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'This is greed'
Proposed power-rate hike rankles residents

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Friday, July 14, 2017

Yellowknifers are railing against the prospect of being saddled with yet another power-bill hike.

NNSL photograph

Gord Van Tighem talks to Leslie Caines after she addressed a public hearing on proposed power-rate increases at the Explorer Hotel on Monday. - Cody Punter/NNSL photos

The Northwest Territories Power Corporation is currently seeking to increase power rates by 12.8 per cent over the next three years, retroactive to 2016. The Public Utilities Board has already approved interim increases of 4.8 per cent and four per cent in August and April respectively.

If the current application is approved, rates will have gone up by 41.2 per cent between 2012 and 2018.

"This is greed, complete greed," said resident Jennifer Pagonis during a four-day public hearing which wrapped up yesterday.

"I'm not sure who's getting their pockets lined but it's not me."

As of press time, a petition on the legislative assembly's website denouncing the hike had 429 signatures.

For the past week, the power corp. has been pleading its case to the Public Utilities Board, the independent body that will have the last say on whether or not the rates will be approved. It is requesting more money to cover revenue shortfalls as a result of a decline in consumption, rising wages, inflation and the cost of replacing aging infrastructure.

"The generators and the plants are ancient," said Gord Van Tighem, chairperson of the Public Utilities Board.

Over the course of the week, the power corp. faced a tough line of questioning by groups from across the territory, including the City of Yellowknife, Town of Hay River, the NWT's thermal communities and the Northwest Territories Federation of Labour (NTFL).

During a break in the proceedings, NTFL president Lorraine Hewlett said the power corp.'s constant request for more money reflects a lack of vision and strategic planning.

"We're in this continual pattern of paying higher rates," she said, pointing out that mines in the territory have begun investing in renewable energy with positive results.

"Our government has to realize that we cannot stay with this unsustainable product."

While the public was welcome to make to make presentations to the Public Utilities Board, just three people showed up on the first two days of hearings.

Following a rallying cry by Pagonis on Facebook's "Yellowknife's cost of living is out of control" page, 17 people descended on the Explorer Hotel to plead their case on Wednesday.

"People can't be here because they're at work so they can pay their power bills," said a frustrated Pagonis on Tuesday, adding she felt the meetings were poorly advertised.

A common complaint from residents that are trying to keep their power bills from skyrocketing is that when they reduce their consumption, their rate per kilowatt hour goes up, thereby minimizing potential savings.

Katherine Harris, a mother who attended one of the hearings this week, said her monthly power bill for her 2,100 sq. foot home hasn't been below $300 for the past few years.

Despite purchasing energy efficient appliances, installing a wood pellet stove to reduce dependence on grid power and limiting how often the family plugs in their car during the winter, her bills have continued to rise.

"We've done a ton of upgrades but we've seen nothing," she said.

Leslie Caines, the lone person to address the board on Monday, said it is not just power rates but the additional charges and riders - which make up a third of her bill - that are affecting her family's finances.

"When they increase their rates all our other fees go up," she said.

Pam Coulter, director of communications for power corp., declined to comment until the hearings were wrapped up in order to avoid influencing the board's decision.

Several people who showed up at the meetings pointed out the continual rate increases have contributed to an exodus of residents who say they can no longer afford to live in the NWT.

Pagonis said for people like her, who were born and raised in the NWT, moving is not an option.

"This is my home, I have nowhere else to go," she said.

The board is expected to make its ruling on the proposed rate increase by fall.

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