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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - British Columbia unveiled a new clean energy plan on Wednesday that calls for increased efficiency and reduces the ability of rate regulators to spurn potentially costlier renewable energy projects.
Canada's westernmost province, which already generates most of its electricity from hydroelectric dams, has decreed that 93 percent of its electricity must come from clean or renewable sources, up from 90 percent.
The British Columbia Utility Commission, which sparred with the province over the price of building new renewable energy capacity, will also be required ensure "appropriate rates" are set to advance the new energy policy.
The province now needs to import some power from neighboring Alberta and U.S. states to meet its needs, but has mandated it must become self-sufficient in generating capacity by 2016.
Under the plan released on Wednesday, provincial utility BC Hydro will be required to meet 66 percent of its future incremental power demand through conservation and efficiency measures by 2020, up from its current mandate of 50 percent.
The province also said it will restructure BC Hydro, undoing a split between its generation and transmission operations that the government ordered in 2002 to promote development of private power facilities.
Critics of the BC Hydro split had accused the government of turning over ownership of the province's rivers to private developers intent on selling power to the United States.
The new plan calls on BC Hydro to partner with private developers to promote long-term export sales of renewable energy, generated by run-of-river, wind and other means.
"We want British Columbia to become a leading North American supplier of clean, reliable, low-carbon electricity, and technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while strengthening our economy in every region," Premier Gordon Campbell said in a written statement.
The province announced this month it would push ahead with a long-debated plan to build a 900-megawatt dam on the Peace River in northeast British Columbia.
But the plan released on Wednesday, said the Peace River "Site C" dam would be the last large-scale hydro project to be built in the province.
Some environmental groups have charged the project will actually increase the province's carbon footprint by flooding forest and farmland needed to capture carbon emissions.
Campbell has said the province needs more generating capacity because electricity demand is expected to increase between 20 and 40 percent over the next 20 years as the population continues to grow.
Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson