A Red Deer woman said her sky-high electricity bill in August has eaten into half her paycheque, leaving little leftover for food and other necessities.
When Sandra Robson opened her Enmax bill this month, “I took a deep breath and thought oh, my God.”
She had expected it to be high, with more summer heat and air conditioner use, but had not bargained on having to pay $475.
Like many Albertans, Robson has seen her electricity bills climb from $170 in June to $275 in July and now to nearly $500. “It’s half my paycheque… That’s my grocery money,” said Robson, who has a disabled son living at home.
According to a Statistics Canada Consumer Price Index report released Tuesday, Albertans have seen a 127.8 per cent increase in electricity prices between July 2022 and this July. Saskatchewan was the only other province that had more than a 10 per cent increase over that time period.
Electricity prices for some Central Albertans have jumped to about 28 cents a kilowatt-hour, up from 16 cents last spring.
Robson said her bill for August 2022 was just $185, in comparison.
Because of this summer’s unusual heat, “it’s almost like they are gouging people,” Robson added.
Yet, not all Albertans have seen this huge price increase. Customers who selected a regulated rate option for electricity payments are not locked into a fixed price, but those on fixed-rate plans have a fixed price for electricity.
Customers such as Robson, who are on a floating contract that changes monthly based on the market price of electricity, have seen their summer rates nearly double. This floating rate is a default option for consumers who haven’t signed on with a competitive fixed-rate seller.
Experts have given several reasons for the huge near record-breaking price swing in Alberta’s electricity market. Factors such as growing demand with more people moving to the province, and the extreme heat this summer prompting more air conditioner use, have been cited.
Also, electricity prices in Alberta had been unusually low from the economic downtown in the province in 2015. In 2017, the former NDP government had approved an electricity price cap, which kept prices lower. But this cap was ultimately lifted by the UCP government under former Premier Jason Kenney in the fall of 2019.
As well, Alberta has an unusual market model in North America, with generators only getting paid when they contribute to the grid. Experts feel this system doesn’t encourage companies to produce standby generation for times of high demand.
People on the floating rate are being urged to move to a fixed-rate plan, if possible. Switching between retail plans with an existing retailer or from the RRO to a retailer does not require 30 days notice.
But Robson, who was unemployed or under-employed for three years, has had trouble in the past with her credit rating. Although she is working full-time now, she has to come up with a $500 deposit to move onto Enmax’s fixed-rate plan.
Robson said she has no way of coming up with this amount and worries about what the future holds.
In an email statement, Enmax said that they do their best to support customers who are struggling.
“We understand these are challenging economic times for many customers, with costs rising for all the essentials,” they said.
“That is why we are always looking at ways to support our customers who require payment assistance or those who are struggling. We also support the provincial government’s review of the RRO.”
Meanwhile, Kathy Morin, communications director for the Alberta Department of Affordability and Utilities said the rising cost of electricity and affordability are concerns for many Albertans.
As part of Alberta Affordability Minister Nathan Neudorf’s mandate letter, “he will be exploring the potential phase-out of the regulated rate option,” or the more volatile floating monthly payments, said Morin. “The Minister and the department are working with industry players and partners to review the RRO and identify long-term solutions to keep electricity affordable for Albertans and their families.”
Morin added that Albertans who are experiencing affordability challenges can apply for financial assistance through a variety of programs at www.ucahelps.alberta.ca/financial-assistance.aspx.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Enmax.