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Take the power back

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Although the B.C. government promised that it would not put B.C. Hydro on the chopping block, they are currently in the process of privatizing three key components of the utility – Customer Service, Fleet Services and Westech.

Consumer watchdogs fear that the privatization will not end there, but will progress until the hydro market is completely private.

The main case made in favour of the privatization of utilities – aside from the fact that public utilities are being recognized as illegal monopolies under many international trade agreements – is that it will lead to more competition, and more competition will lead to innovation, economic growth, and lower prices for consumers.

Supporters of privatization also claim that the environment will benefit, as smaller companies are better able to adopt new technologies, and work hard to meet whatever regulations are created to govern them.

When the B.C. government announced plans to gradually phase out its involvement in the liquor distribution business, Rick Thorpe, the Minister of Competition, Science and Enterprise commented that the government brings no special talent to the task of liquor distribution.

But when it comes to utilities, you could argue that the private sector doesn’t bring any special talents, either.

For decades, B.C. Hydro has been supplying affordable power to residents, building the infrastructure and servicing remote areas. They have managed to freeze hydro rates for consumer for the past eight years, consistently meeting power demands with enough left over to export, and still manage to generate close to a billion in revenue for the government every year.

At the same time, B.C. Hydro provides thousands of B.C.’ers with well-paid and secure jobs. The workers are generally excellent, and even in the worst winter conditions, communities can rely on B.C. Hydro to keep the grid up and running.

B.C. Hydro is arguably a leader in the environmental category as well with some truly innovative ideas to increase the quantity and quality of green power projects. Although it’s still fairly new, B.C. Hydro’s PowerSmart program is already a huge success, partnering with large operations like the Chateau Whistler to create mutually beneficial programs that either improve energy efficiency or create more green power.

The private sector does not have this kind of track record.

So far the privatization experiment in Ontario has been a disaster for ratepayers, small business and industry. Rates have increased by approximately 60 per cent compared to the previous year, and prices have fluctuated wildly.

The situation has become so worrisome that the government is fast-tracking hydro rebate payments, and a member of the Legislature tabled a Private Member’s Bill that would make it illegal for hydro providers to cut off power between October and May for a failure to pay bills. People on limited or fixed incomes, such as senior citizens, were hardest hit, and many are claiming that they can’t afford the new rates.

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