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Continent's most livable city is pricey, except for the cost of electricity

BC Hydro rates among North America's lowest, most affordable

Posted by Rob Klovance

Vancouver's ascendance to world-class city status has it going toe-to-toe with an assortment of heavyweights including Paris, New York, San Francisco and Toronto. And in survey after survey, Vancouver lives at or near the top of the list – except in one.

Most livable city? The two most popular surveys – the Economist's and Mercer's  – put B.C.'s biggest city at No. 3 and No. 5 worldwide respectively. And in both 2013 lists, Vancouver is the most livable in North America.

Most expensive city? Vancouver doesn't crack the top 20 in the world – it'll cost you $8 for a coffee in Moscow – but the Economist's 2013 survey ranks Vancouver as North America's priciest. Yup, ahead of New York City.

Most expensive electricity? Not a chance. The go-to-study in North America – Hydro-Quebec's exhaustive annual survey – pegs Vancouver as having the third lowest residential electricity rate [PDF, 36 KB] among 22 major cities on the continent.

Only Montreal and Winnipeg are lower (and not by much). Rates in Calgary and Toronto are more than 50 per cent higher, and in New York and San Francisco, rates are more than double what they are here in B.C.

And here's the kicker: Relative to what the average Canadian is paid, electricity in this country is arguably the cheapest on the planet. Especially in B.C., Quebec and Manitoba.

Analysis by the website shrinkthatfootprint.com not only found that Canada's average electricity price is fourth-lowest among 17 countries it surveyed across the world. It also found that relative to purchasing power, the cost of electricity is highest in Germany and Spain, and lowest right here in Canada.

But aren't electricity rates in B.C. about to go up?

Yes, the Province of B.C. has announced a 10-year plan for BC Hydro's residential rates that calls for an increase of nine per cent on April 1, 2014. But even with that increase, and subsequent increases under the plan, we will still enjoy among the most affordable rates in North America.

In case you missed it, that 2014 rate change will cost the average B.C. household an extra $8 a month. In exchange, we get continued clean, reliable power and $1.7 billion a year in necessary capital improvements to an electrical system – largely built in the 1960s, '70s and '80s – showing its age.

We're working hard here at BC Hydro to keep our costs down and improve efficiencies to help keep rate increases to a minimum.

Management salaries have been frozen for three of the past four years, and they remain frozen. We've eliminated about 650 roles. And we'll complete all 50 of the recommendations from the 2011 Government Review by the end of March in 2014, including a reduction in operating costs by $391 million.

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com and, thanks to Team Power Smart, more than $400 ahead on his BC Hydro bills since 2007.