British Columbia Advisory Council Calls for Feed-in Tariffs

An advisory council to British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has recommended that the Canadian province adopt feed-in tariffs for new sources of renewable energy. The recommendation by the Premier’s Technology Council is contained in a report on Greening BC Energy Purchasing Policies released earlier this month.

Policy recommendation 10.21 specifically proposes “that (the) government support the development of appropriate feed-in tariffs that decline over time to assist the commercialization of emerging, renewable energy sources and their associated technologies.”

The Premier’s Technology Council, an independent advisory body, reports directly to Premier Campbell. The Council is not affiliated with BC Hydro, the province’s electric utility.

Previously this year, BC Hydro issued a widely panned proposal for a standard offer contract.

The Technology Council’s report diplomatically noted that “BC Hydro has made a good first step by establishing a standing offer for small power generation, but the deal still rules out many renewable energy options. More aggressive options need to be considered such as a feed-in tariff system that varies by the source of renewable energy and the maturity of the technology. These kinds of tariffs are being successfully deployed in Europe and elsewhere,” says the report.

British Columbia prides itself on its high-tech sector. Both Xantrex inverters and Day-Four solar photovoltaic modules are built in BC’s version of silicon valley, which is east of Vancouver.

Passages of the Technology Council’s report contain among the strongest endorsement of renewable tariffs found in any Canadian publication.

“Appropriate feed-in tariffs can be a powerful stimulus to the industry. Of all the different measures used to encourage development, tariffs have been the most successful at developing renewables markets and domestic industries, and achieving the associated social, economic, environmental, and security benefits. They can also be flexible enough to account for changes in technology and the market place. However, it is important that they be properly implemented. If tariffs are not adjusted over time, consumers may pay unnecessarily high prices for renewable power.

Legislation that governs the energy system mandates that higher rates be paid for power supplied by deploying emerging technologies. This guaranteed rate allows for the development of the project. As the technology becomes more viable, the incentive rates are lowered until over time that particular technology becomes commercially competitive. The German model has been particularly successful. Their Renewable Energy Sources Act introduced in 2004 mandated such a system for a number of sources including biogas. Germany now employs 8,000 in the on-farm biogas industry. Manure-fired power plants generate nearly 5 TWh per year of electricity, or about one percent of consumption.

Yet it is estimated that energy from biogas makes up less than 0.1 cents per kilowatt hour of the electricity price for end users. In 2005, the cost per kWh for a German household was approximately $0.25.

The most appealing aspect of this model is that it can be tailored to encourage a variety of energy sources and develop our clean energy tech industry base. BC has many options for the generation of renewable energy and such a model would allow us to test and develop those that are appropriate to our system.”

The Technology Council’s report indicates that movement toward renewable tariffs in British Columbia may still be possible.

Paul Gipe is a wind industry analyst who has written extensively about wind energy for both the popular and trade press.

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