Electricity Choices

A Choice of Electricity Options

Government's Commitment to the Environment — the Environmental Assessment Process

The environmental assessment process in British Columbia is an integrated review process for major projects that looks at potential environmental, community and First Nation, health and safety, and socioeconomic impacts. Through the environmental assessment process, the potential effects of a project are identified and evaluated early, resulting in improved project design and helping to avoid costly mistakes for proponents, governments, local communities and the environment.

An assessment is begun when a proposed project that meets certain criteria under the Environmental Assessment Act makes an application for an environmental assessment certificate. Each assessment will usually include an opportunity for all interested parties to identify issues and provide input; technical studies of the relevant environmental, social, economic, heritage and/or health effects of the proposed project; identification of ways to prevent or minimize undesirable effects and enhance desirable effects; and consideration of the input of all interested parties in compiling the assessment findings and making decisions about project acceptability. The review is concluded when a decision is made to issue or not issue an environmental assessment certificate. Industrial, mining, energy, water management, waste disposal, food processing, transportation and tourist destination resort projects are generally subject to an environmental assessment.

The range of supply options, both large and small, for British Columbia include:

Bioenergy: Bioenergy is derived from organic biomass sources such as wood residue, agricultural waste, municipal solid waste and other biomass and may be considered a carbon-neutral form of energy, because the carbon dioxide released by the biomass when converted to energy is equivalent to the amount absorbed during its lifetime.

A number of bioenergy facilities operate in British Columbia today. Many of these are "cogeneration" plants that create both electricity and heat for on-site use and in some cases, sell surplus electricity to BC Hydro.

Reliability1: FIRM

Estimated Cost5: $75 - $91

Coal Thermal Power: The BC Energy Plan establishes a zero emission standard for greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired plants. This will require proponents of new coal facilities to employ clean coal technology with carbon capture and sequestration to ensure there are no greenhouse gas emissions.

Reliability1: FIRM

Estimated Cost5 6: $67 - $82

Geothermal: Geothermal power is electricity generated from the earth. Geothermal power production involves tapping into pockets of superheated water and steam deep underground, bringing them to the surface and using the heat to produce steam to drive a turbine and produce electricity. British Columbia has potential high temperature (the water is heated to more than 200 degrees Celsius) geothermal resources in the coastal mountains and lower temperature resources in the interior, in northeast British Columbia and in a belt down the Rocky Mountains. Geothermal energy's two main advantages are its consistent supply, and the fact that it is a clean, renewable source of energy.

Reliability1: FIRM

Estimated Cost2: $44 - $60

What is the Difference between Firm and Intermittent Electricity?

Firm electricity refers to electricity that is available at all times even in adverse conditions. The main sources of reliable electricity in British Columbia include large hydroelectric dams, and natural gas. This differs from intermittent electricity, which is limited or is not available at all times. An example of intermittent electricity would be wind which only produces power when the wind is blowing.

Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology: British Columbia companies are recognized globally for being leaders in hydrogen and fuel cell technology for mobile, stationary and micro applications. For example, BC Transit's fuel cell buses are planned for deployment in Whistler in 2009.

Reliability1: FIRM

Estimated Cost2: n/a

1  Reliability refers to energy that can be depended on to be available whenever required
2  Source: BC Hydro's 2006 IEP Volume 1 of 2 page 5-6
3  Based on a 500 MW super ciritcal pulverized coal combustion unit. The BC Energy Plan requires coal power to meet zero GHG emissions
4  Based on a 250 MW combined cycle gas turbine plant. The BC Energy Plan requires coal power to meet zero GHG emissions
5  Source: BC Hydro's F2006 Open Call for Power Report
6  These costs do not reflect the costs of zero GHG emissions for coal thermal power

Large Hydroelectric Dams: The chief advantage of a hydro system is that it provides a reliable supply with both dependable capacity and energy, and a renewable and clean source of energy. Hydropower produces essentially no carbon dioxide.

Site C is one of many resource options that can help meet BC Hydro's customers' electricity needs. No preferred option has been selected at this time; however; it is recognized that the Province will need to examine opportunities for some large projects to meet growing demand.

As part of The BC Energy Plan, BC Hydro and the Province will enter into initial discussions with First Nations, the Province of Alberta and communities to discuss Site C to ensure that communications regarding the potential project and the processes being followed are well known. The purpose of this step is to engage the various parties up front to obtain input for the proposed engagement process. The decision-making process on Site C includes public consultation, environmental impact assessments, obtaining a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, obtaining an Environmental Assessment Certificate and necessary environmental approvals, and approval by Cabinet.

