PENTICTON - The battle to level the playing field with respect to Fortis residential electrical rates isn’t over, as a South Okanagan community group says it will continue its push to see the two-tiered rate system terminated as soon as possible.
The Anarchist Mountain Community Society is leading the charge for a flat rate system of electrical fees, headed by Nick Marty.
Marty has received intervenor status for the group and the support of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen for representation to the British Columbia Utilities Commission hearing of Fortis’ upcoming rate review.
He says it’s good Fortis recognizes the system isn’t working, noting the utility's presentation to the regional district board yesterday, Jan. 4, in which Fortis representative Corey Sinclair said it would asking the utilities commission to phase out the two-tiered rate over five years.
“There’s no way it should be phased out over five years,” Marty says. "That’s ridiculous, because the two-tier system has not been encouraging efficiency, it’s resulting in using of more fossil fuels as people switch to wood burning stoves, and it actually taxes customers who use electricity for water and space heating, using the revenue from that to subsidize the majority of Fortis customers."
Marty says the majority of Fortis customers have been subsidized by the electrical company’s top 10 per cent of energy users, and they are reluctant to eliminate the subsidy because they don’t want those subsidized customers to experience a rate increase of more than $3.50 a month.
He says those top energy users are suffering major hardship financially with the rate and calls it absurd to take five years to eliminate it.
Calling the Fortis application to the utilities commission a “master of deception,” he says the utility has skated around the negative impacts the two-tiered rate has had on its high-consumption customers, adding the utility doesn’t want to give him the opportunity to present contradictory evidence to the commission.
“Fortis is arguing there shouldn’t be an oral hearing, with arguments presented in written form only. They don’t want to be cross-examined by me, nor do they want to give me the opportunity to present evidence,” he says.
Marty suspects Fortis has been using the two-tiered system to create an illusion rates are lower than they actually are, and are concerned about that illusion being removed.
He says the utility also has a vested interest in the alternative energy source most high energy users would adopt if they had the opportunity, which is natural gas.
“They sell natural gas, which I see as a conflict of interest for Fortis, and another reason why it’s advantageous for them to keep the price high for those using electricity for space and water heating,” he says.
He says Fortis could eliminate the rate over two years, not five.
“That way it wouldn’t go up more than 10 per cent for any of their customers. So why are they requesting a five year term? They just want to spread it out as long as they can,” he says.
Marty has the backing of the regional district, which will be providing him with 240 testimonials gathered from households negatively affected by the two-tiered rate. The testimonials have been redacted with respect to names and addresses, and will be presented at the B.C. Utility Commission rate review, which gets underway later this month.
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