What’s the plan for N.L.’s electricity rate mitigation?
It seems as if every time you turn around lately, NL Hydro and/or NL Power has an application submitted to the Public Utilities Board requesting yet another rate increase. We all understand that, just like any other business, the cost to operate a utility rises through inflation, increased employee costs, etc. and must be recovered in order for operations to remain viable and sustainable.
In the case of a private company like NL Power, in addition to simply remaining viable, there is also a reasonable expectation for a fair rate of return on investment to shareholders. Of course the definition of a “fair return” can be a subjective one and as we’ve recently found out, NL Power’s definition is totally out of sync with the average rate payer as they seek the ability to increase their net profits (which according to our Consumer Advocate was over $40 million last year) from a maximum 8.5 per cent annual return to 9.5 per cent.
Of course this request has been met with absolute outrage by the general public, and so it should, as people are currently struggling to pay their power bills as it is, with more increases on the way. And of course we haven’t even felt the devastation that will be forthcoming when the bills start rolling in to pay for Muskrat Falls.
Now I could go on a major rant regarding how I feel about this latest application by NL Power to increase shareholder profits at a time when unemployment in this province is so high, when bankruptcies have increased, when food bank usage is steadily on the rise, and many people are just barely hanging on. However, the purpose of this opinion piece relates not to this particular rate increase request but to power rates in general.
If you ask the average citizen these days “what is your biggest concern? What keeps you up at night?” the answer you will receive from many relates to the cost of living in general and specifically how they will pay their power bills when Muskrat Falls comes on line.
Of course our premier and our minister of Natural Resources have indicated that they are working hard to mitigate rates and to “keep us competitive” with Atlantic Canada. However, what exactly does that mean? What exactly is the plan?
This is probably the biggest issue facing our province in decades and other than “trust us, we’re working on it” there appears to be no plan and if there is one, it’s been well hidden so far. This is very cold comfort (pardon the pun) to the thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who will be wrapped in blankets and dining by candle light for reasons much more dire than romance when the bills start rolling in.
The time has come to put all the cards on the table, discuss our options and develop a solid plan to deal with this very serious matter. It’s time to come clean with the public with regards to what specifically is planned and how those plans will impact future power rates. Part of that plan has to involve how we assist those who will simply be unable to keep the lights on.
While this responsibility lies with our current government, it is also important as we approach the 2019 election, to demand that the other two political parties provide their detailed plan, should they be elected to form the next government.
The approach of the current government blaming the former administration for sanctioning Muskrat Falls and the official Opposition blaming the current administration for not getting control of the project costs when they assumed office is doing none of us any good and certainly isn’t going to lead to affordable power rates.
Time to cut out the partisan foolishness and for all parties to sit to the table and try to figure this mess out before it’s too late. We need a plan.