FortisBC plans for energy-hungry future

Presentation to Trail council highlights smart meters

Looking ahead 20 years to identify infrastructure needs to keep up with customer energy demand, FortisBC is in the midst of creating a five-year plan to ensure the company transitions smoothly into the future.

After hosting public input forums in February, FortisBC is continuing to collect feedback on its integrated system plan, which is designed to help shape the company’s submission to the British Columbia Utilities Commission this    summer.

Established in 1897, parent company Fortis Inc. is located in St. John’s, N.L. FortisBC is the regulated utility that provides electrical service to the region.

In a worst-case scenario, customers can expect to see a 40 per cent rate increase over the next five years due to the need to purchase more energy, coupled with a projected two per cent hike every year by BC Hydro, Trail council heard during an overview presentation at Monday night’s council meeting.

Compared to this year’s estimated 3,500 gigawatts per hour required to service Fortis’ 161,000 customers, the regulatory utility expects this need to increase by 500 gigawatts come 2040.

Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs has kept track of his energy consumption over the last 30 years to compare costs.

“I’ve been using considerable less energy but the cost per kilowatt hour has gone up more than I can save,” he said.

This did not come as a surprise to Tim Swanson, manager of information systems, who admits that people are still using more power even with the company’s saving measures.

“It’s this instant-on stuff that’s killing us,” he said, adding rising costs might be due to people purchasing larger homes nowadays.

By 2015, Fortis expects to access more energy from its parent company’s investment in the Waneta expansion, but other power will have to be purchased at market prices.

As a safety feature, Fortis looks to set up supply insurance, said Swanson.

“We want to try and ensure that customers don’t get hit with a big increase,” he said, pointing to the “phony energy crisis” in 2001 when California had a shortage of electricity caused by market manipulations and illegal shutdowns of pipelines. The state suffered from multiple large-scale blackouts and one of the largest energy companies collapsed.

Hopes are that planning for the future will limit bill impacts while still ensuring service is reliable.

Looking ahead, Fortis is considering smart meters – electronic meters that record consumption – which will help customers manage their energy use.

Ensuring all customers are set up with electronic devices could cost about $40 million over a 20-year period, though the initiative is expected to be revenue neutral over time, said Swanson.

Fortis continues to strive to be revenue neutral through its PowerSense program, which is committed to helping customers get the most out of their energy dollar.

The presentation to council only provided an overview of Fortis’s submission to the B.C. Utilities Commission. Once it’s filed with the commission, the full plan will be available for viewing.

Those interested in providing feedback on the integrated system plan can email