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Rick Koechl & Mike Kroecher: Will reviews sweep BC Hydro problems under the rug?

W ho can forget the line from that epic rock song back in the 70s from The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again : meet the new boss, same as the old boss? The story below just might just be reality imitating art when it comes to new bosses.
Premier John Horgan is joined by Minister of Energy Michelle Mungall after giving the green light on continuing construction on the controversial Site C Dam project during a press conference in Victoria, on Monday, December 11, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Who can forget the line from that epic rock song back in the 70s from The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again: meet the new boss, same as the old boss? The story below just might just be reality imitating art when it comes to new bosses.

Recently, we have learned the new NDP government is ready to proceed with a two-tiered comprehensive review of BC Hydro. It wants to examine a number of long-term concerns about the Crown utility corporation. The first phase of this review is to be completed by the fall of 2018. The second phase is apparently slated for completion by 2019.

The criteria for these two reviews appear to be all encompassing and comprehensive. In the words of Energy Minister Michelle Mungall, “the fastest way to sum it up is we’re looking at everything.”

Time to put on the reading glasses and scrutinize the fine print of that document.

It seems our new energy minister would like to spin some good news for a change about BC Hydro’s financial situation. For instance, she has recently stated that Chris O’Riley, the newly appointed chief operating officer for BC Hydro, has been doing a “fantastic job … I am continually impressed.”

Lest we forget, only three months ago Mungall made an entirely different observation, stating BC Hydro was in a “financial mess.” Now, unless there are miracle workers in Hydroland and within the NDP,  her latest comments are highly suspect.

Mungall further compliments O’Riley, stating he comes with a “fantastically large broom to clean up any mess.”

There’s that word again, fantastic.

Mungall concedes BC Hydro has a “brand new leadership team, and are able to take on the challenges that are before them.”

Not true. This is not a new team. O’Riley had been merely bumped up the line after the departure of Jessica MacDonald as CEO.

Brad Bennett is also gone as chair of the board of directors, along with Jack  Weisgerber, who was immediately reappointed to the Williston Reservoir Fish and Wildlife Compensation Fund. The rest of  BC Hydro’s board members have remained, along with the majority of the senior advisors and administrators at BC Hydro.

Meet the new boss? Nothing new here. Same old, same old boss.  

Back to those government reviews. The official criteria from the NDP tells us the review will include an overview of services, finances, and other significant BC Hydro priorities for the next decade or so.

Not all is coming up roses on this front either. For instance, while the government plans those reviews, BC Hydro recently, and quietly, submitted yet another proposal to the BC Utilities Commission revealing that it wants to spend an additional $20 billion for more megaprojects in the next decade. 

One would think Site C fits the bill as a megaproject, but apparently not, as this review of BC Hydro will not include the capital costs or anything else dealing with Site C. It appears this overhaul is not so comprehensive and all encompassing after all.

Then there is Mungall’s promise to reduce the burden of the billions of spending being deferred in more than 27 accounts. Those amounts at the moment are a staggering $5.4 billion and growing. She stated, “We’re not only on track, we’re doing better than hoped.”

A reminder to the reader that many of those deferred accounts are hidden from public scrutiny. No transparency here. Will we ever be able to find out if and when we, as ratepayers, are actually “back on track?” The simple answer is no.

One really has to wonder why these two publicly-funded reviews are even necessary, if, according to Mungall, BC Hydro is doing so very well and heading in the right direction?

Perhaps that “fantastically large broom” that O’Riley carries around,will come in handy for these upcoming new NDP-BC Hydro reviews. It should come in handy for sweeping old — or new — problems under the rug.

Mike Kroecher is a long retired resident of the Peace, expressing his deep roots in the land through his art. Rick Koechl is a recently retired teacher of the Peace with an enthusiasm for politics and energy.