2190-580 Nicola Ave, Port Coquitlam, BC V3B 0P2
(604) 877-1599
Mon-Fri 8:00 am to 4:00 pm

Concerns Over B.C.’s Electrical Grid Amid Plans for Natural Gas Heating Ban

Concerns Over B.C.’s Electrical Grid Amid Plans for Natural Gas Heating Ban

Concerns Over B.C.’s Electrical Grid Amid Plans for Natural Gas Heating Ban

Alarms are sounding over B.C.’s electricity supply and grid reliability just as the province moves to restrict access to natural gas heating.

B.C.’s electrical supply is “at risk of shortfall” during extreme conditions, like deep freezes, according to a recent report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. The annual report, which previously did not flag B.C. as at-risk, now notes that “unserved energy risks increase in 2026 as forecasted demand rises and natural-gas-fired generation retires.”

Barry Penner, a former B.C. cabinet minister now with Resource Works, a nonprofit advocating for responsible resource development, stated, “This should be a wake-up call, shaking us from our complacency that we have sufficient electricity to meet all needs, whether for vehicles, industry, or home heating.”

This December 2023 report coincided with the BC Utilities Commission’s (BCUC) rejection of a $327 million proposal from FortisBC for expanding natural gas infrastructure in the rapidly-growing Okanagan. The prop

osal primarily involved constructing a new pipeline between Chute Lake and Penticton. Despite FortisBC’s warnings of potential natural gas shortages by 2026/27, the BCUC dismissed these concerns, citing the CleanBC climate plan, which includes banning natural gas space and water heating in new homes by 2030.

“You are exhibit A of new government policy impacts, restricting your energy options,” Penner noted, referring to the Okanagan. New homes will be built with heat pumps, which operate efficiently down to about -20°C, backed up by options like electrical baseboard heating. Concurrently, B.C. aims to have all new vehicles sold by 2035 be fully electric, further escalating power demand.

Importing Electricity

In 2023, BC Hydro imported 20% of the electricity it distributed, exacerbated by drought impacts on hydroelectric stations. “While imports are higher than average due to drought conditions, 80% of power still comes from hydroelectric facilities,” said BC Hydro spokesperson Kevin Aquino. However, BC Hydro did not clarify how much of last year’s shortfall was due to drought or if the power supply would recover with increased rainfall.

Last year’s shortfall was twice the expected output of the under-construction Site C dam, slated to be fully operational by 2025. In 2017, when the BC NDP nearly canceled the project, the BCUC predicted the province might not need Site C’s electricity— a forecast now proven inaccurate as BC Hydro imported 10,000 gigawatt hours of electricity last year, costing about $450 million.

“If you pull up to a BC Hydro charging station for your car, it says ‘powered by water.’ Well, in 2023, not so much,” Penner remarked, noting that about 60% of imported power was generated from fossil fuels, primarily natural gas. “We’re importing fossil fuel power while restricting its use for home heating.”

Okanagan Upgrades Rejected

FortisBC warned that without the proposed upgrades, areas like West Kelowna, Lumby, and Lavington could lose natural gas supply during extreme cold. The BCUC, while rejecting the project, acknowledged potential gas shortages by 2026/7 during peak demand and instructed FortisBC to explore alternative solutions.

Kelowna West BC United MLA Ben Stewart criticized the BCUC, suggesting it follows government directives too closely. “CleanBC is the government’s plan, but they are not making thoughtful decisions,” Stewart said. He also noted BC Hydro’s delays in investing in a second power transmission line for the Westside of Okanagan Lake, a region vulnerable to wildfires.

“We’re delaying necessary projects and risking brownouts or energy issues,” Stewart warned.

Construction of the Site C project, announced in 2010, highlights the slow progress in addressing B.C.’s energy needs. “We’re exporting dollars to buy electricity instead of using local resources like natural gas,” Penner added. FortisBC, which also supplies electricity to the Southern Interior, cited increased electricity purchase costs as the reason for a 6.74% rate hike.

To meet climate targets, B.C. will need new power-generating projects. BC Hydro plans to issue a competitive ‘call for power’ in spring 2024, seeking projects potentially operational by 2028. Al Leonard, BC Hydro’s executive vice-president for capital infrastructure, indicated future projects would likely include a mix of wind and solar power.

BC Hydro is also adjusting its load forecast to anticipate new industrial customers, including LNG plants and mines, and population growth. “The demand for electricity is higher than initially forecasted, and supply from biomass is less than expected,” explained Maureen Daschuk, BC Hydro’s executive vice-president of Integrated Planning.

With sizeable customers, including proposed green hydrogen projects requiring vast power amounts, BC Hydro is bracing for significant demand increases, emphasizing the need for diverse and sustainable energy solutions.