(File photo)

(File photo)

Lacombe residents frustrated with the rising utility rates

Central Albertans are frustrated with the rising utility rates and lack of action from the provincial government.

With the cold weather in December and early January, the strain on the grid was significant. At the beginning of January, the province hit an all-time high electricity usage of 11,939 megawatts. This jump in usage has lead to some central Albertans reporting bills double, some triple what they were last year.

“We recognize the financial pressures that high electricity and natural gas prices can place on Albertans. It is important to note that electricity rates are based on market conditions, namely supply and demand,” said Dale Nally, associate minister of natural gas and electricity.

“The fact is, Rachel Notley failed to warn Albertans that phasing out coal as aggressively as she did would cause electricity prices to increase this way. Beyond market conditions, Albertans are facing high non-power charges on their bills because of years of poor policies by previous governments,” said Nally.

At a press conference back in February, Notley said the provincial government should step in to help Albertans.

“Alberta families are literally trying to figure out right now how to pay all the bills at the end of this month and it’s going to be just as bad in March,” Notley said. “Had the UCP left the cap in place, electricity prices per kilowatt-hour would be less than half of what consumers are seeing today on their bills.”

She also noted that some Albertans are paying nearly 16 cents per kilowatt-hour.

In November of 2019, the UCP passed legislation that ended the price cap for the Regulated Rate Option (RRO). It was designed to protect Albertans from volatile electricity prices. With the government’s decision to halt the transition to a capacity market and maintain an energy-only market, the price cap was no longer needed.

The price cap was implemented to help ensure consumers on the RRO would pay no more than 6.8 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity until May 31, 2021.

Nally said that the Trudeau carbon tax, the NDP losses of $1.3 billion on the Balancing Pool, and $7.5 billion spent building out the transmission system from 2015 to 2019, the cost of utilities has been unnecessarily rising.

“Alberta’s government is taking steps to keep our energy system affordable by making good use of existing infrastructure and encouraging competition through our energy-only market bringing costs down over time,” said Nally.

He encouraged Albertans to utilize the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA).

The UCA is a branch of Service Alberta that was formed in 2003 as retail utilities were deregulated. It provides a variety of services for consumers including the ability to mediate disputes between customers and utility companies, educate about services out there to consumers and advocate for reasonable rates.

“We know this has been a difficult winter for consumers. If they have questions or concerns they can contact us, we can help turn that anger into action and problem solving,” said Chris Hunt, executive director of the UCA.

Hunt said they tailor each approach to the individual needs of the consumer.

“It’s important we talk to the consumer to narrow down each individual need.”

Mediators are also available when consumers have exhausted known avenues of issue resolution, the UCA will investigate and attempt to resolve their concerns through mediation with utility companies.

More information and resources can be found by calling the UCA at 310-4822 or visiting ucahelps.alberta.ca.

Five most common reasons for rising utility bills this winter:

Consumption increase

The cold weather during the winter season typically contributes to higher usage (above January average of 19 GJs and 678 kWh) as people spend more time indoors. Extended extreme cold weather periods experienced in 2021 may cause an increased consumption charge on your bill.

Transmission and distribution charges

Distributor’s costs for transmission and delivery of energy to your home have both a fixed and variable component, based on usage, and are presently the largest portion of your bill. In the winter, these charges can be approximately 65 per cent of the total cost of the bill. These rates are calculated by the distributor and are the same regardless of the plan you are on or the retailer you are with.

Federal Carbon Tax

This winter, the federal carbon tax being charged by the Federal government is $2.103/GJ, which is higher than last winter. This federal fuel charge is included as a separate line item in the delivery charges section of your natural gas bill.

Energy prices increase

Natural gas and electricity Regulated Rate Option (RRO) and competitive variable prices can change from month to month due to weather, supply and demand.

COVID-19 effect

Many people have experienced the extreme effects of COVID-19 over the last year. Due to health restriction guidelines, they spend more time at home than they have in the past, working and doing schooling remotely. For households, this means higher electricity, natural gas and water bills. For many businesses, revenues are down, so utility costs are a much bigger concern than previously.