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Cold snap pushes B.C. past electricity consumption record

BC Hydro says new infrastructure, including Site C, needed to meet spikes in energy demand
The Peace River, seen from the air near the Site C dam site. B.C. set a new electricity consumption record Jan. 3, which BC Hydro says shows the need for more generation capacity.

A cold snap affecting much of the province has pushed British Columbia past a decade-old record for electricity consumption. 

According to a BC Hydro news release, the province's electricity demand peaked at 10,126 megawatts on the chilly evening of Jan. 3, breaking the previous high of 10,113 set in 2006. 

Electricity demand typically peaks during evening hours in winter months as people return from work, heat their homes and use energy-intensive appliances. In the winter, residential energy consumption increases an average 88 per cent, BC Hydro says. 

The Crown corporation expects demand to remain high as the cold weather continues. 

The news comes at a time when BC Hydro is making the case for its $8.8 billion Site C dam project, under construction on the Peace River near Fort St. John. 

BC Hydro plans to spend around $2 billion a year to add power generation capacity and upgrade its existing infrastructure—including Site C and a new generating unit at the Revelstoke Dam. 

“B.C. is fortunate to have a large hydroelectric system that provides firm, flexible power that allows BC Hydro to respond to spikes in electricity demand caused by cold weather,” BC Hydro wrote in its release. “This means the power will be there on the coldest, darkest days of the year—without brownouts or without having to import expensive power from other jurisdictions.” 

Site C critics say B.C.’s electricity demand can be met without flooding 83 kilometres of river valley, including farmland and First Nations cultural sites. Some say the dam is not needed due to lower than projected energy demand in previous years. 

BC NDP leader John Horgan says he would send the project to the B.C. Utilities Commission if elected premier in May to determine whether Site C is in the public interest. The government previously exempted Site C from review by the independent commission, saying elected officials should have final say over whether to build the $8.8 billion project. 

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