Similkameen’s Fortis customers won’t see quick relief from two tiered electric rate

Not our fault, say Fortis reps, while MLA urges letter writing campaign to BCUC

Residents of the Similkameen facing onerous Fortis electrical bills will not be seeing any relief any time soon, Fortis officials indicated at a regional board committee meeting on Thursday, February 6.

Corey Sinclair, Manager of Regulatory Affairs for Fortis, told the regional board that Fortis originally wished to maintain a flat rate as opposed to the two tiered system in discussions prior to July of 2012, when the two tiered rate took effect. (Under the conservation rate, the first 1,600 kWh are billed at .088 cents per kWh; after 1,600 kWh, the rate goes to .129 cents per kWh in a two month billing period) In the company’s application to the British Columbia Utilities Commission, they recommended a flat rate and were surprised to be told to step rates.

“We wouldn’t have done it, otherwise,” he said.

Sinclair indicated that Fortis continues to be concerned about the two tiered system’s impact on some of its customers. He said that customer satisfaction had dropped from the mid 90 per cent range since the system was introduced, to the 70 per cent range.

“Some of our customers are having a hard time with this and we don’t like it,” he admitted.

“It’s very difficult to deal with – you can’t change it without having a negative impact on other customers, while you’re trying to help customers (presently affected), and we’re always constrained by the regulatory principles we must live by, that this has to be revenue neutral.”

He emphasized the revenue neutrality of the rate, noting a  widely held view  that Fortis was  making additional profit from it was totally false.

“There is nothing in it for us,” he said, “we are just getting negative feedback and our customer satisfaction is suffering.”

Several directors voiced the opinion the board should be talking to the BCUC, not Fortis. Area “D” Director Tom Siddon noted the group suffering most were  “elders living in tin boxes – old houses with little insulation, reliant on baseboard heaters, now having to choose between buying food or paying the electric bill.” Siddon said there was a “BCUC element to this,” suggesting Fortis raise the conservation rate threshold from 800 KW per month, something Sinclair advised against.

“It actually has the opposite effect of what you want it to do,” he told Siddon, “it would end up hurting the higher consumption customers even more.”

Boundary – Similkameen MLA Linda Larson, who observed most of the discussion from the gallery, addressed the board in the meeting’s later stages in order to read the BCUC’s report on Fortis’ recently submitted analysis to the commission on the rate system.

“There is some room for hope,” she said prior to reading the document, which stated the commission would continue to monitor the rate’s effects until the next report, due November 30 of this year.

“Keep those letters coming,” was Larson’s advice to discontented customers of  the electrical rate. She said the commission had never before received so many letters over a single issue, adding that letters should be sent to the BCUC.