B.C. Hydro: Power to The People (Who Need It)

The appointment of Mossadiq Umedaly to the position of chairman of BC Hydro signals – at last — a significant shift in economic thinking in this province.

Umedaly is a veteran of the alternative energy industry, including a stint at Ballard Power and shepherding power conversion company Xantrex Technology for almost a decade. Now he’s in charge of the province’s biggest power producer.

With his business and green background, Umedaly is the obvious choice to lead the BC power utility in the new world of power production.

Here in B.C., many of us like to look at BC Hydro and power in general through rear-view mirrors. Power was something the government created as a service for the people. If it took enormous tax dollars to create it, or scarred and ruined the environment…well, that was their problem.

But that’s a 1970’s view still subscribed to by nostalgics, staunch unionists and assorted extreme lefties who believe that all services must stem from government and that we can ignore global events by hiding behind artificial political and geographic walls.

The reality is that power production has undergone enormous changes in recent years, and any power producer today must recognize that it’s part of a continental and global energy system that’s becoming more important (and expensive) by the day. More important, that energy has to be green.

In B.C., power production has always been one of our best resource industries and B.C. Hydro has become one of the great electricity utilities on the continent. But we’ve been slipping in recent years due to our reliance on old thinking. Meanwhile an entire new market opportunity has opened up.

Through the creation of an alternative power industry that includes such companies as Ballard and Xantrex, we’ve made some efforts to tap that opportunity. But B.C. Hydro, the power gorilla, hasn’t really been part of it.

However, the government’s recent B.C. Energy Plan steers the utility to the new world by mandating that the province not only become more than energy self-sufficient in the near future, but do it through environmentally responsible clean technologies such as run of river power, wind power, geothermal, and other sources that we possess in abundance but haven’t bothered with much to date.

Sure, there’s the usual bitching over the new methods. Many like the big dam system because it concentrates workers and therefore makes them easier to unionize; others are suspicious of private companies providing power – they’d prefer that all power production remain in government hands; some seem to think there’s something immoral about selling excess power, even though the rest of the world is begging us to do so.

Change always has its naysayers, and in B.C. we seem to specialize in naysaying. But really, isn’t this one resource that can be harvested to benefit both B.C. and the rest of the world?

As Umedaly says, “We can solve our own problems and help the rest of the world solve the same problems. And make money doing it.”

How can you argue with that?

Read Tony’s previous blog here.