Hydro debt grows, B.C. deficit shrinks

Energy Minister Rich Coleman is examining BC Hydro's rapidly growing deferred expenses.

The 80-year-old Ruskin dam and powerhouse is getting an upgrade expected to cost up to $850 million. B.C.'s auditor general has criticized BC Hydro for deferring debt for projects such as the Fraser Valley dam

VICTORIA – Energy Minister Rich Coleman is examining BC Hydro’s rapidly growing deferred expenses, part of which end up as a dividend to ease the provincial government’s deficit.

Auditor General John Doyle reviewed BC Hydro’s books and found that as of March, $2.2 billion of the utility’s debt was placed in deferral accounts. Deferred expenses are expected to grow to $5 billion by 2017.

In a report released Friday, Doyle said deferral accounts for major capital costs are an acceptable practice to smooth out rate increases, but BC Hydro’s use of it runs ahead of other Canadian utilities. The practice can “mask the true cost of doing business, creating the appearance of profitability where none actually exists, and place undue burdens on future taxpayers,” Doyle warned.

Doyle added that “there does not appear to be a plan to reduce the balance of these accounts.”

Coleman acknowledges that the share of declared profit BC Hydro is required to pay to government has reduced the provincial deficit. BC Hydro paid $463 million to the province in March, based on a legislated formula that it provide 85 per cent of net income to its only shareholder, the B.C. government.

Coleman said he is studying Doyle’s report, including the conclusion that deferred debt is creating an illusion of BC Hydro profit when the corporation is running at a loss. He said he will also review bonuses paid to senior management for achieving profit goals.

The province’s deficit for the current fiscal year is expected to be $2.3 billion, an estimate that tripled when the harmonized sales tax was defeated in a referendum and the government had to budget for paying back transition funds to Ottawa.

NDP leader Adrian Dix pressed Coleman in the legislature Tuesday to account for bonuses paid to BC Hydro executives. Coleman replied that profits were only one determinant of bonuses, along with worker safety and customer satisfaction.

Current electricity rates include 2.5 per cent that raises $100 million a year to pay down deferred accounts.

Coleman also defended a deferral account set up to pay the $930 million cost of installing BC Hydro’s smart grid. Savings from that upgrade are sufficient to pay for the capital cost, he said.

NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston reminded Coleman that the association of major industrial power users has also raised concerns about BC Hydro’s growing deferred debt, and the potential to deter new mines and other investments that face higher rate increases in the future.

Just Posted

B.C. freestyle skier wins gold

Cassie Sharpe of Comox shines in the halfpipe

Rossland St. Andrew’s United Church planning for restoration

Rossland’s United Church has received a CBT grant to support a restoration of the Red Roof Church.

Winlaw man dead after collision near Slocan Park

Nelson RCMP are asking for witnesses after Sunday incident

Rossland city council sorts things out with museum

The Rossland Museum Discovery Centre has been growing its funding sources.

Lots to love this week at Joe Hill Coffee House

Here’s more to love from Joe Hill Coffee House and our talented local performers.

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Canada rounds out Day 11 earning gold in 2 more events

Comox Valley’s Cassie Sharpe and fan-favourites Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir all earned golds

Trudeau announces two-way $1 billion investment deal with India

Some of India’s biggest companies to invest more than $250 million in Canada in the coming years

’60s Scoop group educates survivors, pushes rejection of federal settlement

Federal government’s compensation proposal includes $50 million for an Indigenous Healing Foundation

As ‘Black Panther’ shows, inclusion pays at the box office

At the box office, inclusion is paying — and often, it’s paying off big time

Washington senator wants B.C. to follow suit and phase out net-pen fish farms

An American ban will be less effective in the shared ecosystem of the Salish Sea, senator says

Virtue and Moir end ice dance careers with Olympic gold

Virtue and Moir’s gold medal win at the Olympics makes them the world’s most decorated figure skaters

Canadians find living in small spaces teaches creativity

Canadian families choosing to live in small spaces to bring closeness to children

Most Read