The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce is slamming a decision that sticks Vancouver Island with some of the province’s highest natural gas rates.
A rate system with different regional charges is “not the way utilities normally run,” Bruce Carter, chamber chief executive, said Wednesday. In B.C., there are six rates for natural gas customers, depending on where they live.
Other utilities in B.C. share common rates and natural gas should be the same, Carter said. The chamber said common rates balance the cost of operating utilities among all users. “If a utility is provincial, then we should all be paying the same amount — like we do with B.C. Hydro, like we do with Telus,” Carter said.
In a decision this week by the B.C. Utilities commission, natural gas provider FortisBC lost its bid to amalgamate its three separate utility operations and to charge one common rate for customers. FortisBC favoured a common rate of $11.432 per gigajoule.
More than 100,000 Vancouver Island and Sunshine Coast customers currently pay the second-highest rate in B.C., at $15.725. FortisBC said a common rate would lower Island costs by 25 per cent, reducing the annual average natural gas expense by $245.
In northeastern B.C. Fort Nelson customers pay the lowest rate, at $7.280. Whistler pays the highest at $17.850 per gigajoule.
The commission regulates the sector and its decision followed hearings in 2012. An appeal, or reconsideration, is allowed after a decision, the commission said. Any party can apply for reconsideration and there is no time limit.
Asked what he would say to natural gas customers in Fort Nelson who would be charged more if the rate system changed, Carter said: “If you don’t want to pay more in Fort Nelson, and you want to pay less because you are closer to the source ... do you want to pay what it cost to bring phone services and electrical services there as well?”
Carter is urging FortisBC to “aggressively pursue” this matter.
He raised the possibility of another letter writing campaign supporting a common rate, possibly sending letters to politicians this time. A previous effort saw chamber members backing a common rate send 500 letters to the commission, he said.
Lower rates on the Island would motivate customers to switch to natural gas, a more environmentally friendly product than high-carbon fuel, he said.
FortisBC predicted natural gas rates for Islanders could increase by 20 per cent without a common rate, but the commission questioned that amount.
Natural gas distribution has been rolled out at different times in B.C., with different costs for varying amounts of infrastructure. The Island’s pipeline was completed in 1991. The commission said the existing rate system is fair to the various regions. It warned that the majority of FortisBC’s one million customers would be hit with rate increases if a common rate was imposed.
FortisBC argued in favour of one rate, saying that the Island’s situation is challenging because it will be losing government subsidies and that it has to repay loans to senior governments. It also said that a common rate would help avoid regional spikes due to local capital costs and economic difficulties.
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