This article was published by the Canada Energy Regulator on Sept. 14, 2022.
Exports and imports
British Columbia is one of Canada’s four largest electricity exporting provinces. It is part of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, a region that coordinates transmission in the electrical grid in western Canada and the western U.S. to ensure reliability. In 2021, B.C. exported 11.4 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity and imported 7.5 TWh. Electricity exported from Canada via B.C. mainly goes to California, Washington, and Oregon (Figure 1). Electricity imported from the U.S. to B.C. also mainly comes from California, Washington, and Oregon (Figure 2). Although B.C. trades electricity with Alberta, only exports and imports at the international level are considered.
Electricity trade is variable and affected by regional supply and demand. Regional supply largely depends on availability of generation, supply outages, and precipitation (for hydropower). Regional demand largely depends on seasonal and daily temperatures, and industrial activity. Trade volumes are also affected by factors like unexpected weather events, renewable energy requirements, and prices. For example, in October 2018, B.C. had some record-low reservoir levels, followed by record breaking cold temperatures in February 2019, and a dry March.(1) This led to low export volumes and increased imports in early 2019.
Price and demand
In 2020 and 2021, electricity exported from B.C. to Nevada and Arizona reached new highs (Figure 1). This was partly due to unexpected and extreme heat events in those states in the summer months, leading to increased electricity demand from air conditioner use. In June 2021, the average price at which B.C. sold electricity to Arizona reached over $244 per megawatt hour (MWh). In September 2021, the average price at which B.C. sold electricity to Nevada reached over $210 per MWh.(2) In comparison, the average price of electricity sold to the United States from B.C. in 2021 was $53 per MWh.
Generally, B.C. can export surplus electricity when prices are higher and can import electricity when prices are lower in wholesale markets or during periods of low precipitation. Importing electricity when prices are low can also conserve reservoir levels for periods of high demand. Most of B.C.’s imported electricity comes from Washington state, which generates between a fifth and a third of the hydroelectricity in the United States.
Figure 1: Electricity exported from British Columbia to the United States
- Report: BC Hydro acts to address record low reservoir levels
- CER – Commodity Statistics – Table 3A Export Sales Summary Report by Destination and Source