Have you ever wondered how our rates compare?
Don't let a high winter bill fool you: electricity prices in B.C. are among the lowest in North America
It's the time of year when many of us are hit with higher-than-usual electricity or energy bills, thanks largely to higher winter heating costs. You might be facing higher annual payments for everything from insurance rates to groceries. It's no secret that B.C. isn't an inexpensive place to live.
If you find yourself wondering whether our electricity prices are part of that, you may be surprised. Electricity rates in B.C. are some of the lowest in all of North America.
In Canada, only Manitoba and Quebec have lower rates
Each year, Hydro Quebec compares the electricity rates for utilities across North America, from Montreal to Miami. And most of the time, the utilities that come out on top (or the bottom, if we're talking prices), have something in common: large hydroelectricity facilities.
For 2015 (the most recent rates year), the three utilities with the lowest rates for residential customers were Hydro Quebec, Manitoba Hydro, and BC Hydro, in that order.
The average monthly Hydro Quebec bill for a customer using 1,000 kwH per month was around $71. In third place, B.C. fared well, with average monthly bills of $102.
That's a far cry from most other places in North America in the Hydro Quebec study, where most of the other average monthly bills are above $150. In fact, bills in Boston, Massachusetts are three times as expensive as British Columbia, coming in at a whopping $300 per month. Bills are also big in the Big Apple; monthly costs in New York City are $289.
And it's not just the United States with much higher bills. Eastern provinces including Nova Scotia and Ontario both have much higher rates – typical bills in Halifax are $160, and Ottawa isn't far behind at $148.
So what do the low-end prices of Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. have in common? Large hydroelectric facilities.
Building large-scale hydro dams are like ‘putting money in a savings account'
It's not cheap to build a large hydroelectric dam the size of W.A.C. Bennett near Hudson's Hope, or Mica Generating Station north of Revelstoke. They cost a lot of money up front. But the payoff comes for customers from decades after the dams are built.
The answer lies in the reservoirs. Large reservoirs of water allow BC Hydro and other utilities such as Hydro Quebec to generate power when it's needed, and to scale back generation at times when demand isn't as high. That's a big difference from utilities who rely mostly on coal or nuclear power, that have to generate power all the time, whether it's needed or not. Relying on reservoirs and planning power generation for optimal times is also beneficial for trade; hydro-based utilities have the flexibility to buy electricity when it's cheaper, such as the middle of the night, or sell when it's expensive, like when we're all trying to cook dinner.
Once hydroelectric dams are built, their lifespan is in the range of 100 years. That means 100 years of low-cost power, after the admittedly high initial investment.
When you look around the globe, you see similar patterns. Coal and gas-dominated jurisdictions in places like China, Australia and South Africa all have higher prices, just like gas-fired North American utilities such as the ones in New York.
Plus hydroelectric offers another benefit, seen in this infographic – much lower carbon emissions.
Keeping electricity affordable means smart investments, new tools for customers
Even with some of the lowest rates in North America, any rate increase can be challenging for our customers. As part of the 10-Year Rates Plan, we're making smart investments to mitigate the effect of rate increases on our customers.
It's a time when we need to make huge investments in the grid, such as the $1 billion project to upgrade John Hart Generating Station, or adding new turbines at Mica to increase capacity during peak times. They're not inexpensive projects, and they all have an impact on the rates we need to charge our customers.
Keeping electricity affordable also means working with you to help save energy and money. When you use less, you pay less.
Tracking your electricity use online using MyHydro can help pinpoint ways that you can save, and making changes to your electricity use could help you save up to $500 a year – more than enough to keep your bills some of the lowest on the continent.