When you’re in a good news/bad news situation, always take the good news first. It’s like eating the icing on the cake first, but at least you get to enjoy the full experience of the good part, without it being tainted by the bad part. Plus, not all cake without icing is truly bad, anyway.
So let’s look first at the good news in the story that our power bills will be increasing. It won’t take long.
The good part about Alberta’s quasi-deregulated power system is that of all Canadians, we face the truth more directly.
Our monthly bills are the highest in the country and for all that so-called deregulation, there’s no entrepreneurial force competing to drive them down.
It’s pitifully small comfort, especially for the poor, but it’s still true. Our monthly bills are high and going higher, but at least we’re seeing more of the truth of what it costs to generate and deliver electrical power to a modern society. Our neighbours with the much lower monthly bills are paying the same costs as we are, but a large portion of their power bills are buried inside their provincial tax systems, as taxpayer subsidies to government-owned and operated utilities.
And we Albertans would rather face the truth, right? Besides, if we want to promote energy conservation, the only path that has ever worked is to post the full cost and skip the subsidies.
There, that was the good news. The bad news, of course, will take longer to process.
This starts with facing that the cost of power actually consumed each month is the smallest portion of the bill. You could use zero power and still receive a considerable bill for all the other fees attached for power generation, delivery, administration, system maintenance and access. In fact, there have been instances of people having their power cut off and they still continued to receive bills. Maybe it was for the privilege of someday having their power restored.
However you slice it, our power bills look more like a fee to maintain a corporate bureaucracy than a fee for something we consume.
And now we find our bills are going up, because the City of Red Deer needs more money to manage its own power utility, which no longer buys, distributes and bills for power, but charges the so-called deregulated suppliers a fee to use the system that city taxpayers built when power really was a city utility.
The average homeowner will see an uptick of about $1.27 a month. Businesses will see their bills go up anywhere from $4 a month to $35 a month, depending on how much power they use.
Not enough to start a riot in the middle of winter, but all those little bills will add up to $921,000 more revenue for the city.
Now, we’re good Albertans, we like to face the truth. But the truth should not be paralyzing. If the good news of deregulation is to promote conservation (the other benefit — competition — was a bit of a failure, wasn’t it?) then don’t make conservation pointless.
Roll all those fees into a percentage of the actual bill for power. If you trimmed your electrical consumption by 20 per cent — which is easily in reach of most households — your total bill should drop by 20 per cent. Not by two or three per cent, as is the case now. So why conserve?
The total cost per kilowatt, everything included, will skyrocket as a number on paper, but reducing your kilowatts will reduce your bill by a number that will feel like an actual reward.
Albertans can face the truth. We need the utilities to frame their billing practices so that the good news in Alberta’s deregulation story feels more like icing on the cake.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.