What’s the plan for N.L.’s elec­tric­ity rate mit­i­ga­tion?

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial - Paul Lane In­de­pen­dent MHA – District of Mount Pearl-South­lands

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.

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