Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff                                Merle Ellsworth believes Alberta gas bills should be based on actual energy consumption, rather than having high fixed fees for distribution and transmission.

Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff Merle Ellsworth believes Alberta gas bills should be based on actual energy consumption, rather than having high fixed fees for distribution and transmission.

Paying a steep price for using no power

Turning off the heat shouldn’t cost $76 a month, says central Albertan

Merle Ellsworth turns off the power whenever he shuts down Shady Nook Community Hall for the winter.

His aim is to save money and “go green, to reduce our environmental footprint.”

Although no one flicks on a single light or turns on the thermostat in the rural hall from November to May, its non-profit board still receives regular monthly bills from Enmax.

When the charges hit $76.18 for the month of February, it was the last straw for Ellsworth.

“When I’m not using any gas or power, that is outright wrong,” said the board president.

Ellsworth thinks Albertans should be asking candidates during this election why utilities are costing us so much in fixed distribution and transmission fees — beyond our actual power or gas consumption?

The Shady Nook Hall’s February power bill shows a zero charge for electricity, because there was no power usage, said Ellsworth.

But it includes a $7.24 administration fee, a $41.80 distribution fee, a $22.38 transmission fee, a rider fee of $1.13 and $3.63 in GST.

The community hall’s power bill goes up to about $350 a month when the facility southwest of Burnt Lake Trail is open for seasonal rentals from May to the end of October.

Ellsworth has a similar complaint about the hall’s gas bill from the Burnt Lake Gas Co-op, which only drops to $45 in the inactive winter months from about $80 during the summer, when there actually is gas usage.

“This is big companies getting money from us without providing any services,” said Ellsworth.

His concerns are being echoed by the Innisfail group that’s calling on all MLA election candidates to take a stand against higher monthly power distribution rates and a monopoly on power provision.

It is encouraging Albertans to visit www.StopThe PowerMonopoly.ca and send letters to political candidates during the provincial election.

Ellsworth feels whichever party makes up the next government should be looking out for Alberta consumers. He believes many of these fees have increased since the former Tory government deregulated utilities about 20 years ago.

Corry Poole, vice-president of customer experience for Enmax, said she can understand how the fees might seem unfair to Ellsworth, but said utility companies do not set the fixed rates that he is concerned about.

Transmission fees are set by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), while distribution fees are set by the AUC and the municipal government, in this case, Red Deer Light and Power.

When these fixed fees are tacked onto bills, Poole said Enmax has no say about them and “makes no margins.”

According to the Utilities Consumer Advocate website (ucahelps.alberta.ca), the fixed charges on utility bills cover the costs of delivering the service.

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.

These fees are regulated by the AUC, an independent quasi-judicial agency associated with Alberta Energy. The AUC holds rate hearings “to ensure that you receive safe and reliable services at a reasonable cost,” the website states.

But “reasonable” is a subjective word when a non-profit community hall is being charged more than $100 a month for gas and electricity it doesn’t use, says Ellsworth.

“That’s their point of view. My point of view is that it’s unreasonable,” whether it’s the government or Enmax that is setting these fees, said Ellsworth.

“OK, charge us something for administration or distribution” — in the line of $10 or $20 a month — not $76, he added.

“In all fairness, for us as customers to absorb all these charges when we aren’t using the service, is outrageous.”

As for utility infrastructure costs, Ellsworth said his relatives have been paying taxes in this province since the 1880s, while his wife’s family has been contributing since the 1920s.

“Surely, we’ve paid our share. When is it going to stop?”

He hopes central Albertans will make this an election issue: “The government got us into this trouble, it should get us out.”



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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