BC Hydro Draft Integrated Resource Plan

Today, BC Hydro released the much anticipated draft Integrated Resource Plan - 2012 (IRP) (Executive Summary and draft IRP Discussion Guide) which is a long-term forecast on supply and demand for electricity in British Columbia.  Essentially, the IRP is to expected to be used as a key document for long-term electricity planning in the Province.

The draft report contains 14 recommended actions and is released to the public today for consultation until July 6, 2012. Then, sometime before December 2012, BC Hydro will submit the final IRP for approval by the BC Cabinet. People are invited to have a say at an IRP consultation event hosted by BC Hydro.

As expected, the draft IRP is long on measures to encourage energy conservation and efficiency but also includes a few recommendations for much needed infrastructure capital investment for both capacity (Revelstoke Dam upgrade) and transmission (Prince George to Terrace upgrade) purposes. The $7.9 Billion Site C Dam is proposed to move ahead with an expected online date of 2020. In the meantimne, the spot electricity market, the Canadian Entitlement and Burrard Thermal are recommended to used as energy supply gap fillers. 

For the BC renewable energy sector, the most noteworthy draft recommendation is:  

RECOMMENDED ACTION #8: Develop energy procurement options to acquire up to 2,000 gigawatt hours per year from clean energy producers for projects that would come into service in the 2016-2018 time period.

The prospect of new BC power calls is of course welcome news to the sector, but there is caution: (a) this is a draft IRP only; and (b) the draft IRP notes that any new electricity procurement decisions would made only when there is more certainty of the demand.  Most of the new power is expected from wind, run-of-river and biomass project as these are proven to be the lowest-cost options, but geothermal and ocean technologies may also be considered. The objective in the BC Clean Energy Act that the Province "generate 93% from clean or renewable sources" effectively prohibits new power from natural gas facilities, which is good news from a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint.

Much of the long term electricity load is contingent on the development of the proposed LNG export projects on BC's Northwest coast. If the LNG export facilities are built, the demand for electricity in the Province could exceed 25% of the existing BC Hydro load (based on an estimated 4 LNG plants at approximate use of 4,000 GWh/year each. For context, the current BC Hydro load is approximately 60,000 GWh/year). Decisions on the LNG export projects are still under consideration by the proponents, with some decisions expected before the end of the year.  

With bi-partisan political and First Nations support for the proposed LNG export projects, the British Columbia Government's $20 billion BC LNG Energy Strategy may yet be realized. And if so, be certain that it will be all hands on deck in British Columbia for the next few years to support this significant new energy intesive economic opportunity.

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