WON’T BC NEED MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF ELECTRICITY RIGHT AWAY TO TRANSITION FROM FOSSIL FUELS? Don’t we need Site C, especially with people switching to EVs?

No. BC has a massive electricity surplus and this situation won’t change for many years. We already have enough electricity to switch every car in BC to an EV, as BC Hydro itself admits. We can also take back our Columbia River Entitlement that’s the same amount of electricity as Site C for far less money. We’re currently paying IPPs not to produce electricity. Meanwhile the prices of renewables are falling daily. When we do need more electricity one day, there will be cleaner and cheaper ways of getting it fast.

The Long Answer

We won’t need more electricity in BC for a very long time. Demand is flat and will remain so for many years, even with EVs. And we can’t and won’t transition to electricity from fossil fuels if electricity is too expensive to switch to.

EVs
– BC Hydro itself has stated that we could switch all cars in BC to EVs on BC’s current grid (BC Hydro’s EV expert Alec Tsang to CBC: https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/canada-electric-cars-electricity-system-1.3526558).
EVs largely charge at night, when we can barely give electricity away. And cars will increasingly be charged on local energy grids.

BC has an electricity surplus:
– BC has a massive electricity surplus. We are so awash in electricity that we are effectively paying IPPs (Independent Power Projects on many BC rivers) not to produce it.

And not only do we already have a surplus, we can additionally take back our Columbia River entitlement from the US, which gives us almost the same amount of electricity as the Site C dam, at a small fraction of the cost of Site C. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/6/2017/01/crt-faq.pdf

The economics of exporting power don’t work
Hydropower is expensive to produce, meanwhile BC exports electricity for peanuts. Even before the expense of Site C, we are currently selling power to other jurisdictions on the spot market for far less than it costs us to produce it. Site C will make this situation far worse.

Site C will produce electricity at a high cost of at least C$ 0.12/ kilowatt-hour ($120/megawatt-hour). But to trade (buy or sell) electricity on the Mid-Columbian (“Mid-C”) hub costs US$ 0.018/KWh in 2020. (That’s a median price of 1.7 cents/ KWh, or $17/MWh). In short: it costs 12 cents to produce Site C electricity, but we can only sell it across the border for 1.7 cents. There is a growing surplus of power in the Pacific Northwest due to the proliferation of renewables, hence the low price.

This mismanagement—building an over-expensive dam when we didn’t need it, all so corporations can win contracts—means that BC is needlessly making power over-expensive for our own residential and commercial consumers even while we have a massive supply of it. This has the effect of actually discouraging consumers and businesses from switching to electricity from fossil fuels—it’s simply too expensive to switch.

By the time we really need more electricity, prices of renewables will have plummeted even further, and we can bring new electricity and storage online quickly as we need it. As every business grad knows, timing is everything in investments.

Alternatives are cheaper (and greener)
Even if we did need the energy, cleaner renewables are cheaper. Recent estimates from top energy project finance expert Eoin Finn showed that BC could get the same energy from a combination of geothermal, wind and solar for $7 billion, and the cost of those technologies has plummeted since then. Site C is now well north of $11 billion and many experts say it could head over $20 billion.

We won’t successfully switch from fossil fuels to electric if we make electricity too expensive

Hydroelectricity is much more expensive to produce than electricity from renewable alternatives like wind, geothermal and solar. Site C is so expensive to build that experts say hydro rates will have to be doubled to pay for it. Higher prices actually slow down the transition from fossil fuels to electricity, as residential and business consumers cut their power use to save money and also decline to switch from fossil fuels to electric. This phenomenon of consumer choice is known as elasticity.

Energy conservation and efficiency:

  • Innovations that increase efficiency – such as the replacement of incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents and now LEDs, cause energy consumption to plummet. This trend will continue, and not only in lighting.
  • Electric heat pump heating systems are far more efficient than ’natural’ gas (20% vs 80%) so it’s not a one-to-one replacement per unit of energy. Many more innovations are coming.
  • Conservation measures can and will save BC power too. BC Hydro has not even seriously pursued conservation yet, unlike most jurisdictions in North America.
  • The commonly heard refrain that “we will need colossal amounts of electricity to replace fossil fuels” is a profligate way of thinking about energy that is inherited from our habits around fossil fuels.