Mine workers and their families in the Cariboo are among those expected to benefit from a government program giving mining companies temporary relief on their hydro bills, as the slumping industry trudges through a prolonged period of economic stagnation due to low commodity prices.
Eight metal mines and five coal mines operating in the province employ approximately 7,500 workers, including 600 in the Cariboo.
“Rural communities across British Columbia depend on the high-paying jobs that their mines provide residents,” says Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines, in a Feb. 5 news release.
“We are in the midst of a challenging time for the sector and this will provide some temporary support to help the mines stay open as long as possible, hopefully until commodity prices bounce back.”
The five-year program delivered by BC Hydro will see companies operating metal and coal mines in B.C. able to defer a portion of their electricity payments.
The amount any mine will be allowed to defer is capped at the equivalent of up to 75 per cent of its electricity costs over two years of the program.
The mines are expected to repay the amounts deferred, plus interest, as commodity prices recover.
It “offers immediate and meaningful relief,” says Mining Association of B.C. president Karina Brino. “This is an important measure that will help keep mines open and support an industry that provides over 30,000 direct and indirect jobs for people in this province.”
Says Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett: “… I think it’s important to remember that mining provides thousands of families with good paying jobs. This industry is the economic lifeblood of many communities in this province.”
Gibraltar mine manager Richard Tremblay says Gibraltar, a major employer in the Cariboo, spends close to $1 million every day to operate.
“Most of which goes directly into the local economy and this flexibility from government will help us continue to operate.”
According to the ministry, mines will be encouraged to borrow funds from other sources before deferring a portion of their power bills.
“Companies with relatively lower levels of debt will pay an interest rate of 12 per cent. Others will be charged the interest rate that BC Hydro currently charges to accounts over 30 days – prime plus five per cent, or about eight per cent annually.”