Why we're increasing rates: a look at how we're meeting growing electricity demand

BC Hydro manages a complex system to serve 4 million customers across B.C. We need to make major investments to replace aging equipment, expand our transmission network, and complete important upgrades to ensure we continue to deliver clean, reliable power.

We need to make investments in our aging system, which will affect rates

We've been working hard to keep rates as low as possible as we upgrade the electricity system. But we need to make major investments, and that’s going to have an impact on the rates that we need to charge.

We’re keeping rates low and ensuring that any rate increases are predictable, while making the investments into our dams and power lines that are needed to provide reliable power.

As of April 1, 2017, residential rates will increase by 3.5%. This is in line with our 10-year rates plan announced in November 2013, which includes incremental rates increases of 4% in 2016, 3.5% this year and 3% in 2018. Our rates for business customers have also changed.

This means for the average residential customer, electricity bills will increase by around $3.75 per month this year.

4% rate increase means for residential customers
The average residential customer will pay about $3.75 more per month, still among the lowest rates in North America.
Incremental increases for residential bills graph

While our rates are increasing, we're working hard to ensure that electricity in B.C. remains affordable. In fact, our rates are some of the lowest on the continent. Under the 10-year rate plan, residential customers will see only incremental rate increases for the next three years. Adjusting for inflation, monthly residential bills are actually very similar to previous decades.

Average monthly residential bill graph
After adjusting for inflation, electricity bills are comparable to the 1970s.

So why do rates need to go up? It’s all about the need for system upgrades, and the growing demand for electricity.

Assets and equipment are aging and in need of replacement

Most of B.C.'s electricity system was built in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and many of our assets and equipment are reaching the end of their expected lifespan. Other components can no longer meet the demand for electricity. To ensure that the system continues to deliver power safely and reliably, we need to make upgrades.

Ruskin Dam and Powerhouse
From generating stations and dams to wooden distribution poles, we need to complete upgrades and repairs across the province. Over the next three years, we'll spend $7.2 billion in capital projects to upgrade and maintain the system.

In particular, our generating facilities and power poles require capital investment to replace aging equipment. For example:

  • The average age of BC Hydro's electric generating facilities is more than 45 years old.
  • 70,000 wood poles across the province are at least 50 years old and need to be replaced.

These upgrades are costly: we need to invest about $7.2 billion dollars over the next three years in capital investments to the system, including building new substations, seismically upgrading aging dams and increasing transmission capacity in key areas.

Demand is growing; energy and capacity are both needed

There's another reason that we need to make upgrades – the growing demand for power. While it's true that changes in industry and the economy have adjusted the expected demand for power in the short term, the bottom line is that demand is still increasing. That means we need to upgrade some facilities, and add new ones, to ensure we have enough energy over the long term, and enough capacity to meet the demand during peak periods. By fiscal year 2026, we need new resources for both energy and capacity. Site C and Revelstoke Unit 6 will play a big role in helping us fill these gaps.

What’s driving increased electricity demand?

A few key things:

  • A growing population. B.C.'s population is expected to increase from 4.7 million people today to 5.8 million people by 2035.
  • Continued residential development. 80,000 new homes will be constructed over the next three years alone.
  • Growth in key areas where infrastructure is at capacity. Some areas, including the Lower Mainland, Dawson Creek, and Kamloops are experiencing substantial growth, and our infrastructure needs to be upgraded to meet the need.

In addition, growth from industrial sectors such as LNG may change, which would further increase electricity demand.

What are we doing to keep costs low?

Although our rates remain some of the lowest in North America, we know that any rate increase can be challenging for our customers. We've been working to keep our costs as low as possible, to reduce the rate increases that we need to fund critical upgrades.

Part of that means carefully managing our costs on major projects.

Helicopter with transmission tower
We've completed more than 550 projects over the past five years, helping to keep our costs low.

Over the past five years, we've delivered 563 generation, substation, and transmission line projects, and we finished these projects 1.8% under budget overall.

We're also working internally to become more efficient and manage our costs, such as reducing operating costs. Our spending for the next three years is concentrated where it matters most, on areas such as safety, storm response, customer service, maintenance, and capital projects.

We'll continue to manage our costs and invest in B.C.'s electricity system, so that our customers can continue to enjoy clean, reliable power for decades to come.