The NDP government followed through on a key campaign promise Wednesday by applying to freeze electricity rates for one year while it conducts a review of B.C. Hydro.
Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said the Crown corporation has asked the B.C. Utilities Commission for permission to withdraw a planned three per cent rate hike set for April 1, 2018.
Mungall said the move, which follows rate hikes totalling about 24 per cent in the last four years, will save ratepayers about $150 million. She was unable to explain, however, where B.C. Hydro will find the money to make up for the lost revenue.
“This is exactly why we’ve actually tied the rate freeze to a one-year review of B.C. Hydro,” she said. “We know that there are savings to be had there.”
Mungall said the review will begin once the government decides whether to proceed with the Site C dam project. Premier John Horgan has promised a decision by the end of the year.
“At the end of the end of the day, we committed to British Columbians to make life more affordable for them,” Mungall said. “This is going to be a big savings in their pocket and we want to be sure that we’re delivering on that.”
Mungall came under fire in the legislature for issuing a news release that portrayed the rate freeze as a sure thing before the utilities commission even considers it.
“If it wasn’t a done deal, why would the minister and her government go out with a public release today telling the public that there’s going to be a rate freeze starting April 1, 2018?” asked Liberal critic Tracy Redies.
“That makes no sense.”
Mungall argued that the news release was clear, but B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver agreed with Redies that it was misleading.
“They said: ‘B.C. government will freeze rates,’ and that’s simply not correct,” Weaver said. “There’s no other interpretation here. You know, sometimes it’s OK to admit that you’ve made an error. But it is not OK to double down in defence on something that is clearly wrong.”
Weaver demanded Mungall issue a public correction. “It is misleading and people across British Columbia think that their rates are going to freeze on April 2018, and they’re not unless the BCUC says they will.”
Mungall refused to budge, saying that she and the critics would have to agree to disagree.
Redies told reporters outside the house that the rate freeze will leave a hole in the B.C. Hydro budget that a one-year review is unlikely to fill.
“Really, all this is punting off decisions that should be made today in the best interests of ratepayers and the province to the future,” she said.
Redies added that if the government decides to scrap the Site C project, it will trigger a 10 per cent “rate shock” on taxpayers.