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Bennett hints at long-term schedule of BC Hydro rate hikes

The Ruskin Dam and Powerhouse in Ruskin, B.C., on Oct. 17, 2013. The site is currently being upgraded to improve seismic performance and upgrade the powerhouse.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

B.C.'s Energy Minister says he will release a specific BC Hydro rate hike within a month, but it won't be as high as 26 per cent. Instead, Bill Bennett will settle on a figure that will cover hydro infrastructure costs.

Mr. Bennett, following a speech to a clean-energy conference on Monday, also promised a schedule of rate hikes over several years.

"Instead of doing a one- or two-year rate increase, I am going to do my best to come up with a longer period of time that will give ratepayers a little more certainty over what is going to happen with rates," he told reporters.

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He declined to be specific about how long the rate forecast would be.

The minister also would not provide a specific figure under review, but said it will be "considerably less" than the proposed 26 per cent increase over two years disclosed earlier this fall in a leaked BC Hydro report.

"We have managed to find ways to take a fair bit of pressure off rates," he said, referring to a review under way within his ministry.

Mr. Bennett said he is juggling a mandate from Premier Christy Clark that includes taking pressure off rates, enabling BC Hydro to continue investing in infrastructure, and finding some way to facilitate growth in clean energy.

"Those are three competing tensions, and it's my job to do my best to manage them and rates will be part of that," he said.

The proposed 26 per cent was quickly dismissed as an option by Ms. Clark, who has made controlling costs on families a political mantra, and Mr. Bennett.

Since then, the minister has been trying to figure out how to proceed.

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During his speech to the conference, Mr. Bennett suggested rates did not increase as much as necessary in the 1990s. In 2012, the Liberals ordered proposed BC Hydro rate increases to be cut from a recommended 32 per cent to 17 per cent over three years.

B.C. NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, speaking for the Opposition on rates, said the Liberals need to reverse policy and allow the B.C. Utilities Commission to work out a fair figure. Mr. Bennett has rejected that possibility.

"Let's have an independent body grill a monopoly – BC Hydro – to get the best rates for customers rather than to have the Liberals saying, 'We're going to stick you with 20 per cent rather than 26 or 15 rather than 20,' " Mr. Chandra Herbert told reporters.

Follow me on Twitter: @ianabailey

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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