Electrical rate decision on hold

Penticton council has deferred its decision on how to divvy out electricity rate increases until next week.

The city held a public input session Wednesday regarding the proposed Fortis increase, capital upgrades and potential rebalancing of rates for user groups in line with offerings around the province.

Despite the cold weather, about 20 people showed up at City Hall for the special meeting, and many spoke about the need to consider how much more commercial and industrial users are paying for electricity than in other areas of the province.

School District 67 finance director Maureen Maywood explained comparative cost research across B.C. to see how Okanagan-Skaha stacked up against its peers in other districts.

“The most significant inequity we found was in the form of utility costs,” she said. “We also discovered that at the school district consumption levels, the City of Penticton electrical rates were the highest in B.C.”

They found that electricity rates in Penticton were 40 per cent higher than those afforded to districts in B.C. Hydro or Fortis B.C. coverage areas, which equates to $300,000 per year.

“For School District 67, this is equivalent to over three teachers for us,” she said.

Board chair Ginny Manning said they hope council follows the footsteps of the District of Summerland, which decreased commercial rates on Jan. 9. “I urge you to reduce the commercial electricity rates somewhere on par with the rest of the province,” she said.

Brian Bendig of the Penticton Foundry said his electricity bill ranges between $50,000 to $60,000 a month, and it is tough to keep up with American competitors who pay one-fifth less in utility costs.

“City council wants development and industrial. The electrical rates need to be more balanced,” he said.

George Little, president of the Penticton Industrial Development Group, thanked the city for considering options that involve a realignment of electricity costs for commercial and industrial users.

“We are constantly looking at ways of saving energy. When you get bills that are $15,000 to $20,000 a month, the boss wants to know where that money’s going to,” he said.

Little explained that energy efficiencies like a new light bulb doesn’t have a big impact on larger plants. Practices like shutting off the lights at night aren’t necessarily a cost savings as well, when you factor in ramifications that could include increased metal theft.

“If we turn off the lights then the crooks go wild up there,” he said. “I know it’s a little bit harder on folks who live here, but every way I look at this, it’s only going to save jobs.”

Longtime resident Sydney Boultbee said council has to consider the impact on homeowners, because the proposed increases “are going to drive me out of my family home.”

“My home is all electric. I find the increase quite heavy,” she said, noting that using electrical funds to cover operating budgets is a way of shifting the financial burden. “Some of the increases become a tax.”

Coun. Garry Litke acknowledged her concerns, noting it would become more of a “user-pay system.” Capital upgrades, he added, have to be completed otherwise “the system would begin to deteriorate.”

Mayor Dan Ashton told Boultbee that the city is still appealing Fortis’ rate increase with the B.C. Utility Commission.

Councillors Wes Hopkin, Helena Konanz and Judy Sentes were absent Wednesday. Coun. Andrew Jakubeit moved that, in light of the decision to be made, the vote be deferred to allow the full council to debate the matter.

The motion passed, and the proposed increases and rate rebalancing will be slated for Monday’s regular meeting.


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