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CONTRIBUTION · 22nd June 2010
Helmut Giesbrecht
Someone recently showed me a questionnaire that BC Hydro is mailing out to random hydro customers. The incentive to fill it out is that the person has hi/her name entered in a draw for some $1,000 gift certificates to business like Home Depot. I can’t remember some of the others. The purpose of the questionnaire was explained as “Learning more about how our residential customers think about and use electricity today is fundamental to our forecasting and program evaluation functions for estimating and planning for the needs of tomorrow.”

There were 22 pages of questions. Questions on all the methods that one uses electricity, the number of hours you heat each room, what temperature, the type of insulation of your house, the percentage of outside wall that is window surface, all the electric devices used and for how long, how many light bulbs you bought in the last 12 months, how many light switches are in the house, down to how often you donate time or money to environmentally friendly cause. There were questions about your age, education, income, all the way down to what language you speak in the household and much, much more.

In the section on “Managing electricity and attitudes toward use” page 18 you are asked to respond to the statement “Electricity in BC is reasonably priced”. You must check off one of six: strongly disagree, somewhat disagree, neither agree or disagree, somewhat agree, strongly agree, or don’t know.

I always look for the questions that might tell me what the real purpose is. I’m not sure this is it but here’s the problem as I see it. If you check strongly disagree, does that mean you think the price is too high or does it mean that it is too low. An environmentalist might feel the price is too low and it should be raised so people would use less. The confusion might lead people to check off on one of the answers not really understanding how the answer will be interpreted. How will they interpret the responses to this question? If you answered, “In whatever way it suits them” go to the head of the class. There is no space for a comments and I remind you this is only one question of many.

The questionnaire simply does not ask right questions. Here’s why I think that is the case. BC Hydro is buying power from independent power producers (IPP’s) at artificially high rates. Last year the BC Utilities Commission which is supposed to look after the public interest, ruled that a particular deal between BC Hydro and one IPP was not a good deal for BC consumers. BC Hydro was then in the process of negotiating long-term contracts to pay $100 per megawatt when they were selling it to a BC Hydro’s primary export customer at $60 per megawatt. The Campbell government promptly overruled the BCUC and declared that henceforth contracts between BC Hydro and IPP’s would no longer be subject to the BCUC process. By Hydro’s own projections it is not expected to hit even $100 until around the year 2032. So the directive or advice from the BC government to BC Hydro Board of Directors boils down to “buy high and sell low”. Have you ever heard of such a thing in the business world?

The Terrace Standard recently printed a quote from a BC Hydro spokesperson claiming that the deals for purchasing IPP power were in the range of $120 to $130 per megawatt. Now the going rate for the sale of power to you the homeowner in BC, and you can check your hydro bill, is about $87 per megawatt. So what possible information could BC Hydro get from this questionnaire that would be of any value in determining the price we pay for our power? IF the company that is suppose to be run for our benefit, (BC Hydro), is subject to the politically motivated - one could say, moronic - advice from the Campbell government (and this is not vetted through the BCUC), what good is the questionnaire?

One really good question might be on whether one thinks the political appointees to the BC Hydro Board who follow direction from the Premier such as “buy high and sell low” are competent to run BC public’s hydro utility?
Buy High-Sell low
Comment by Barry English on 23rd June 2010
Thank you to Helmut for bringing up this questionaire.

BC Hydro's penchant for forcing high prices on us is just our present government's way of proving that another crown corporation is losing money and therefore must be sold off to the nearest Liberal donor. They did it with BC Rail, and they are bound and determined to do it to BC Hydro also. The Campbell government is in so much trouble these days that it seems to make sense to them to grab everything they can while the grabbing is good. BC hydro is just another in a long line of bad- for- BC policies.