CALGARY — Alberta’s oil and gas sector is awash with cash and the province’s books could be headed back into the black this year, but residents of the energy-producing province are experiencing the downside of the commodity price boom on their utility bills.
Market prices for natural gas and electricity have surged to near-record highs after more than seven years of depressed prices, and that’s leading to some shocks to the wallet for homeowners.
Calgary resident Beverley Hejduk says she lost her normal composure when she opened her January utility bill this week and saw the $1,100 price tag.
“It’s outrageous,” said Hejduk, who lives in an 1,100-square-foot bungalow and says her monthly winter utility bills are typically $400 to $500.
“My first reaction was, ‘did I miss paying last month?’ And then I looked and no, that’s all for just one month.”
Hejduk’s experience is not unique, said Consumers’ Coalition of Alberta spokesman Jim Wachowich. Homeowners who haven’t signed onto a fixed contract for their heating and electricity — instead choosing to pay a floating rate that fluctuates with market prices — are seeing a significant increase in costs this winter.
“We’re hearing lots of concerns from people saying their gas bill doubled, or their gas bill tripled,” Wachowich said. “We have what in essence is a rate shock.”
Joel MacDonald, founder of Edmonton-based energy rate comparison site EnergyRates.ca, said there are a number of factors behind the spike in prices, not the least of which was a January deep freeze which increased both demand and consumption of electricity and gas.
(According to Alberta-based utility provider ATCO Gas, Albertans use about two to three gigajoules per month of natural gas in the summer, but closer to 10 to12 GJ per month in the winter.)
The federal carbon tax also makes bills appear higher than they once were, though most people will receive a rebate on their income tax to offset that tax.
And in 2019, Alberta’s UCP government eliminated a legislated price cap that was designed to protect those Albertans who pay the floating regulated retail rate from volatile electricity prices.
But MacDonald said the biggest factor behind the startling bills consumers are receiving is the commodity boom. The price of natural gas in November 2021 was $4.57 per gigajoule, up 77.1 per cent from November 2020.
“We’re coming off a period of historical lows for electricity and natural gas, and switching onto a period of near-historical highs,” he said. “The swing has been extreme.”