FortisBC is delivering an early Christmas gift to customers — a commitment that while some other home-based and personal costs will be increasing in the new year, natural gas and electricity billings will not.

For natural gas customers across the province, rates will decrease, and for electricity customers in the South Okanagan, rates will remain the same.

And says the company, even more good news could be on the way for electricity clients struggling with the Residential Conservation Rate, or two-tiered billing.

“We’re going through the process now of how we design our rates,” said FortisBC’s Nicole Bogdanovic. “We have to collect a certain amount of revenue to meet the service requirements of our customers. How that (revenue) pie is divided up between various customer classes and how rates are actually structured, that could change.”

The company, Ms. Bogdanovic said, heard the concerns of those residents heating homes with electricity because natural gas is not available, and is taking those concerns seriously.

FortisBC will be making a rate submission to the BC Utilities Commission Dec. 22.

Meanwhile, the cost of natural gas, FortisBC says, will be at one of the lowest rates in the past decade.

“This is welcome news for all of our customers,” said Diane Roy, FortisBC’s vice-president of regulatory affairs. “We are working hard to keep rates as low as possible and this is a reflection of that work as well as favourable natural gas market conditions.”

As of January 1, natural gas customers in the South Okanagan will see a six-percent decrease — on average about $45 — in their annual billing.

That compares to a $20 crease for residential customers in BC’s northeast, an $85 decrease on Vancouver island and a $245 decrease for residential customers in Whistler.

The BC Utilities Commission has also approved FortisBC’s request to keep the 2017 electric rates in effect as interim rates until a decision on permanent 2018 rates — a negligible requested rate increase of 0.17 percent — is approved.

“This year’s low rate increase reflects FortisBC’s success in reducing costs in its operations while also making necessary system improvements and long-term investments,” said Ms. Roy.

Since 2014, FortisBC says, electric rate increases have trended downward. The company has provided a total of $4.6 million in savings to customers through lower rates while making $1 billion in investments to maintain and upgrade its electrical infrastructure.

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