Market Snapshot: Even though Canada exports a lot of electricity, it imports a lot too

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Release date: 2020-01-02

Every year, around 40 companies import electricity into Canada from the United States (U.S.) through international power lines. In 2010, 44 companies imported 19 terawatt hours (TW.h) of electricity from the U.S. As of October 2019, 33 companies imported 12 TW.h (Figure 1).Footnote 1 In comparison, Canada exported 50 TW.h during the same period. Electricity trade volumes, including import volumes by company and province, are published monthly by the CER in its Commodity Statistics.Footnote 2

Canada’s electricity import volumes are low relative to exports because each province’s generating capacity normally exceeds its daily or even hourly requirements. Powerex Corp., which is owned by the provincial crown corporation BC Hydro, is the largest importer by far as explained in the paragraph below.

Figure 1. Electricity imports from the U.S. by company

Source and Description

Source: CER, Commodity Statistics

Description: The bars show the volume of electricity imported (purchased) from the U.S. by company, from 2010 to end of October 2019. The total electricity import volumes shown include 19 TW.h in 2010, 9 TW.h in 2015, and 12 TW.h from January to October 2019.

The line shows the number of companies that imported electricity to Canada each year from 2010 to the end of October 2019. An average of 36 companies import electricity each year, including partial data in 2019. In most years, the top three electricity importing companies include Powerex (British Columbia), Manitoba Hydro, and Hydro Quebec. There were 44 importing companies in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 33 from January to October 2019.

Figure 2 shows electricity imports by province. British Columbia (B.C.) was responsible for 84% of Canada’s electricity imports. Although B.C. has generating capacity to meet internal demand, it tries to maximize the value of its generation by trading with the U.S. During the day, when U.S. electricity prices are higher, B.C. increases its hydroelectricity generation and exports electricity to the U.S. to earn more revenue. Overnight, when U.S. electricity prices are lower, B.C. significantly reduces its hydro generation, letting its hydro reservoirs refill while importing cheap electricity from the U.S.

Figure 2. Electricity import share by province (2019)

Source and Description

Source: CER, Commodity Statistics

Description: This pie chart shows Canadian electricity imports from the U.S. by province, from January to September 2019. Electricity was imported in the following proportions: British Columbia (85%), Alberta (8%), Manitoba (4%), Ontario (2%), Quebec (1%), New Brunswick (1%), Saskatchewan (0.5%), Nova Scotia (0.4%), and Newfoundland and Labrador (0.01%).

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