The public knows that B.C. Hydro rates have gone up in recent years.
How this occurs, however, is not nearly as well understood by the masses.
That's because the review of energy projects is something that only attracts the interest of energy geeks.
The NDP's critic for B.C. Hydro, Adrian Dix, is one of those geeks, serving on the board of B.C. Hydro during the last NDP government.
As a former principal secretary to NDP premier Glen Clark, Dix was involved in a political decision to create the Columbia Power Corporation, a crown corporation that developed and operates three energy projects in the Kootenays.
NDP Leader John Horgan is another energy geek. As his party's energy critic for many years, he developed a fascination over how electricity is produced in B.C.
Horgan and Dix have repeatedly called for the B.C. Liberal government to refer the province's most expensive megaproject—the Site C dam—to the B.C. Utilities Commission so it can be subjected to an independent review.
Dix told the Georgia Straight by phone that whenever the B.C. Liberal government has failed to refer projects to the energy regulator, it has ended up in disaster.
He cited the northwest transmission line, information-technology projects, independent power projects, and smart meters as examples.
"We've repeatedly made the case over the last number of weeks that the Site C project has to be referred to the BCUC—that the government's numbers are not credible," Dix said.
He added that when the minister responsible for B.C. Hydro, Bill Bennett, was recently interviewed on transmission projects a couple of weeks ago, he talked about a 50-30 doctrine.
"He said when Hydro puts out a number on projects, it could be 50 percent more or 30 percent less," Dix said. "On Site C, that would take your price well north of $13 billion. So we've been consistent on this, vigorous on this."
But when I began asking what form this review should take, Dix wasn't quite so categorical.
For example, would the NDP never back off a position that the Site C dam must go through integrated resource planning at the BCUC?
"It needs to go to the BCUC," Dix said. "And it needs to go now....And it could have gone there some time ago."
In his responses throughout the rest of the interview, Dix didn't once utter the words "integrated resource planning", despite being prodded in this direction on a half-dozen occasions.
Integrated resource planning is one of those phrases used by energy geeks. I didn't need to define it for Dix, nor would I have to do so for Horgan.
The term refers to comparing the cost of electricity production to the costs of all the alternatives, including savings accrued through demand-side management measures, including conservation.
The "Best Practices in Electric Utility Integrated Resource Planning" research paper for the Regulatory Assistance Project states: "This is a planning process that, if correctly implemented, locates the lowest practical costs at which a utility can deliver reliable energy services to its customers."
Failing on my first attempt to get Dix to speak about integrated resource planning, I then asked what form the review of the Site C dam should take.
"They need to review the project," Dix said.
I considered that a nonanswer, so I tried again.
Would the NDP only support Site C if it went through a full integrated resource planning exercise at the BCUC?
"Our position is it should be referred to the BCUC before going ahead....The BCUC would do the review that you'd expect," Dix said. "That's what I think should happen. That's what John [Horgan] has said."
Dix explained that he did not want to direct the BCUC in any way as to how it should do its work.
Energy geeks know that a review can take many forms. It might only look at B.C. Hydro's cost estimates for construction. Or it could encompass forecasted costs of electricity. Or it could look at the social costs of displacing residents and the impact on the agricultural industry. Or it could compare the cost of not developing geothermal, solar, and other renewable forms of energy as a result of proceeding with Site C.
So I asked Dix how the NDP would react if the B.C. Liberal government issued a directive to the BCUC ordering a review but restraining the energy regulator from conducting integrated resource planning?
"They have issued such a directive that they not review it, just as they did on the northwest transmission line, just like they did on smart meters," Dix said.
The Straight tried once again, this time asking how the NDP would react if there was a BCUC review of the Site C dam but it didn't include a comparison with geothermal or solar energy.
"I think all of that would be part of a review," Dix said. "I just don't think there's any question of that."
Later, I asked Dix if the NDP would want the BCUC to conduct full integrated resource planning as part of any evaluation. He responded by discussing what was in the NDP's platform before the 2013 election.
So then I came back with another question.
What if the B.C. Liberal government ties the BCUC's hands where it can't do full integrated resource planning? Would that satisfy the NDP?
"First of all, it would be better than the status quo that we have now," Dix conceded. "As you're aware, they're the government now. We haven't seen it. We haven't seen such a thing. You're asking me to assess the review before the review takes place."
Next, he said that it seems "pretty straightforward" to him if the BCUC is ordered to conduct a review.
Under the law, he added, that's what the BCUC does: receive projects and review them.
"The problem we're in is that hasn't been happening for some time and ratepayers have paid an enormous price for that just in the last 10 years," Dix said. "That price includes massive rate increases. This is the point I've been making for a number of weeks."
In conclusion, it's abundantly clear from Dix's remarks that the NDP wants a BCUC review of the Site C dam.
But for any energy geeks reading this article, it remains uncertain how the B.C. NDP will react if the B.C. Liberal government orders the BCUC to conduct a review of the Site C dam but restrains the regulator from conducting a full integrated resource planning exercise.