Big Changes to BC Hydro’s 2021 Integrated Resource Plan

by Tom Hackney and Bill Andrews

22 August 2023

Last April, we reported that the BC Utilities Commission’s review of BC Hydro’s 2021 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) had been upended by two BC government announcements which BC Hydro said would cause material changes to the IRP. 

BC Hydro said the issuance of an Environmental Assessment Certificate for the Cedar LNG Project and the creation of a “new energy action framework” would trigger major changes to BC Hydro’s long term resource needs. BC Hydro asked the BCUC to extend the IRP review to include a “Signpost Update” from BC Hydro with updated evidence on Hydro’s load forecast and resource requirements.

Some parties, including BCSEA, expressed disappointment that BC Hydro’s IRP did not have enough built-in flexibility to respond adequately to the government’s two announcements. Nevertheless, the BCUC granted BC Hydro’s request.

On 15 June 2023, BC Hydro filed its Signpost Update, which indicates “increased load as well as decreased supply, resulting in an earlier need for future resources.” The Signpost Update shows a forecast energy load increase by fiscal 2030 of 2,300 gigawatt-hours per year (GWh/y) over BC Hydro’s previous load forecast. (For scale, this is about 4% of BC Hydro’s total load.) At the same time, BC Hydro revised its assessment of available generation resources downward by 900 GWh/y, due to lower than expected availability of wood waste to fuel biomass generators. 

As a result of these changes to the forecasts, the Signpost Update calls for changes to the timing of actions on energy efficiency, demand response, industrial load curtailment, electricity purchase agreement renewals, and utility-scale batteries. Notably, the Signpost Update also adds a new Near-term Action to acquire approximately 3,000 GWh/year of new clean or renewable energy (i.e., wind or solar) from greenfield facilities in the province able to achieve commercial operation as early as fiscal 2029 and approximately 700 GWh/year of new clean or renewable energy from existing facilities prior to fiscal 2029. This is in contrast to the original 2021 IRP that said BC Hydro does not need any new power acquisitions in the next five years. 

At the same time as BC Hydro filed its Signpost Update for review by the BCUC, the BC government effectively pre-empted the outcome of the BCUC process by announcing that BC Hydro would go ahead with a call for power in the Spring of 2024.  

On 25 July 2023, the BCUC issued a significant procedural decision saying that for the time being, its review of BC Hydro’s IRP would limited to the updated load forecasts and the acquisition of 3,700 GWh/y of new generation. Presumably, the BCUC’s objective is to influence the terms and conditions of the call for power before it goes ahead. 

BCSEA and VEVA (Vancouver Island EV Association) opposed postponing the Commission’s review of all the aspects of the IRP except the load forecasts and the call for power. We argued (unsuccessfully) that the Commission should receive final written arguments on all the IRP issues at the same time.  Despite support for this view from BC Hydro and some other interveners, on 18 August 2023 the BCUC confirmed its initial procedural decision. Oral hearings are scheduled in September and October. BCSEA and VEVA will be active participants, supporting low carbon electrification.