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Power bill shock coming, says MLA

Albertans will be hit hard in the wallet because the Tory government is making significant changes to electricity rules, says a Central Alberta MLA.

Joe Anglin, Wildrose Party MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, said that Central Albertans should pay attention to the Retail (Electricity) Market Review Committee’s report released earlier last week.

The Alberta government reported it was taking actions to protect electricity consumers by increasing scrutiny of transmission costs, reducing volatility in month-to-month electricity prices and making it easier for consumers to exercise better retail choices.

Anglin said the biggest factor out of this whole report is cost. More expensive bills are coming.

“We need to hold this government accountable because it promised the public their electricity bills would go down when they restructured the market and it didn’t happen and it’s not going to happen.”

Anglin said the sad part of the report is that Premier Alison Redford had frozen the ancillary costs prior to the 2012 provincial election. These are all the extra costs, over an above the cost of electricity, that are listed on bills.

The committee recommended removing the freeze on these costs, which the government accepted immediately.

“They froze the ancillary costs and we accumulated a backlog of costs they were going to add on and now we have to pay it all back to these companies,” said Anglin. “So the study really didn’t do anything for Albertans.”

Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas said provinces that are able to provide hydro electricity do end up having lower costs for consumers, compared with Alberta and other provinces that use mixed sources for generation.

But he remains confident that Alberta public policies will continue to support competitive services.

“I think it’s presumptuous to conclude that there’s horrific changes,” said Dallas.

“As Albertans, we’re all motivated to make sure we have a competitive electrical industry in Alberta because that’s a large component of how we end up producing things and our ability to compete globally.”

Dallas likes that the government rejected all six recommendations associated with eliminating the regulated rate option.

Almost 65 per cent of Albertans choose this option, so the government will not force consumers to sign contracts, said Hughes.

Besides lifting the freeze on ancillary costs, the government announced it will immediately reduce month-to-month price volatility for consumers by improving rules around how regulated rate providers purchase electricity.

Currently, providers can only purchase power 45 days in advance for the regulated rate option (RRO). It will be extended to 120 days.

“I think that was one of the things we heard a little over a year ago was that when you have unplanned generation shutdowns or weather events or other factors causing of a spike in power, this proposal will help smooth some of that out,” said Dallas.

Dallas said it’s positive that the government has reduced the volatility of that regulated rate option.

The government also approved 33 recommendations in principle. One is to make the Utilities Consumer Advocate an independent agency, with greater capacity to advocate on behalf of Albertans, which again Dallas supports.

To further protect consumers, Hughes is asking the Alberta Utilities Commission to determine the best process to amortize paying for transmission lines over the long term.

In Anglin’s view, the government has not been honest to Albertans about the costs associated with these major transmission line projects.

“We now know the energy minister is concerned about transmission costs whereas before, they always poo-pooed the idea and said don’t listen to people like Joe Anglin because it’s only going to add a $1.40 or $3 to a bill,” Anglin said.

“We know that’s not true because Hughes talked at length about how they’re going to spread those costs out, and they’re going to be substantial.”

ltester@reddeeradvocate.com

 

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