Soaring utility bills have NDP calling for action

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

It was a hot topic on the High Prairie & Area Discussion Board a few weeks ago, and now the Alberta NDP is wading into the debate.

Local citizens were complaining about increasing utility bills with many claiming the fees were up by hundreds of dollars.

The increased fees occurred all over Alberta. The NDP says thousands of Albertans have written or come forward to the NDP caucus with complaints and concerns about their utility bills.

As a result, March 30, the NDP said the government should help, and are calling for “major relief for consumers” following the increases.

The NDP is calling the fees “massive increases”.

The Office of the Utilities Consumer Advocate [UCA] cites a number of contributing factors to the upswing in prices in Alberta, including increased consumption while people are staying home to observe COVID-19 public health orders, increased use during the winter, increased costs for natural gas and electricity and increased transmission and distribution charges.

“There’s a compounding effect here and it’s hammering household budgets,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

“Many Albertans have to use more natural gas and electricity if they work from home or spend more time at home to help protect their communities from the spread of COVID. Couple that with soaring prices for natural gas and electricity and you’re seeing massive bills and no relief for families.”

The NDP points out they capped electricity prices under the Regulated Rate Option at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour when in power in 2016.

“However, Jason Kenney and the UCP removed it in late 2019,” says Notley.

“According to the UCA, average electricity prices have exceeded that previous cap in January, February and March of this year,” says Notley.

“As well, natural gas prices are at highs not seen in seven years, with prices in March exceeding four cents per gigajoule — the last time prices were this high was in June 2014. For context, rates were just 1.6 cents per gigajoule in March 2020.”

In response, the NDP is calling for the following:

  • Provide direct consumer relief to two-thirds of Albertans [those earning up to $55,000 annually as an individual or $102,500 per couple];
  • Reinstate the Regulated Rate Option cap for electricity at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour;
  • Reinstate the Utility Payment Deferral Program, which allowed consumers and businesses to defer payment of bills but which ended last June;
  • Ban all utility shutoffs for Alberta homes until the pandemic ends and public health orders are lifted.

Notley notes Albertans are already struggling greatly during the pandemic and economic downturn.

“We need real consumer relief from these glaring utility bills and we need it to last for the duration of the pandemic, no matter when it might end.”

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