More help may be on the way for low-income rural ratepayers struggling with high electricity bills because of the so-called FortisBC two-tiered rate structure.
But those same ratepayers are going to have to do some work to help themselves — and their neighbours.
Two organizations — one provincial and one local — is asking for public input as they explore ways to end or negate the effects of the two-tiered system, embedded in the residential conservation rate, that increases the cost of electricity after the first 1,600 kilowatts used in a billing period.
As of January 1, 2017, the first 1,600 kWh is charged at 10.117 cents per kWh. Electricity used above this amount is billed at 15.617 cents per kWh.
The residential conservation rate was put in place to encourage ratepayers to conserve energy.
“Unfortunately, for the people who live in rural areas where there are no alternatives to electricity and who live in sub-standard housing that requires more energy to heat, this increase has made it difficult for many residents to pay their utility bills and meet their basic needs,” the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen says to preface its request for customer stories of hardship created by the two-tiered system.
The RDOS is considering asking for intervener status in FortisBC’s next annual review of rates, expected to be held next spring.
“If your household has been impacted by the Fortis BC Two-Tiered Rate System, the RDOS would like to hear from you. The Regional District proposes to register as an Intervener to the Fortis BC 2017 Rate Design Application to the BC Utilities Commission later this year and is looking to gather supporting documentation on the impacts to citizens to add as supporting evidence in our application.”
Testimonials can be sent to Christie Lang by email (email@example.com) or delivered to 101 Martin Street, Penticton, BC V2A 5J9 by Nov. 15.
“Testimonials should be a brief, honest depiction of the effects on your household (no more than a half page) and should include your name, location and contact information.”
The Regional District also took its concerns to Shane Simpson, Social Development and Poverty Reduction’s minister, at the most recent Union of BC Municipalities gathering in late September.
“He’s willing to work with his colleagues to see if there’s something they can do from a disadvantaged citizens point of view,” said Bill Newell, the regional district’s CAO, of that conversation. “But when it comes to electrical utilities, they’re not really in that game.”
The provincial ministry, however, is also asking ratepayers struggling with high energy bills to share experiences as it develops a Poverty Reduction Strategy.
“We appreciate there are still concerns about two-tiered rates for those on fixed incomes – especially as we approach winter when heating costs increase,” said Carla Wormald, a spokesperson for the ministry.
“We understand that utilities are a significant expense for those on modest incomes. We will be asking the Poverty Reduction Advisory Forum to give us advice related to the costs of essential services such as utilities as part of our overall poverty reduction strategy.”
The forum includes 27 members and is tasked with identifying causes of poverty and innovative ways to reduce it, recommending priority actions and discussing ideas for poverty reduction generated through a consultation and engagement process.
“We welcome individuals who are impacted by the two-tiered billing to continue to share their experiences through the poverty reduction public consultations and online engagement,” said Ms. Wormald.
Those wishing to share their two-tiered rate experience can visit bcpovertyreduction.