BC Hydro prepares for severe drought that will reduce energy production

Low snow levels in British Columbia’s mountains will likely help BC Hydro remain a net importer of electricity for a second year.

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BC Hydro is bracing for another year of potentially severe drought in key watersheds that feed its major dams, as the BC River Forecast Center reports below-average snow accumulations.

The utility is used to managing the ups and downs of high and low water years with a history dating back 80 years, but “this is toward the worst end of what we’ve seen historically,” the CEO said Chris O’Riley. Friday.

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“We are cautious about the potential for extreme weather with climate change and yes, it is definitely something we are managing and using all the tools we have,” he added.

O’Riley said that will include importing more electricity to help preserve reservoir levels, a strategy that led to high levels of electricity purchases in 2023, but which paid off in its ability to deliver electricity through demand. record during the January cold wave.

“I mean customers need to have confidence that we will have enough power for them,” O’Riley said.

The BC River Forecast Centre’s latest bulletin, released Thursday, showed that snowpack in BC’s mountains, critical to maintaining water flows in streams and rivers and replenishing BC Hydro reservoirs, is up to 40 per cent. below normal.

This is less than the snow cover at the same time last year, which preceded last summer’s severe drought, which lasted into this winter.

Hydro imported about 10,000 gigawatt hours of electricity during its 2023 fiscal year, about a fifth of the province’s needs, at a cost of $500,000, compared to $1 billion worth of energy exports during the previous year. .

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The prevailing conditions now have the BC River Forecast Center preparing for potentially worse conditions in 2024 and people affected by the drought “should expect a similar situation to last year,” according to hydrologist Jonathan Boyd.

The drought until 2023 turned BC Hydro into a net importer of electricity and the company had to reduce domestic electricity production from major hydroelectric dams on the Peace River and in the Kootenays to help preserve its ability to generate power through the winter. .

Hydro survived record electricity demand during the January cold snap thanks to the company’s “careful plan” that involved electricity imports in the summer months, when B.C. demand is typically lower, despite rising usage of air conditioning, according to O’Riley.

However, last fall, Hydro stated in its third-quarter financial report that inflows to its reservoirs through the end of September “were significantly below average and lower than the same period in the previous fiscal year.”

On Friday, O’Riley said its imports last summer allowed Hydro to improve reservoir levels.

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Even though the snowpack is less, the CEO said they predict reservoir levels will be higher at the end of March than they were a year ago.

“So the reservoirs are in a little bit better shape than this time last year, but we’re still concerned about the levels overall,” O’Riley said.

However, the River Forecast Center rated snowpack in the regions most important to BC Hydro’s key dams at between 67 and 86 per cent of normal levels between the southern interior and northeast.

O’Riley said that has meant the province’s northeast Williston Reservoir, which supplies its Peace River dams, is almost two meters below normal levels and its Kinbasket Reservoir in the Kootenays, which powers its Mica Dam , is about three meters below normal. .

The amount of electricity BC Hydro will have to import next year will depend on whether snowpack conditions improve before the end of winter and how much rain falls after that, but O’Riley said the utility anticipates that imports will continue until 2024.

The reservoirs are Hydro’s “bank account.”

“We’ve depleted the bank account by having low snowpack for a good portion of the winter,” O’Riley said.

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While 2024 will be the second consecutive year that Hydro is a net importer of energy, O’Riley said the utility was a net exporter for the previous five years.

[email protected]


With files from Nathan Griffiths, Postmedia

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