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Battle brewing over Fortis B.C. electrical rate system

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen and a South Okanagan community group are teaming up to take on what they see as a punitive Fortis B.C. residential electrical rates.
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October 26, 2017 - 6:30 PM

PENTICTON - A South Okanagan resident is joining forces with the regional district in a bid to eliminate what they say is a punitive electrical rate system.

Nick Marty of Osoyoos says Fortis B.C. is expected to file a rate application in November — its first since the introduction of the two-tiered conservation rate in 2012 — and he is preparing to challenge it.

“I took a look at the two-tiered system objective, which was to promote energy efficiency, and realized they designed it all wrong. As a result it was doing the opposite of what it was supposed to do,” he says.

Marty, a member of the Anarchist Mountain Community Society, has applied for intervenor status in the rate application. The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen is currently in the process of applying. He will be preparing the intervention for both groups. He made a presentation to the board on Oct. 5 and the board passed a resolution to intervene along with the society.

Marty’s expertise stems from a career with the federal government in energy policy. He was the director of policy for the office of energy efficiency with Natural Resource Canda.

The two-tiered rate charge by Fortis B.C. was introduced as an energy conservation initiative and currently charges $0.10117 per kWh for the first 1,600 kWh on a residential energy bill, and $0.15617 per kWh for additional energy use.

Marty says the rate discriminates against those least able to afford it, those homeowners and renters using electricity for space and water heating with no alternative to other sources of energy.

“I’ve been actively involved in this issue for some time, and have been arguing against it for several years now,” he says.

Marty says there is a conceptual basis for the rate, but for it to work, customers should have to have the same consumption in the second tier as they do in the first.

“It was designed all wrong, the majority of customers have no consumption in the second tier, while consumers who use electricity for space and water heating can end up with 70 per cent use in the second tier,” he says. 

It's not efficient either, he says, forcing customers to switch to fossil fuels which are completely contrary to the environmental objectives.

Marty plan to cross-examine the Fortis representatives and will be submitting his own testimony. 

“I plan to argue strongly for a return to a flat-rate system which I believe could meet government objectives for conservation without being discriminatory.”

Marty says a Fortis consultation of its customers took place in only three places last summer — Kelowna, Osoyoos and Castlegar — and he claims the company concealed important information about the deficiencies and negative impacts of the two-tiered rate.

The British Columbia Utilities Commission has been encouraging customer groups to get involved, he says, but so far no one is representing rural customers.

“They haven’t been looking after us, that’s why the Anarchist Mountain Community Society decided to get involved.”

Marty says it’s important for as many residents as possible to provide Fortis with their feedback, comments echoed by the regional district earlier this week when they issued a media release asking for those impacted by the two-tier rate to send a short testimonial outlining the economic impacts on their households.

Regional district board chair Director Karla Kozakevich says they are hoping to hear from people who are being forced to make difficult financial choices when it comes to their electrical costs. She says discussions with the Minister of Social Development and Poverty has resulted in a request from that ministry for specific stories from those impacted financially by the rate system.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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