ASK ANYONE who knows me, and they will tell you that I love the solar panels on my house. I’m one of hundreds of households across B.C. who have installed solar panels over the last few years. Look around Kamloops, and you will see more houses with solar all the time.
For me, it’s a concrete way to take personal action on climate change and energy choices.
But now, I’m one of hundreds of people who is concerned about household solar power here in B.C.
BC Hydro wants to walk away from their agreement with homeowners who generate solar power.
One of the main reasons I got the panels is that BC Hydro would buy my excess power. But that program, called Net Metering, is in jeopardy.
Net Metering works in part because whenever I have a surplus of electricity, the power flows to the BC Hydro grid. Then when my system doesn’t produce enough electricity, like at night, I buy back from the grid. So some days I sell electricity to BC Hydro, some days I buy electricity back from BC Hydro.
At the end of the year, using Net Metering, BC Hydro calculates whether I’ve bought or sold more power to them. BC Hydro pays me what I pay them: 9.99¢/kWh.
Last year, BC Hydro paid me about $60 for the electricity I sold them over the year. The $60 may not seem like much, but over 15 years, that is $900. That is 11 per cent of the cost of my system. A sizeable portion of my original investment.
This week, BC Hydro announced Net Metering will not be available to customers generating power beyond their own energy needs.
BC Hydro no longer wants to buy back excessive power from me, or any other homeowner.
In effect, they want to walk away from their original agreement with me. They would, of course, take any excess power from me: power flows back and forth between my home’s solar panels and BC Hydro’s grid on a daily basis. But what they don’t want to do is pay for the excess power I produce at the end of each year.
BC Hydro wants to take my excess power and sell it to others. But they want to pocket the $60 for themselves.
They don’t want to pay me the $60 for the power they gained from me (which they will sell to my neighbors).
There are many power producers who sell power to BC Hydro. Domtar and Tolko here in Kamloops both generate power from wood waste, and sell excess to BC Hydro. Run of the river hydro projects sell power to BC Hydro as well, typically at a far higher rate than BC Hydro pays me and other homeowners.
BC Hydro wants to treat homeowners who produce power differently than their other power producers.
They’ll take excess power from homeowners, of course. They just don’t want to pay for it.
They don’t want to pay me my $60 per year. Or pay any of the other hundreds of homeowners as well.
This could be a death knell for household solar systems in BC.
Keep in mind, I paid 100 per cent for the cost of my system, as did the hundreds of other homeowners for theirs. Other homeowners who installed solar paid for 100 per cent of their systems too.
Keep in mind, the cost of Site C is estimated at $10.7 billion, a cost that we will all be paying for years to come. That’s $10.7 billion coming out of BC Hydro’s coffers. And the money that will have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is you and me.
BC Hydro will take my $60 to help pay for Site C.
There is a basic unfairness to a utility taking power from one source at no cost, then selling to someone else at a profit.
Unfairness aside, hundreds of people, including myself, were willing to invest in our shared future by creating solar power systems. Hundreds more might want to as well.
But when BC Hydro is not willing to pay for the power, it is a signal that they have no interest in household solar systems. They have no interest in fairness either.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.