Last month in downtown Vancouver, BC took a modest step toward what could expand into a significant community renewable energy program.
BC Hydro unveiled what it calls its Micro- Standing Offer Program, or Micro-SOP to a room full of independent power developers, first nations representatives and energy policy people.
BC Hydro must be at least a bit conflicted over this initiative, as it currently sees itself as long on energy. The economy is slack, and load electric load growth is lower than expected. Meanwhile, the Site C dam is under construction, and it will deliver lots of new power when it comes into service around 2024.
However, the government wants to support private enterprise and also wants to support the development of first nation and rural communities. It sees support for renewable energy projects as the solution in both cases.
Enter the Micro-SOP. It accommodates projects of between 100 kW and 1 MW, neatly filling the gap between Hydro’s domestically scaled net metering program and the small-industrial scale of its Standing Offer Program.
An applicant for a Micro-SOP electricity purchase agreement must be either a first nations or a community, thus fulfilling the community development mandate.
BC Hydro will pay a set price for the energy, which is notionally tied to BC Hydro’s long-run cost to acquire new energy.
The Micro-SOP will not trigger a large number of new projects right away. The program will share BC Hydro’s existing SOP volume target of 150 GWh/year.
This is a modest program facing significant limitations, and BC Hydro’s audience last month quickly zeroed in on the restrictive volume target and the price, which is low relative to development costs
In the bigger picture, BCSEA feels it is very important to explore the potential of communities to develop their own renewable generation. As society seriously starts to transition away from its love affair with fossil fuels, it will need all the renewably produced energy it can get. Minimizing energy needs through conservation and reduced transmission distances will be at a premium.
We hope that BC Hydro will treat this as an important pilot project to test the concept of distributed energy development.