British Columbia’s Energy Plan: A Work in Progress

When the British Columbia Liberal government announced their long-awaited Energy Plan in February of 2007, there seemed to be much for renewable energy proponents in the Canadian province to cheer about since it promised to be a significant improvement on the previous Plan, released in 2002.

In addition to a $25 million support fund for renewable energy, the Plan set a 50% target for BC’s new electricity to come via efficiency and conservation. It also appeared to promise a renewable energy feed-in tariff, one of the best ways to increase the use of small-scale generation.

Some hoped this would be modeled on Ontario’s Standard Offer program, which guarantees $0.42 per kilowatt-hour from photovoltaic systems.

This past June, however, BC Hydro released the first draft of its program, dubbed the ‘Standing Offer‘ program. The plan is exclusive to ‘proven generation technologies.’ The price point is $0.07 to $0.09 per kilowatt-hour. It also applies only to projects of 50 kilowatts to 10 megawatts, and to technologies of which at least three projects have been built and operated for at least three years.

The program essentially caters to micro-hydro development and biomass/biogas projects. Photovoltaic energy, tidal and wave, and small wind are excluded from participating, and this has some clean power proponents concerned about the effectiveness of the program in driving renewable energy in BC.

“We are focusing on a new effort for a feed-in tariff to support small-scale renewable energy in BC”, said Guy Dauncey, president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. “The current Standing Offer program is more like a bookkeeping measure to enable smaller micro-hydro developments to obtain grid connection more easily.”

“The goals set out in the plan ignore the potential benefits of solar energy,” stated Elizabeth McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, in a recent press release. “The tariff is unworkable for solar photovoltaic and does not address the high cost of implementation.”

Gillian Robinson, media contact person for BC Hydro, responded, “BC has a plan for homeowner generated power, called the Net Metering program, which has been available for three years.” However, the income for power sales is less than 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Robinson said that any improvements to this would have to be approved by the BC Utilities Commission, and at the present time there are no plans to do so. There is however a small but important policy in the Energy Plan to review the mandate of the BCUC, and make it more responsive to environmental and social, as well as economic signals.

As it stands, the Standing Offer Program is unlikely to boost BC’s stated goal to be a leader in the renewable energy economy, but with the province making a bold commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, more announcements may be forthcoming soon.

Randyn Seibold is a student, freelance writer and renewable energy entrepreneur. Living on British Columbia’s West Coast for the last 15 years, he is an active member of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, and has worked for four years as an electrical apprentice. Renewable Recruits is a proprietorship focused on informing students about renewable energy training opportunities, and recruiting qualified people to RE developments in Western Canada.

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