31 hydro facilities and 3 natural gas plants [ii]. In addition to hydro and natural gas, BC’s supply mix has diversified in recent years to include a growing share of independently owned bioenergy and wind generation facilities, as well as a small amount of solar capacity. Currently, BC’s generating capacity totals approximately 15,500 MW.
In spite of BC’s hydro abundance, which supplies residents with some of the cheapest and cleanest electricity in North America[iii],[iv], several factors are propelling greater diversification of the energy supply mix. BC’s ageing dams and transmission network are in need of extensive upgrading, which has lead to substantial rate hikes in recent years[v]. At the same time, new industrial demand for electricity from increased shale gas production, the export of liquefied natural gas and new mining activity requires the rapid expansion of clean electricity sources if BC is to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets[vi].
Another motivation for diversification stems from the current trend of dryer summers and less mountain run-off due to climate change, which has raised concerns over the future performance of large hydro projects and the need for expensive energy imports during the dryer times of the year[vii]. Moreover, although hydro projects produce very low levels of GHGs, large hydro dams, such as the contentious Site C development on the Peace River currently underway, have significant environmental impacts on river ecosystems and the communities and wildlife that depend on them[viii].
Introduced in 2007, The BC Energy Plan was premised on a goal of 90% renewable electricity generation and year-round energy self-sufficiency, recognizing the need for contributions from a wider range of sources such as bioenergy, geothermal, tidal, run-of-river, solar, and wind power owned and operated by independent power producers (IPPs).
In 2010, the BC government introduced the Clean Energy Act, which increased the overall renewable generation target to 93% and called for BC to become, not just self-sufficient, but a net exporter of clean electricity. It also encouraged fuel switching in the transport and building sectors from fossil fuels to electricity, which coupled with new industrial demand in the energy and mining sectors, has underlined the need for accelerating the development of a variety of renewable energy resources.
[i] Ministry of Energy and Mines, 2015, http://www.empr.gov.bc.ca/EPD/Electricity/supply/hydro/Pages/default.aspx
[ii] BC Hydro. 2015a. Our Facilities. Retrieved 13 Aug 2015 from https://www.bchydro.com/energy-in-bc/our_system/generation/our_facilities.html
[iii] Hydro One. 2015. Electricity rates by province. Retrieved 9 Aug 2015 from http://www.ontario-hydro.com/index.php?page=electricity_rates_by_province
[iv] Environment Canada. 2015. National Inventory Report 1990-2013: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada. Retrieved 9 Aug 2015 from http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/default.asp?lang=En&n=83A34A7A-1.
[v] BC Hydro. 2015b. Revenue Requirements. Retrieved 13 Aug from https://www.bchydro.com/about/planning_regulatory/regulatory_documents/revenue_requirements.html
[vii] Natural Resources Canada. 2014. From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate, Chapter 8: British Columbia. Retrieved 22 Aug 2015 from http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/environment/resources/publications/impacts-adaptation/reports/assessments/2008/ch8/10399
[viii] David Suzuki Foundation. 2010. Protecting the Peace: DSF Statement on BC’s Site C Project. Retrieved 14 Aug 2015 from http://www.davidsuzuki.org/media/news/2010/04/bcs-site-c-project-statement/