Market Snapshot: Which states trade electricity with British Columbia?

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Release date: 2022-09-14

Exports and imports

British Columbia (B.C.) 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.

Trade factors

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.Footnote1 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.Footnote2 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

Source and Description

Source: CER Commodity Statistics – Table 3A – Export Sales Summary Report by Destination and Source

Figure Description: This stacked bar graph shows monthly electricity volumes in gigawatt hours (GWh) exported from B.C. from January 2017 to May 2022. The electricity exports are ordered by states with the most to least volumes transferred from B.C. in the entire period: California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Montana, and Other. The other category groups the following states which B.C. transferred the least electricity to: Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and Alaska.

Figure 2: Electricity imported from the United States to British Columbia

Source and Description

Source: CER Commodity Statistics – Table 2B – Import Summary Report by Destination, Authorization and Exchange Type

Figure Description: This stacked bar graph shows monthly electricity volumes in GWh imported to B.C. from January 2017 to May 2022. The electricity imports are ordered by states with the most to least volumes transferred to B.C. in the entire period: Washington, California, Oregon, Nebraska, Arizona, Nevada, Montana, and Other. The Other category groups the following states which transferred the least electricity to B.C.: Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado.

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