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BC Hydro releases its draft 2021 Integrated Resource Plan

Tom Hackney, BCSEA Policy Advisor
Tuesday, July 6, 2021

BC Hydro recently released its draft 2021 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) (dubbed “Clean Power 2040”) for public review and comment, prior to an expected December filing of the final version with the BC Utilities Commission.

This is a big event for BC Hydro and for BC’s energy scene as a whole. BC Hydro’s last IRP was almost eight years ago, when it focused on conventional planning issues and was reviewed in-house by the government.  This time, the plan will get a full, public review by the Utilities Commission. And this time, “low carbon electrification” is a key element of BC Hydro’s planning.

Highlights of the draft IRP:

Under its Base Resource Plan, BC Hydro proposes to:

  • maintain its current energy efficiency and conservation programs, ramping them up to roughly double the current rate by 2029,
  • implement voluntary time-of-use rates, including a rate designed to get EV owners to charge their vehicles during off-peak hours,
  • implement demand response programs (to get customers to curtail their loads when requested by BC Hydro), including industrial load curtailment programs,
  • offer renewal of expiring power contracts with independent power producers (IPPs) at prices based on the wholesale market (i.e., low prices),
  • discontinue its contracts for power from the McMahon (Fort Nelson) and Island Generation (Elk Falls) gas-fired generation plants,
  • begin to implement upgrades in transmission capacity to the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island, in part to meet increased charging loads of electric vehicles,
  • acquire more energy and capacity resources after 2030, including one or more of: additional renewals of expiring IPP contracts, new generation, and upgrades to BC Hydro’s own generation facilities, and
  • evaluate small BC Hydro generation facilities that are nearing end-of-life to determine whether to decommission, divest or refurbish these facilities.

In addition to the Base Resource Plan, BC Hydro has identified contingency resource plans to address three scenarios:

  • low carbon electrification proceeds more quickly than expected, adding to BC Hydro’s electricity load,
  • more liquefied natural gas (LNG) operations or mines than expected are developed in the north coast area (i.e., increased electricity load), or
  • electrification and other loads are less than expected in the Base Resource Plan.

In the next five years, BC Hydro proposes to try out grid-scale battery storage, so that it can be ready if one of the higher-demand contingencies comes to pass.

BC Hydro also expects a growing amount of net metering generation by customers, rising to roughly 1% of Hydro’s generation resources by 2040. This represents a modest contribution to BC Hydro’s requirements.  However, distributed energy enthusiasts may see it as a beneficial trend toward making our energy system more resilient by locating more generation in the communities where it is used.

Commentary:

BC Hydro’s draft Base Resource Plan will seem slow to those who want to see rapid changes to respond to the climate crisis. To those responsible for keeping the lights on and keeping rates affordable, the draft Plan may seem ambitious.  

In my view, it’s good that the draft Plan recognizes the possibility of very substantial low-carbon electrification over the next 20 years. However, it is disappointing that the draft Plan does not set out a very active role for BC Hydro to bring that about.  The draft Plan is based on extensive analysis, and the proposals are generally reasonable. But BC Hydro and the government need to be prodded and encouraged to go farther and faster with low-carbon electrification.

BC Hydro invites members of the public to have their say through an online survey by 31 July. BCSEA encourages people to let Hydro know that they support strong action to conserve energy and to maximize low carbon electrification.