Consumers take a jolt

With your next power bill, take a real close look at what you’re paying for, then ask yourself: is this fair?

With your next power bill, take a real close look at what you’re paying for, then ask yourself: is this fair?

For the month of September, as one example, to supply power to a home of barely 1,000 square feet: Total bill, almost $110. Breakdown: $40.86 for energy consumed; $8 for energy administration fees; $9.88 for transmission fees; $5.27 GST; and $45.84 in distribution fees.

That $45.84 distribution fee goes to the power company to pay for the power lines they own. Yet they charge the consumer to build and maintain those lines when, in reality as a private company, they should be the ones footing the bill for delivering their product.

The companies are in a win-win situation. The profits pour in as consumers not only purchase their product, but also paying for the distribution system.

On the power bill of $110, if that homeowner leaves for holidays and requests power be shut off, they would face a bill of almost $70 when they returned and they wouldn’t not have used a bit of electricity. Such a bill has nothing to do with power consumed — that money goes to paying the companies for the upkeep of their facilities.

But shouldn’t that financial responsibility land squarely on their shoulders?

Worse yet, the money that consumers are shovelling into those power companies to build new lines, and keep their current lines up to standard, are not treated as an investment on the part of the consumer. It goes into the pockets of the energy giants that the provincial government has cozied up to since introducing deregulation.

When then-premier Ralph Klein trotted out deregulation, he told Albertans it meant money in their pockets. Klein said the legislation would open up the market to competition and consumers stood to gain from lower prices.

But this province’s power industry was never open for fair competition. And the rates are designed to protect their shareholders. That’s how business works — shareholders should expect no less.

But it is Alberta consumers who suffer.

Now those two companies, claiming there is a shortage of power in this province, are proposing projects worth billions of dollars to build transmission lines. The cost of those lines will be added to Albertans’ power bills.

The provincial government recently made the landscape even muddier by introducing the controversial Bill 50, which protects such massive projects from public input by prohibiting hearings and muting landowners who are concerned about these massive power lines infringing on their properties.

The whole mess is made worse by the widely-held belief that no power shortage exists and that operators intend to export the power. Throw in the often-expressed contention that the system would be better managed by building new power generation plants in the areas of need, namely Southern Alberta.

So many uncertainties. So much of a burden placed on consumers.

It is time that Premier Ed Stelmach appointed an independent body to examine the state of the industry, the cost to consumers, the breadth of Bill 50, the need for new transmission lines and the need for new generating capacity. Fairness demands no less.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.