Reliability1: FIRM

Estimated Cost2: $43 - $62

Race Rocks Tidal Energy Project

Announced in early 2005, this demonstration project between the provincial and federal governments, industry, and Pearson College is producing zero emission tidal power at the Race Rocks Marine Reserve on southern Vancouver Island. Using a current-driven turbine submerged below the ocean surface, the project is producing about 77,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, enough to meet the needs of approximately eight households. The knowledge gained about tidal energy will help our province remain at the forefront of clean energy generation technology.

Natural Gas: Natural gas is converted into electricity through the use of gas fired turbines in medium to large generating stations; particularly high efficiencies can be achieved through combining gas turbines with steam turbines in the combined cycle and through reciprocating engines and mini and macro turbines. Combined cycle power generation using natural gas is the cleanest source of power available using fossil fuels. Natural gas provides a reliable supply with both dependable capacity and firm energy.

Reliability1: FIRM

Estimated Cost2 6: $48 - $100

Small Hydro: This includes run-of-river and micro Hydro. These generate electricity without altering seasonal flow characteristics. Water is diverted from a natural watercourse through an intake channel and pipeline to a powerhouse where a turbine and generator convert the kinetic energy in the moving water to electrical energy.

Twenty-nine electricity purchase agreements were awarded to small waterpower producers by BC Hydro in 2006. These projects will generate approximately 2,851 gigawatt hours of electricity annually (equivalent to electricity consumed by 285,000 homes in British Columbia). There are also 32 existing small hydro projects in British Columbia that generate 3,500 gigawatt hours (equivalent to electricity consumed by 350,000 homes in British Columbia).

Reliability1 : INTERMITTENT

Estimated Cost3: $60 - $95

Sharing Solutions on Electricity

The BC Energy Plan has a goal that most of B.C.'s electricity requirements over the next 10 years can be achieved through increased conservation and energy efficiency by all British Columbians, coupled with generation by independent power producers. However, these new projects take time to plan and implement. In addition, many of these sources provide limited amounts of firm supply. The province will also need to consider options for new, large scale sources to meet forecasted demand growth in the next 10 to 20 years. Large scale options could include Site C, large biomass facilities, clean coal or natural gas plants. As with all large scale undertakings, these kinds of projects will require years of lead time to allow for careful planning, analysis, consultation and construction.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing British Columbians is simply to begin choosing our electricity future together. Demand for electricity is projected to grow by up to 45 per cent over the next 20 years. To meet this projected growth we will need to conserve more, and obtain more electricity from small power producers and large projects. Given the critical importance of public participation and stakeholder involvement in addressing the challenges and choices of meeting our future electricity needs, government and BC Hydro will seek and share solutions.

Solar: With financial support from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the "Solar for Schools" program has brought clean solar photovoltaic electricity to schools in Vernon, Fort Nelson, and Greater Victoria.

The BC Sustainable Energy Association is leading a project which targets installing solar water heaters on 100,000 rooftops across British Columbia.

Reliability1: INTERMITTENT

Estimated Cost2: $700 - $1700

Tidal Energy: A small demonstration project has been installed at Race Rocks located west-southwest of Victoria. The Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, the provincial and federal government, and industry have partnered to install and test a tidal energy demonstration turbine at Race Rocks. The project will generate about 77,000 kilowatt hours on an annual basis (equivalent to electricity consumed by approximately eight homes).

Reliability1: INTERMITTENT

Estimated Cost2: $100 - $360

Wind: British Columbia has abundant, widely distributed wind energy resources in three areas: the Peace region in the Northeast; Northern Vancouver Island; and the North Coast. Wind is a clean and renewable source that does not produce air or water pollution, greenhouse gases, solid or toxic wastes.

Three wind generation projects have been offered power purchase contracts in BC Hydro's 2006 Open Call for Power. These three projects will have a combined annual output of 979 gigawatt hours of electricity (equivalent to electricity consumed by 97,900 homes).

