The NDP are blaming the Liberal government for B.C. Hydro contracts that see the corporation locked into buying electricity at high rates and selling surplus supply for much lower prices on the spot market.
"The numbers are quite significant, I think it's quite alarming," Prince George-Valemount NDP candidate Sherry Ogasawara said
According to the NDP's figures drawn from B.C. Hydro's 2012 annual report, the average price B.C. Hydro pays in its long term contracts is $94/megawatt hour but it end up selling excess power at just $37 per MWh. The opposition party projects this will cost the power provider upwards of $1 billion over the next four years.
"The documents that we have show us that we're a very long away from actually needing that power," Ogasawara said. "It's power that we don't even need and the cost of it is enormous and quite frankly it costs us all."
Energy Minister Rich Coleman said the contracts made good business sense at the time they were signed, which came before the downturn in the U.S. economy drove down energy prices.
"The market can change in 12 months, that's the reality," he said. "The U.S. economy dropped after some of these contracts were signed in 2006 and 2007, so the need for power dropped."
With the price of natural gas also falling at the same time, Coleman said the NDP picked a convenient time to point out the price disparity.
"You can't take a snapshot of one, two, three or four years and say this is the number, because it just doesn't work that way," he said.
Ogasawara said she wasn't prepared to speculate on what might happen if the U.S. economy picks up, but said her party's figures depict the current reality.
"We're dealing with this as a real issue right now," she said.
Coleman said some of the high-cost contracts have other values, like reducing the amount of greenhouse gas produced or by proving forestry operations with other sources of revenue through bio-generation projects.
"The NDP are obviously opposed to green power because that's what all this is," Coleman said.
Ogasawara said green energy isn't the problem, rather the contracts are for electricity the province doesn't need just yet. If elected to government in the spring she said the NDP would improve long-term planning and restore the role of the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Coleman said the contracts were needed to secure the province's long-term power supply and ensure enough capacity is in the system for proposed new mines and liquified natural gas plants. He said his government doesn't regret the purchases.
"I think our guys at B.C. Hydro tried to do the best business they could, they looked at the long term, not just the short term," Coleman said. "If they looked just short term they wouldn't be doing any of this stuff and then someone would wake up one day and be complaining we didn't have enough power for British Columbia."