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Debate: Sterk steers power away from hydro

A question about the "proposed sale of river and water diversion rights" kicked off the environment segment of the provincial leaders debate this evening.

No surprise there. Independent power production has been a key and divisive issue in this election, largely focused on private development in the run of river sector.

NDP leader Carole James jumped on the privatization aspect, stating that people across the province believe in BC Hydro when it comes to keeping rates affordable, and that the provincial utility has been a "competitive advantage for us."

But BC Hydro is already increasing customer rates, in a stated effort to encourage conservation, with a two-tiered rate system that charges a higher rate for residential customers who use more electricity.

Gordon Campbell commented first on the "misinformation out there" about independent power production.

"No one is selling British Columbia's rivers," he said. "There is water rates, water rentals that are done for 40 years."

"We also think it's important to note that independent power is actually creating about 1,100 jobs in rural British Columbia right now."

Campbell went on to say that "we want to be energy self-sufficient by 2016," but failed to mention that his government is also building energy export plans with the U.S. and Mexico.

Green Party leader Jane Sterk tried to steer the focus off hydro development altogether.

"The Green Party leader believes we don't need to invest in new hydro," Sterk said. "We need to diversify energy sources away from hydro. We believe these could be done in a number of different forms…they could be co-ops, they could be municipal facilities. We could certainly let BC Hydro get involved in the creation of new energy sources."

The Green Party platform has focused on the creation of more solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy. Sterk said the Green would reflect this change by revamping BC Hydro into a B.C. energy authority. There would also be a rate increase associated with these forms of technology -- Ontario currently pays 42 cents per kilowatt hour for solar electricity, while BC Hydro pays 5.4 cents.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Hook.

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