What if British Columbia ran dry? Crazy? It’s happening on Vancouver Island.
July 6, 2015
CanWEA has consistently stated that it is important for British Columbia (BC) to build its domestic wind energy supply in order to help diversify our electricity generating capacity – and there is strong public support to do so. As of 2014, 95 per cent of BC’s electricity was produced by hydroelectric generating stations – this represents an enormous reliance on water – and therefore rainfall. While hydro power has served BC well, hydro is not a limitless resource and while the dams are designed for rare drought years, as the climate warms, those rarities could become more frequent.
Recently we learned that Vancouver Island, home to some of the wettest spots on earth, is in fact running dry. On June 24, BC issued a low stream advisory for Vancouver Island. We also learnt of serious issues at the John Hart dam, and that it will operate between 20-25 per cent of capacity due to record low flow.
Diversification with renewable sources of electricity such as wind energy is the perfect complement to large scale hydro – keeping in mind that wind blows strongest in winter when water reservoirs in BC are often at their lowest. Hydro can help balance wind’s daily variations and wind can help balance hydro’s seasonal ones. Any good investment manager would say your portfolio should be diversified to hedge against unforeseen downturns – we only need to look at our southern neighbour, California to learn this lesson. On a much smaller scale, but closer to home, the Northwest Territories learned this risk can be expensive when their hydro system ran dry just last year forcing the prolonged use of diesel to supply power.
Wind energy in BC represents a $10 billion dollar economic opportunity. In addition to being a low cost opportunity to diversify our electricity generating capacity, and hedge against low flow water years while protecting BC ratepayers. It can also help BC export GHG-free power to our neighbours, many of who rely heavily on coal power. Through the creation of a competitive and predictable market process, the investment will flow into BC while protecting families against future rate shocks that can come from not diversifying our electricity portfolio when all signs were saying that we should. Wind and hydro energy are a match made in Canada, and BC is poised to be able to take advantage of it.
Former British Columbia Regional Director at the Canadian Wind Energy Association