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Mungall said the provincial government was “delivering on its promise to freeze BC Hydro rates, putting an end to the years of spiralling electricity costs that have made life less affordable for B.C. homeowners and renters.” She told reporters the freeze would save ratepayers $150 million.

But mere hours later, under intense questioning in the legislature by Liberal MLAs Tracy Redies and Mike Bernier as well as Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, Mungall had to admit that the rate freeze may evaporate and not take effect on April 1, 2018 as planned.

And a day earlier during an estimates debate Mungall acknowledged that BC Hydro rates may increase by 10% if the utility is denied approval for the Site C dam and is on the hook for shut down and rehabilitation costs, possibly totalling $4 billion.

Mungall conceded to the Legislature that it is the BC Utilities Commission that will decide if it will approve a revamped BC Hydro application for a zero percent rate increase for 2018. The utility had previously asked the BCUC for a three percent increase next year.

“I’m now very confused,” Redies states. “The minister and her government just announced today a rate freeze. But I think, based on her answer, she’s saying it may or may not happen because the BCUC might decide it’s not appropriate. Is that correct? Is there a rate freeze or isn’t there?”

“It says nothing about approaching BCUC,” Weaver says. “It’s very clear, and I concur with the member opposite. I feel that this is quite misleading. I would like the minister to please clarify why the press release says, on the one hand, there’s a rate freeze, and now here today we understand that there’s not really a rate freeze but an application for a rate freeze.”

“Can the minister, then, clear the air in the sense of letting the public know and letting this House know: was it an accurate comment for her to make to say that the taxpayers are now saving $150 million?” Bernier asks. “Or was it more of a fair comment to say they’re waiting to see if the Utilities Commission approves their application? At which point, if approved, they might be saving money.”

“We’re going to have to agree to disagree here,” Mungall says. “I feel very, very solidly that our press release, everything I’ve said to media and everything I’ve said in this House has been consistent. There is no inconsistency, from my perspective.”

“I’m really troubled by the line of questioning here, and I’m really troubled by what’s being revealed,” says Weaver. “This is a surprise that we are not actually freezing rates, but we’re going to the BCUC to ask them whether they will give us permission to freeze rates. We’re not going to influence them, on the one hand, because we respect the independence of the BCUC, but on the other hand, we’re saying that we’re saving $150 million. You can’t have it both ways.”

Weaver continues: “So I would like to reiterate the concerns expressed by the member for Surrey–White Rock and the member for Peace River South and suggest, in emphatic terms, that I believe the minister owes British Columbians a formal correction in a press release. I will ask: will she be willing to do that in response to the line of questioning that we have seen here today?”

“The press release should have said this, "B.C. government will seek the ability from BCUC to freeze rates," not "B.C. government will freeze rates." But they said, "B.C. government will freeze rates," and that’s simply not correct. There’s no other interpretation here,” he states.

Weaver adds: “Sometimes it’s okay to admit that you’ve made an error, but it is not okay to double down in defence of something that is clearly wrong. Again, to the minister: will she correct this publicly? It is misleading, and people across British Columbia think that their rates are going to freeze in April 2018, when they’re not. They’re not going to freeze unless the BCUC says they will.”

“We’ve been canvassing this issue for about just over 45 minutes now,” she says. “I haven’t offered any new information or anything different, and I think we’ve come to the conclusion that this government and members opposite are just going to have to agree to disagree in terms of the wording of a press release.”

In an exclusive in the March 1, 2016 Watershed Sentinel, energy researcher Arthur Caldicott detailed BC Hydro’s now $76 billion debt. By March 2017, former provincial MLA Rafe Mair accused the Liberal government of increasing BC Hydro’s real debt in constant dollars by “1,337% from $6 billion in 2005 to $80.2 billion today”.

“The directive also created a new ‘rate smoothing’ deferral account that allowed BC Hydro to record revenues that it may collect in future years. This dubious accounting device allowed the government to claim that BC Hydro was still profitable. It recorded additional revenue on its books for 2014/15 and 2015/16, and it sent $590 million in dividends to the government that would not have been paid out under normal circumstances. Because BC Hydro did not actually receive the revenue, it had to increase its borrowing requirements by an equivalent amount in those years to pay the dividend.”

BC Hydro ratepayers may find intolerable the kind of rate increases that will be required to pay off the corporation’s debt and it is not justifiable to force future generations of ratepayers to pay for mistakes BC Hydro made before they came of age.

As a public monopoly, BC Hydro is incentivized to be reactive – rather than proactive – in encouraging energy efficiency, energy storage and renewable sources of electricity other than hydro. It began its Power Smart energy conservation program in 1992, more than 15 years after U.S. utilities began such programs.

A rapid movement is occurring away from the decades-old system of generating electricity from large, centralized power plants and distributing it to customers over an interconnected grid. This is giving way to a new, decentralized structure that features varying types of distributed energy resources (DERs), most notably rooftop solar, and including wind and geothermal.

In utility parlance, DER is “disruptive” and along with energy efficiency measures and renewable energies is slowing electricity load growth. This could ultimately spell the death knell for utilities that have historically made money based on the volume of electricity they sell.

Eventually utilities like BC Hydro will be forced to adopt a non-profit business model and revert to a “cost-of-service”’ model to recover costs. They can then choose to become an electric co-op or a non-profit corporation if they are to have a stable future.

Mungall said in her news release the government will “undertake a comprehensive review of BC Hydro. That review will identify changes and cost savings to keep rates low while ensuring BC Hydro has the resources it needs to continue to provide clean, safe and reliable electricity.”