British Columbia has jurisdiction over the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity within its provincial boundaries. Primary legislative authority over the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in British Columbia is provided through the:
- Hydro and Power Authority Act,
- Transmission Corporation Act,
- BC Hydro Public Power Legacy and Heritage Contract Act, and
- Utilities Commission Act.
The Federal Government has jurisdiction over international electricity exports, international power lines and designated interprovincial power lines, provided through the:
- National Energy Board Act,
- Canadian Environmental Assessment Act,
- Fisheries Act.
Hydro and Power Authority Act
BC Hydro was created by the Hydro and Power Authority Act of 1962, through the amalgamation of the privately owned BC Electric Company and the BC Power Commission. The Act establishes BC Hydro as a provincial agency with a board of directors appointed by the Province. Under the Act, BC Hydro’s board of directors can exercise various powers including: the authority to generate and distribute electricity, develop power projects, store water, purchase and sell power, expropriate and enter onto land and borrow money.
Transmission Corporation Act
In July 2003, consistent with policy set out in the 2002 Energy Plan, the Transmission Corporation Act created the British Columbia Transmission Corporation (BCTC). BCTC plans, operates and maintains the provincial transmission system owned by BC Hydro. It acts as an independent operator of British Columbia’s “electricity highway,” providing open and non-discriminatory access to all electricity suppliers.
BC Hydro Public Power Legacy and Heritage Contract Act
In 2003, the legislature enacted the BC Hydro Public Power Legacy and Heritage Contract Act. This Act provides legislative protection for BC Hydro’s ‘heritage assets’, ensuring they remain publicly owned. BC Hydro’s ‘heritage assets' include all BC Hydro’s electrical generation, storage reservoirs, and transmission and distribution systems.
The Act also provides the regulatory framework for the Province to establish a heritage contract to ensure that BC Hydro ratepayers continue to benefit from the low cost electricity produced by the heritage assets. The Heritage Contract preserves the value of BC Hydro’s existing, low-cost electricity generation for all British Columbians.
Utilities Commission Act
The Utilities Commission Act governs the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC), an independent, quasi-judicial regulatory agency. The BCUC regulates British Columbia’s public energy utilities, ensuring fair energy rates and safe, sufficient and secure services for all British Columbians. “Public utilities” under the Act include publicly owned and investor-owned utilities, but exclude municipalities that generate or distribute power within their own boundaries.
Ministry of Energy and Mines Act
The Ministry of Energy and Mines Act outlines the purpose and functions of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (MEMPR). MEMPR’s responsibilities include:
- the development of energy policy and regulations,
- research on energy facilities and future energy requirements,
- the collection and circulation of information that relates to energy resources including electricity, petroleum products and natural gas.
The Ministry also administers certain acts and regulations associated with efficient use of energy including electric power, such as the Energy Efficiency Act. Other electricity and alternative energy sector duties include:
- oversight of and policy direction of three energy related Crowns:
- BC Hydro,
- BC Transmission Corporation, and
- Columbia Power Corporation.
- management of the Columbia River Treaty operations and downstream power benefits.
- participation in environmental assessment reviews of electricity projects.
Environmental Assessment Act
British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) requires energy projects of a certain size to complete a comprehensive environmental review and to obtain an environmental assessment certificate. The review examines the potential for adverse environmental, economic, social, health, and heritage effects over the project’s lifetime. The review also includes opportunities for public and First Nations input.
Where a project falls within both provincial and federal environmental assessment legislation, the EAA provides for a joint federal-provincial review. The Act also ensures that local government interests are addressed.
There are several other pieces of Provincial legislation that govern electricity project development in British Columbia, including the Land Act, and the Water Act. The IPP Guidebook provides more detail on regulatory and procedural requirements for power project developments in British Columbia.
National Energy Board Act
The National Energy Board (NEB) was created by legislation in 1959, to advise the Government of Canada on energy development and use and to regulate matters of oil, natural gas, and electricity under federal jurisdiction. With respect to electricity, the NEB licenses exports and issues certificates of public convenience and necessity for the construction and operation of international and interprovincial power lines.
In addition, the NEB has a role in meeting federal obligations under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in accordance with provincial environmental reviews.
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
In 1995, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) was enacted, formally establishing the process for federal environmental reviews. The Act applies to projects over which the federal government has jurisdiction – as a proponent, land manager, funding source, or regulator.
Depending on their size and complexity, projects undergo different levels of assessment, from an initial screening to a full-scale environmental review. A “comprehensive study,” including mandatory public participation, is typically required for larger, more environmentally sensitive projects. These include hydroelectric or fossil-fuelled plants of 200 MW or greater and dams with reservoirs covering 1,500 hectares or more.
Section 35(1) of the federal Fisheries Act prohibits the “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction [HADD] of fish habitat.” To avoid costly penalties, energy projects causing a HADD must obtain an authorization under Section 35(2). The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which administers the Act, participates in the review of most hydroelectric projects to ensure that fish habitat is not adversely affected.