Recently, the British Columbia Utilities Commission requested comments on the residential two-tier electricity rates from FortisBC and BC Hydro customers.
Here is my take on why it is impossible for customers to affordably stay within the first tier rate.
One of the major problems I see with the two-tier system is this: it’s not that consumers are not trying to conserve electrical energy, it’s because the heating systems are simply not energy-efficient.
For example, heat pumps are notoriously inefficient in the winter, yet highly promoted by FortisBC (I wonder why). Most people are not aware of how much energy a heat pump uses. You would be surprised to know they burn between 10-13 kilowatts an hour, and don’t supply much heat. This means that after only two hours of use a day, a customer is already into the second tier rate. What about the other 22 hours in a day?
If you are using electric baseboard heaters, you still cannot stay within the first tier rate. If you have a two-storey house, which I do, and burn one 2,500 watt electric heater for three hours per day on each floor, you are in the second tier. It’s impossible to heat your home and stay in the first tier rate no matter how you conserve energy in other ways (LED light bulbs, adding extra insulation to the attic, turn down the thermostat, use a clothesline instead of a dryer).
I’ve heard people lament, “If only I had access to natural gas.” Be careful what you wish for. Gas is a carbon fuel. There is already a carbon tax on it and it’s going to increase.
Consider this: you have a house and all of a sudden you can get gas. Let’s examine the costs. Gas may help you stay out of the second tier, but at what cost? First, it’s the cost of installing a gas line to your house, anywhere between $1,500 and $4,000, depending on where you are. Next, you need to buy all the gas appliances (fireplace, stove, furnace, water heater, etc.) so now you have two energy systems in your house and you are paying two bills, with added taxes and duplications (standard costs every two months). It’s quite an expense to go to in order to stay out of the second tier.
Now, consider what I did. My gas and electric bill this year would have totalled around $4,000. But, I took the natural gas service out of my house and installed solar panels and I expect the total energy bill for the year of under $400, and I get paid back. That was my environmentally friendly way of staying out of the second tier rate. Now that’s conservation.
My advice to homeowners, if they want to stop the high energy bills, invest in the sustainable energy benefits of solar power and pay yourself back at the same time. The investment will pay you back over time, unlike continuing to pay bills to FortisBC, which is a never-ending money pit.
I have tested out using a heat pump. I’ve tested out using baseboard heaters, and with those, there’s no way to stay within the first tier rate, without an alternative system. Makes me wonder who initiated the two-tier system in the first place. My bet would be it was the B.C. government.