Reliability1: INTERMITTENT

Estimated Cost5: $71 - $74

1  Reliability refers to energy that can be depended on to be available whenever required
2  Source: BC Hydro's 2006 IEP Volume 1 of 2 page 5-6
3  Based on a 500 MW super ciritcal pulverized coal combustion unit. The BC Energy Plan requires coal power to meet zero GHG emissions
4  Based on a 250 MW combined cycle gas turbine plant
5  Source: BC Hydro's F2006 Open Call for Power Report
6  These costs do not reflect the costs of zero net GHG emissions for natural gas

Table 1: Summary of Resource Options

Description Estimated Cost 1
$/megawatt hour
Reliable2 Greenhouse gas emissions3
tonnes per gigawatt hour
Energy conservation/ efficiency 32–76 Yes 0
Large hydroelectric 43–62 Yes 0
Natural gas 48–100 8 Yes 0–3504 8
Coal 67–829 10 Yes 0–8555 9
Biomass 75–9110 Yes 0–5006
Geothermal 44–60 Yes 0–10
Wind 71–7410 Depends on the availability and speed of wind 0
Run-of-river small hydro 60–9510 Depends on the flow of water, which varies throughout the year 0
Ocean (wave and tidal) 100–3607 Future supply option which has great potential for British Columbia 0
Solar 700–17007 Depends on location, cloud cover, season, and time of day 0

1  Source: BC Hydro's 2006 Integrated Electricity Plan Volume 1 of 2, page 5-6
2  Reliability refers to energy that can be depended on to be available whenever required
3  Source: BC Hydro's 2006 Integrated Electricity Plan, Volume 2 of 2, Appendix F page 5-14 and Table 10-2
4  Based on a 250 MW combined cycle gas turbine plant
5  Based on a 500 MW supercritical pulverized coal combustion unit
6  GHG are 0 for wood residue and landfill gas. GHG is 500 tonnes per gigawatt hour for municipal solid waste
7  Source: BC Hydro's 2004 Integrated Electricity Plan, page 69
8  The BC Energy Plan requires natural gas plants to offset to zero net greenhouse gas emissions. These costs do not reflect the costs of zero net GHG emissions
9  The BC Energy Plan requires zero greenhouse gas emissions from any coal thermal electricity facilities. The costs do not include the costs of requiring zero emissions from coal thermal power
10  Source: BC Hydros F2006 Open Call for Power Report

The majority of B.C.'s electricity requirements over the next 10 years can be achieved through increased conservation by all British Columbians and new electricity from independent power producers.

British Columbia's Strength in Electricity Diversity

British Columbia is truly fortunate to have a wide variety of future supply options available to meet our growing demand for energy. A cost effective way to meet that demand is to conserve energy and be more energy efficient. However, British Columbia will still need to bring new power on line to meet demand growth in the years ahead. In order to ensure we have this critical resource available to British Columbians when they need it, government will be looking to secure a range of made-in-B.C. power to serve British Columbians in the years ahead.

Government's goal is to encourage a diverse mix of resources that represent a variety of technologies. Some resource technologies, such as large and small hydro, thermal power, wind and geothermal provide well-established, commercially available sources of electricity. Other emerging technologies that are not yet widely used include large ocean wave and tidal power, solar, hydrogen and advanced coal technologies.

2004 Total Electricity Production by Source (% of total)

Nuclear Waste and
British Columbia 0.0 92.8 0.0 1.0 6.0 0.2 0.0 100
Alberta 2.3 4.4 0.0 0.0 12.0 2.6 78.7 100
Australia 0.3 6.9 0.0 0.6 12.3 0.70 79.2 100
California 10.7 17.0 14.5 0.0 37.7 0.0 20.1 100
Denmark 16.3 0.1 0.0 8.8 24.7 4.0 46.1 100
Finland 0.4 17.6 26.5 12.4 14.9 0.7 27.5 100
France 0.2 11.3 78.3 1.0 3.2 1.0 5.0 100
Germany 4.2 4.5 27.1 2.6 10.0 1.6 50.0 100
Japan 0.4 9.5 26.1 1.9 22.6 12.3 27.2 100
Norway 0.3 98.8 0.0 0.5 0.3 0.0 0.1 100
Ontario 1.8 24.8 49.7 0.0 5.2 0.5 18.0 100
Oregon 2.3 64.4 0.0 0.0 26.3 0.1 6.9 100
Quebec 0.7 94.5 3.2 0.0 0.1 1.5 0.0 100
United Kingdom 0.5 1.9 20.2 2.1 40.3 1.2 33.8 100
Washington 2.3 70.0 8.8 0.0 8.6 0.1 10.2 100
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