B.C. expected to seek proposals next year to provide province with 'clean' energy

B.C.'s 'clean' power call

Something is happening in the background in British Columbia that will set the stage for renewable electricity for the next 50 years.

BC Hydro is about to issue a “clean power call.” It will ask for independent power producers to submit proposals to build and operate “clean” energy plants.

Until recently, BC Hydro was certain all new electricity demand could be met by the Site C hydroelectric dam, now expected to come online in 2025. But now BC Hydro believes more electricity will be needed.

Why the change? BC Hydro now predicts demand will be higher for three reasons—population growth, electrification and two new fields, liquified natural gas and green hydrogen.

It is worth pointing out electricity use doesn’t need to grow with population. Per capita growth depends on energy efficiency standards (like the B.C. Step Code). In fact, if we are going to slow or reduce global warming, we absolutely must reduce electricity use per person.

Electrification means shifting activities that currently use fossil fuels to relatively clean electricity. That would include increasing the number of electric vehicles and switching home heating and cooling from fossil fuel furnaces to heat pumps.

Natural gas comes in “light” and “heavy” versions. The light version of natural gas is found via drilling, transported by pipeline and used in “nearby” homes and businesses. The “heavy” version of natural gas is extracted via drilling, transported by pipeline to the coast, compressed into liquified natural gas and transported around the world by tanker. Compression and ocean shipment require a great deal more energy than the light version. Originally, the Kitimat liquefied natural gas facility intended to use B.C.’s clean electricity (87% hydro) to compress the natural gas, however BC doesn’t have surplus electricity or the infrastructure to deliver huge amounts of electricity to Kitimat. Instead the liquefied natural gas plant will burn natural gas to compress the natural gas. This makes the fossil fuel even more polluting.

B.C. also has its eye on producing hydrogen. People think of hydrogen as an equivalent of gas but free because it is available from the air we breathe. However, extracting hydrogen from the air demands a lot of power. You can generate this power with a coal fired power plant—that’s brown hydrogen—or you can generate this power with renewables. That’s green hydrogen.

So these demands—population increase, electrification, liquid natural gas and green hydrogen—mean B.C. will need more electricity than expected and more electricity than can be provided by the Site C hydroelectric dam.

The actual power call=, where companies prepare bids and submit them to BC Hydro, will occur in the spring of 2024. Contracts will be awarded in in the spring and summer of 2025 and the projects should be delivering power by the fall of 2028.

This particular power call is for “clean” energy, which could include a wide array of technologies, including ocean waves, biomass or waste heat. However, due technological maturity and drops in cost, the majority of proposals will be for solar and wind. (BC Hydro will also accept proposals for battery storage).

According to The International Renewable Energy Agency, energy costs in 2022 for wind are three cents per kilowatt hour, while utility-scale solar is five cents per kilowatt hour.

The timing of the power call is ideal. B.C. has a healthy local market for wind and solar developers but the call may bring in competition from Alberta. Many wind and solar developers in Alberta have been hard hit by the sudden announcement by that province’s United Conservative party government on Aug. 3 of a moratorium on renewables. That freoze 13 projects in the approval process and halted 118 projects in the pipeline, according to the Pembina Institute.

After the clean power projects are brought online, B.C. should be in a very strong position with a very high percentage of renewables, a balance between dispatchable energy from hydro and renewables with different intermittent profiles such as wind and solar.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Kristy Dyer has worked in the sustainability field for more than 10 years, including work with solar energy in New Mexico and cleantech in Silicon Valley. After she moved to the Okanagan, she ran a small business, Teaspoon Energy, doing energy audits of large houses. Most recently, she worked for a B.C. business doing carbon footprints for tourism organizations.

She has written about sustainability since 2012. You can find her columns archived at TeaspoonEnergy.blogspot.com.

Dyer has a background in physics and astronomy, and has occasionally been caught trying to impersonate an engineer.

A long-time member of First Things First, Penticton’s local climate change group, whose goals are to educate and lobby for solutions to the climate crisis, Dyer is honoured to live, work and play in the unceded, ancestral and traditional territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation.

You can contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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