Fortis Representative Bob Gibney spoke to the regional district board about hydro rates at the Environment Committee meeting of the board on Thursday, March 21.
The recent hike in hydro rates has sent many residents in the regional district reeling, after a reasonably severe winter in the South Okanagan – Similkameen added to hydro users woes by forcing them to crank up the thermostat.
Fortis, at the insistance of the B.C. Utilities Commission, instituted a “conservation rate” along with a Fortis price hike to start the new year. The conservation rate, which starts punishing users after they have consumed more than 800 kilowatts in a given month, has resulted in some eyebrow-raising bills for residents who were not informed of the increase.
A couple of concerned Olalla residents attended the early morning meeting to bear witness to Gibney’s presentation. The community was hard hit by the increase, as many residents are living on static pensions and other forms of fixed income.
Fortis’ residential customers currently pay 8.803 cents per kilowatt hour for the first 1,600 kilowatt hours each two month billing period. After hitting the 1,600 kw threshold, the price jumps to 12.952 cents per kilowatt hour.
“The utilities commission asked Fortis to apply the rate,” Gibney told the directors. “It amounts to a substantial increase.”
Gibney said the idea behind the move was to force people to consider conservation methods. He noted several times that natural gas heat provided a much lower cost alternative, if one had access to it. Gibney admitted that if one did not have access to natural gas, there were few alternatives available.
Gibney did note, however, that Fortis had a farm rate that customers who had farm status could apply for that ran at a flat rate of 10.222 cents per kilowatt hour – cold comfort for most residential users, however.
Area “G” Director Angelique Wood voiced her concerns about Olalla customers who had experienced huge increases.
“For many of these people, it’s freeze or eat,” she told Gibney, who expressed empathy. He advised residents to write their displeasure to the utility commission.
“Our hands are tied on this,” he said.
Naramata Director Karla Kozakevich told Gibney that she had heard from many Naramata residents who had no alternative to electricity. Gibney hinted that if markets were close and large enough to exisiting gas lines, it might be possible to extend the infrastructure.
Keremeos Director Manfred Bauer told Gibney that there didn’t seem to be any reward system for energy conservation – people took initiatives, but continued to see their bills skyrocket.
“Is the commission going to review this with Fortis?” he asked, adding that the 1,600 kilowatt threshold was not viable, because it was easily exceeded.
“I’ve already spoken to three MLA’s about this,” Gibney replied, “It’s a political issue.”
Gibney also explained the rate as “revenue neutral, answering a question put to him by Osoyoos rural Director Mark Pendergraft who asked if Fortis was profiting from the increase.