Local politicians in the B.C. Southern Interior are pressing for changes to a new electricity rate structure they feel unfairly penalizes people who can least afford it.
Earlier this month, members of the Southern Interior Local Government Association adopted a pair of resolutions calling on the B.C. Utilities Commission to review, or amend, the new two-tier conservation rate that it forced on utility companies.
The issue was cast into the spotlight this winter when some residents in rural areas of the Similkameen sounded off about skyrocketing energy bills.
Angelique Wood, the Area G director for the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, is among the politicians who have taken up the case.
“I feel like the more we keep this in the media, (then) the more provincial government, the B.C. Utilities Commission and Fortis have to pay attention.”
The two-tier rate structure implemented by FortisBC in January uses a threshold to charge for electricity consumption. Usage below the 1,600-kilowatt-hour mark is billed at a lower rate than above it. The intent of the new rate structure is to encourage energy conservation.
However, people who have no choice but to heat with electricity are being unfairly punished, Wood said.
“It takes a lot of electricity to make heat, and therefore they hit the conservation rate almost right away, and then everything their billed on after that is almost double the rate,” she explained.
Olalla man Robby Kilborn told the Western News in March that the electricity bill for his home was $2,110.94 for the four-month period ended Feb. 26, 2013, up $553.67 from a year earlier.
In its submission to the B.C. Utilities Commission, FortisBC noted 95 per cent of its customers were expected to see billing increases of no more than 10 per cent as a result of the new rate structure.
“But the five per cent who are being impacted are the five per cent of our population who are already at-risk people anyway,” Wood said. “They’re the elderly, they’re people on fixed incomes, they’re people in remote areas who are already losing a bunch of other services.”
She’s also disappointed with BCUC responses to letters both she and the RDOS sent to outline concerns.
The BCUC returned near-identical letters that said FortisBC is expected to report out on the conservation rate’s impact and effectiveness in 2014, and that the commission is logging complaints.
“I though they were pretty callous,” Wood said.
She’s heartened, however, by the response of colleagues at the SILGA meeting.
“It’s not just the Southern Okanagan that’s experiencing this. At that convention, I don’t think there was a mayor or councillor present who wasn’t aware of this problem in their community,” Wood said.
The SILGA resolutions will now be sent to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for approval at its fall meeting. If approved there, they will be forwarded to the BCUC and provincial government as requests for action.