Commonly referred to as BC Hydro, it is one of the largest electric utilities in Canada, serving more than 1.7 million customers in an area containing over 95 percent of British Columbia's population is mandated to provide, "reliable power, at low cost, for generations." As a provincial Crown corporation, BC Hydro reports to the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, and is regulated by the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC). BC Hydro operates 30 hydroelectric facilities and three natural gas-fueled thermal power plants. About 80 per cent of the province's electricity is produced by major hydroelectric generating stations on the Columbia and Peace rivers. BC Hydro's various facilities generate between 43,000 and 54,000 gigawatt hours of electricity annually, depending on prevailing water levels. BC Hydro's capacity is about 3.3 gigawatts.
Electricity is delivered through a network of 18,286 kilometers of transmission lines and 55,254 kilometers of distribution lines. For fiscal 2005, domestic electric sales volume reached 51,205 gigawatt hours. For fiscal 2007, net income was $407 million, which resulted in a return on equity of 13.44 per cent. On March 31, 2007, BC Hydro, its subsidiaries and British Columbia Transmission Corporation had 4,546 employees. Hydro is in strange position as the debt from building the dams, billions of dollars worth, is held by the provincial government and not shown on Hydro's balance sheet.
BC Electric started as a the British Columbia Electric Railway (streetcar and lighting utility) in Victoria, Vancouver and New Westminster in 1898. Power was generated by coal fired steam plants. Increasing demand in the Edwardian boom years meant BC Electric sought expansions through Hydro power at Buntzen Lake, and later at Stave Lake. Sensible growth and expansion of the power, streetcar and coal gas utilities meant that BC Electric was a major company in the region. An English financier named Robert Horne-Payne secured the funding and created the large company from what had been a patchwork of small regional steam, hydro and diesel plants.
Also at this time, sawmills and factories converted to electricity, further increasing load. BC Electric erected more local hydro stations around the province. Similarly, small towns also built and operated their own power stations. More power AC and DC power lines were strung, though DC was on the way out as it could not travel distances. Dams on the Puntledge, Jordan, and Elk River were built in the 1920s.BC Electric created one of the largest streetcar systems in the world with some 200 miles of track running from Point Grey to Chilliwack. There were both city street cars and interurban cars servicing Richmond, Burnaby, Vancouver and North Van. New dams were planned in the 1920s, such as at Seton Portage, but the Great Depression affected business expansion. By the first world war, private cars and jitneys were beginning to affect streetcar traffic. The expansion of private automobile ownership in the 1920s further constrained the expansion of streetcar lines. However, the arrival of the Depression saw an increase in ridership, at the expense of maintenance in the system. Large dam schemes were planned for BC. The war years continued to crimp expansion or modernization of the streetcar system, thereby, in the post war years smaller street car systems, such as Victoria and North Vancouver, were junked for buses. Vancouvers streetcars were converted to trolley busses, and the interurban system abandoned by 1955. BC Hydro operated the transit system for many years, supporting it with a small levy on the electric bill, until the transit system was taken over by TransLink.
The post-war years saw increasing government involvement with the power utility. Organizations such as the BC Electrical Commission helped expand its aegis. Finally, BC Hydro was set up in 1962. By this time, BC Hydro had plants at the Hart Dam and Mission Hill, and had commenced vast projects on the Peace River and the Columbia River.
Under the leadership of Dal Grauer, BC Hydro became the largest industrial company in BC. It built the first high rise in the city of Vancouver, and started projects on an unheard of scale. The W. A. C. Bennett Dam in Hudson's Hope, BC was the center piece of this program. Other dams were planned for the Fraser River, the Stikine, and minor rivers. With increased capacity, Hydro exported power to the US, under the Columbia River Treaty. Large dams,such as the Keenleyside, Mica and Revelstoke-- were built on the Columbia.
These power exports became controversial as BC Hydro sells power to California to meet its peak summer load. A separate company called Powerex acts as a power broker and trader and buys and sells electricity on the spot market. BC is in a consortium with Alberta, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California and network and generation capacity shared. During the Enron induced blackouts in California of 2003, BC Hydro was accused of price gouging.
In the spring of 2007, BC Hydro and the Gulf Islands Film and Television School (GIFTS) embarked on a long term collaboration to promote energy conservation. The first project they launched, called 'Off the Grid', challenged British Columbia high school students to think of new ideas to save energy, on both large and small scales, and create short video spots about their suggestions. It produced sixty four videos in total.
The second initiative, called 'Invent the Future', was launched in 2008, this time also in conjunction with an environmental project called 'goBEYOND' (created by several British Columbia universities and funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education and the Climate Action Secretariate). The goal of Invent the Future is to bridge the gap between intent and action among B.C.’s student population interested in reducing energy use. British Columbia youth between the ages of 13-29 are tasked with creating original energy conservation solutions.