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Importing and exporting power

Importing and exporting power
Watch Dave and BC Hydro Engineer, Joomin explain power trading.

Power trading and its benefit to B.C.

Factors like weather and economic activity have a direct influence on electricity demand. This makes it difficult for us – or any utility – to predict future demand from our customers or our available supply with 100% accuracy. Fortunately, for us, our large hydroelectric system can respond quickly to changes in demand, allowing us to ramp up or down generation almost instantly.

Our system is also part of the Western Interconnection – a network of high-voltage transmission lines that connects B.C. with other utilities in western North America, including those in Alberta, Washington State, Oregon and California. This allows our trading subsidiary– Powerex – to buy and sell power with trading partners within the network. When Powerex sells power sourced from B.C. it provides us with additional revenue to keep rates affordable for B.C., and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions in North America.

Keeping rates low

In years with average or greater water inflows, our system has the capacity to produce a surplus of electricity. This surplus of clean power can be sold by Powerex to its trading partners within the Western Interconnection. Powerex will export electricity when our system has more power than we need to meet demand in B.C., and when market prices are high. This provides additional revenue and helps keep our rates low.

The surplus of energy in our system on an annual basis makes Powerex a net exporter of electricity, meaning they sell more than they purchase.

In recent years, more and more renewables, like solar, have become available on the market from places like California. Just like with any other product, the price of electricity will fluctuate depending on the amount of supply and demand. Solar generation is highest during mid-day and often there is so much that it can lead to low prices. Powerex will often purchase power during these times at a much lower cost, and sometimes they’re even paid to take the excess electricity.

Importing keeps supply for when B.C. needs it most

In addition to selling B.C.’s surplus power, Powerex also purchases power from the wholesale market. Buying electricity when prices are low helps to conserve water in our reservoirs for periods of high demand, like during the winter months.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in North America

B.C. is a leader in clean energy and our hydroelectric power is very attractive to Powerex’s trading partners. Many of these trading partners are located in states such as California and Washington, where clean energy is valued.   Purchasing clean hydroelectricity from B.C. can reduce their reliance on fossil fuel-based sources and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

One of B.C.’s electricity trading partners is Alberta. While it is one of our closest neighbours, imports from Alberta represent just 3% of all imports into B.C. In fact, B.C. exports six times as much as it imports from Alberta, which helps to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions there.

Our clean energy advantage will become even more significant as more and more jurisdictions adopt policies on clean energy and look for options to meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets.