VICTORIA (NEWS1130) – It’s confirmed, your BC Hydro rates are on the way up.

The increase will be eight per cent this year, up to a total of 17 per cent over three years. That’s less than the BC Utilities Commission originally asked for.

The government had to cancel a BC Utilities Commission hearing to set the new rates.

BC Energy Minister Rich Coleman says he did so because he thought the commission was going to set the rates higher than government wanted. Instead, Coleman says he cut the expected rate increases by 50 per cent over three years.

He believes enough work has been done finding efficiencies within Hydro that next year’s planned increase can be limited.

“This stops us from going into a lengthy oral hearing process where we already had an agreement from all the people that were basically interveners for the most part, that these rates make sense and they’re better for the consumer and we don’t need to have higher rates,” states Coleman.

“What we’ve done is we will accept the 7.1 per cent rate increase that they’ve given us this year, but that will mean that next year the rate increase will drop to 1.4 per cent.”

BC Hydro originally proposed to increase hydro rates by about 30 per cent over three years starting last May.

The cancellation of the commission hearing is a big concern for David Black, president of the union representing Hydro workers.

“For the government to halt that hearing in mid-course, just as BC Hydro was scheduled to put some evidence on to the record, is very concerning to us,” stresses Black.

He thinks the commission would have said the government has made disastrous decisions about energy policy.

“That the commission was going to say that it was coming time for the rate payers to pay the freight on these issues. And what the government is saying, they won’t let the Commission do their work. They won’t allow an independent oversight of BC Hydro and instead they want to keep those issues covered up.”

Black believes this move by the government essentially sweeps the problems of BC Hydro under the rug until after the next election.

John Horgan, NDP Energy Critic, agrees with Black adding it’s unprecedented for the government to shut down a rate hearing before it was scheduled to start in June.

“Rich Coleman has been the Minister of Energy for just over a year and some how he thinks he knows better than experts that have been steeped in energy policy for decades,” says Horgan. “The whole point of having an independent commission is to make sure that governments don’t fix rates or make purchases that are not in the best interest of the ratepayers. That is why a commission is there.”

“After the next election, there is going a mess to fix at BC Hydro and I’m not entirely convinced that it’s going to be BC Liberals that are going to be left around to fix that mess,” he adds.