Anton 'the Inkfish' clouds Hydro losses from bad IPP deals
Yesterday morning, listening to Suzanne Anton, one of my co-panellists on Rick Cluff’s Early Edition political panel, avoid the issue of BC Hydro rates rising because of the scandalous sums they are forced to pay private power companies - and government avoidance of the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) - fill the airwaves with hot air and non sequiturs, I called her an inkfish and was asked through emails to say what this meant.
Well, the inkfish is a species of octopus that has an ink sac, which can be used to expel a cloud of dark ink to confuse predators.
I was not, of course, saying that Ms. Anton’s verbal flatulence was literally an emission of dark ink but that the techniques are the same and clouding of the issues the same result.
The issues are not complicated:
- The Campbell/Clark government has forced, and continues to force BC Hydro to buy power from Independent Power Producers (IPPS) on a “take or pay” basis, meaning Hydro is spilling its reservoirs over their dams and paying several times the market value to IPPs. Literally, Hydro is spilling your Hydro rates over the dam in order to meet the “sweetheart” deals the Campbell/Clark government has forced them to sign.
- This has forced Hydro to incur huge debts that will be paid for by the only way they can be paid – by us as ratepayers or taxpayers, or both.
- Some three years ago, the BCUC determined these IPP deals were not in the interests of British Columbians. BCUC was, for its candour, stripped of its power to review BC Hydro rate increases unless directly asked by the government to do so.
- Scheduled BCUC hearings into Hydro’s proposed rate increases in consequence of these IPPs have been cancelled by Minister Rich Coleman, thus public scrutiny of this scandal won’t happen.
- The Minister and the Cabinet have rejected BC Hydro’s proposed 30% rate increase over 3 years and cut it to 17%. This is a purely political decision which is supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy about Premier Clark.
- The fact is that BC Hydro’s proposed 30% hike would not, by a long shot, cover their escalating IPP-induced deficits. It is also a fact that you and I will cover these deficits either through increased rates or taxes, or both.
- BC Hydro has also set up special deferral accounts. As CTV reported, “the amount of debt that BC Hydro has deferred' into special accounts is expected to more than double to $4.5 billion in the next two years, the province has acknowledged.” Madam Inkfish would have us believe that this amount represents deferred capital expenditures, but this simply is not so and the Auditor-General has stated that this policy must end.
These deferred accounts are, for the most part, taking Hydro’s losses due to the IPP sweetheart deals, making them into a special account which they then say - because ratepayers now owe this money to BC Hydro - is now a Hydro asset! (By all means, read that again!!! Monty Python lives!)
Marjorie Griffin Cohen, a professor of political economy at Simon Fraser University, told CTV News that the BC Government is to blame for rising hydro costs because of a number of political directives it has handed down during the last decade.
Professor Griffin Cohen said, "The government has required BC Hydro to buy very expensive private electricity at a time when it basically doesn't need it. It has also introduced the smart meter program, which is very expensive." (Emphasis added)
Here we have it, once the ink has dissipated. Where BC Hydro once put hundreds of millions of dollars into the Provincial Treasury as a dividend for us the citizens, we are now on the hook for a minimum $4.5 Billion over the next two years by the government’s own admission - this increase being largely the Campbell/Clark “sweetheart” deals with corporate pals.
When Premier Clark and Minister Coleman say they are reducing BC Hydro’s proposed rate increase from 30% to 17%, that is a contemptible distortion of the truth. The fact is that BC Hydro’s deficits are our deficits and whether we pay them off by rate increases or tax increases is a purely political calculation. To say they cut Hydro’s demands is an election ploy which, even for this bunch, is remarkable dissembling.
Why is our healthcare, education funding and the like strapped for cash?
Ask Madam Inkfish and her clients that question.
Rafe Mair was a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. Since 1981 he has been a radio talk show host, and is recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. This article originally appeared in the Common Sense Canadian.