It was supposed to be a luncheon on energy sustainability, but the event couldn’t help but be overshadowed by B.C. Hydro’s major announcement of proposed cutbacks earlier in the week.
With the news that the Crown corporation, after working with provincial government auditors over the past seven weeks, committed to trimming its budget by $800 million over three years, it was understandable that B.C. Hydro president Dave Cobb was unable to keep his appointment as the keynote speaker at the function, hosted by the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Thursday at the Tolko Industries building.
In his place stood Greg Reimer, Hydro’s vice-president of transmission and distribution, along with a handful of other upper-level staff. Reimer didn’t skirt the cutbacks issue, but rather made it his first topic, explaining Hydro’s position and how corporation intends to reduce proposed rate increases from 32 per cent down to 16 per cent.
It is estimated B.C. Hydro, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, may have to reduce up to 1,000 of the corporation’s 6,000 employees.
“When the auditors came after the government’s announcement, we worked closely with them and they pushed us to be better and they kind of pushed us out of our comfort zone a little and ended up with the result that they have,” said Reimer, who spent 26 years in the B.C. public service before joining Hydro last June.
“The government put forward a proposal that we’ve accepted. It certainly is going to be a challenge for us, it’s going to be difficult, but it’s achievable.”
Reimer then fielded questions from a knowledgeable crowd of about 50 chamber members and other local business people. They asked him about everything from the current status of a proposed hydroelectric dam project, to selling and buying power from the U.S., to solar, wind, tidal and other alternative energies.
He then segued into the initial topic of energy sustainability and conservation, particularly the implementation of B.C. Hydro’s smart metering program.
The company expects the new meters will cut costs through reduced theft of electricity and various operating efficiencies. There are already 7,000 meters installed across the province, and Reimer said a rollout in the North Okanagan should begin sometime in October.
“It’s a big, strong step in modernizing our systems,” he said.
“Demand for electricity in British Columbia is increasing. Over the next 20 years we expect it to increase by about 40 per cent. It’s a lot less expensive to conserve electricity than it is to build new generation, new transmission lines, new distribution lines and the like.”