Merle Ellsworth, president of the Shady Nook Community Hall board, says his group received a $76.47 bill for the consumption of seven cents of electricity. (Advocate file photo).

Merle Ellsworth, president of the Shady Nook Community Hall board, says his group received a $76.47 bill for the consumption of seven cents of electricity. (Advocate file photo).

Albertans are being ‘gouged’ by high utility bills, says Red Deer-area resident

The pandemic is no time for ‘unfair’ monthly charges, says Merle Ellsworth

The Shady Nook Community Hall has been closed all year because of the pandemic.

“We’ve made zero revenue,” said board president Merle Ellsworth, as no weddings or family reunions were booked because of the risk of COVID-19.

Yet every month, the community hall’s non-profit board has received sizable energy bills for the empty, locked-up building in Red Deer County.

The Enmax electricity bill for part of August and September showed a seven-cent electricity charge and still totalled $76.47.

“It’s outrageous” — especially during this financially difficult time, said Ellsworth — to have a $42.92 delivery fee, as well as $21.97 for distribution tacked on, along with administration and GST charges.

When all of these additional fees add up to 1,100 per cent more than the actual electricity use, “it’s price gouging — and during a pandemic, it just isn’t fair,” said Ellsworth.

“When I have used seven cents of gas, why should it be costing $42 to deliver it?” he questioned. “It doesn’t seem right to me…

“It’s time we, as Albertans, stood up and asked the government to look into these rates.”

Ellsworth noted his brother, who lives in B.C., sees far lower fixed charges on his energy bills.

Ellsworth believes Alberta’s fees have doubled since the deregulation of the utility industry.

An Enmax representative has stated power companies have no say about the fixed fees, and “make no margins” on them.

The transmission rates Ellsworth is concerned about are set by the Alberta Utilities Commission, while distribution fees are set by the commission and municipal governments.

Commission spokesman Jim Law said the independent, quasi-judicial agency associated with Alberta Energy “scrutinizes and examines” these charges.

“We certainly know it’s difficult for people, especially during a pandemic. No one wants anyone to pay more than they have to…”

But Law added getting energy delivered to consumers costs something, regardless of the season, or how much electricity is used.

“These charges relate to maintaining the system, itself.”

They pay for installing, operating and maintaining the infrastructure used to transmit energy to homes and businesses. This includes the poles, wires, transformers, pipes and compressor stations.

While some of the system’s installation costs have been paid off, there are always new costs for growth and maintenance: “Things wear out and need to be upgraded,” said Law, who maintains fixed fees are needed to provide a reliable and safe energy supply.

Ellsworth knows some maintenance and distribution fees have to be charged, but still believes they are unreasonably high in this province. He urges other Albertans who feel the same way to contact their MLAs.

Consumers with concerns can provide input to the Alberta Utilities Commission at regularly scheduled public hearings, added Law.

Red Deer County