NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Heat cost protested
Resident shows Inuvik Gas bill increased by $3,000

Shawn Giilck
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, February 13, 2014

Another wave of unhappiness has rolled over the town as the latest Inuvik Gas bills have arrived.

nnsl photo

Andre Oullet is speaking out again on the high price of residential home heating fuel in Inuvik. - Shawn Giilck/NNSL photo

Some people, like Candace Seddon and Paul Badgley, are outraged their bills are significantly higher than the previous month. In Seddon's case, the consumption at her home is higher than it's ever been in the time she's owned the house.

Andre Oullet, a frequent critic of Inuvik Gas, showed the Inuvik Drum that his latest bill is approximately $3,000 higher than previous bills.

Neither Seddon nor Badgley can understand the price jump in the bill. They, like many other people, are wondering if it's attributable to the synthetic natural gas (SNG) Inuvik Gas is using as a temporary fuel source to cover the declining reservoir at the Ikhil wells.

Badgley said he is now in the process of filing a formal complaint with the NWT Public Utilities Board over the bills.

Kevin McKay, the general manager of Inuvik Gas, sat down with the Drum to discuss the situation, which is also simmering on social media.

He said he was somewhat aware of the discontent, although he doesn't actively follow it on Facebook.

"We have had some customers calling in on bills," McKay said.

Cost of cold weather

McKay said he believed most of the increases in the bills, which he didn't dispute, is due to a longer-than-normal billing cycle over Christmas and the "extremely cold" weather in December.

Some people are being billed on a "34- or 35-day cycle" in the most recent period, rather than the normal 28-day cycle.

"So it could be a reflection of those longer billing cycles," he said.

He also said many people might be comparing their most recent bills to what they paid in the same period in 2013, which was before the company switched to offering SNG at a significantly higher cost.

"We still think we're pretty competitive," he said.

Those bills, McKay said, would be lower than what Inuvik Gas customers are seeing this year.

He had no easy explanations as to why some customers, such as Seddon, are seeing such dramatic increases.

Seddon said the bill indicated she used around 40 gigajoules during the billing period, well above her record usage of 27.76.

Other people are noticing similar jumps in their actual consumption, rather than just a simple difference in the rates for the SNG.

McKay said each individual case would have to be looked at to provide any answers.

He stressed that SNG is comparable to straight natural gas in terms of efficiency, so there should be no real change in the consumption of fuel under SNG compared to natural gas.

Meters are read every month by Inuvik Gas staff, McKay added, although not all at the same time.

"There are eight different billing cycles," he said.

In the latest bill, McKay said some people could be seeing an extra five or more days tacked on to their bill, because the meters may not have been read on their normal schedule due to the holiday season.

That means consumption will be greater than normal, as will the amount owing on the bill itself.

Extremely cold month

December was an extremely cold month, he added, which may have contributed to people using more gas than expected.

He also said that people should have their appliances and heating systems inspected and tuned every year.

Some people might also have had extra company over the holidays, contributing to more consumption, McKay said.

Badgley said his usage has doubled from the same period last year, and he has made a point to try to conserve energy.

"I think it's time we all get together and request a formal

investigation and an audit of Inuvik Gas to see why," he said.

When he was told what McKay had to say about the weather and the longer billing period, Badgley said "(that's a) good excuse but when I reviewed my dates on the readings, there was only a few days difference from last year. Furthermore I have never touched my furnace or water heater in any way. The PUB (public utilities board) needs to investigate this matter. There is still something not right."

Seddon said she knows of other Inuvik residents who have seen similar increases in consumption in the last billing period.

It's puzzling, she said, because the heating season up to this point has been quite comparable to last year.

"Yes, my bill was 34 days," she said. "But that does not explain away the 10-plus gigajoule leap."

McKay said he was aware there was a move afoot to file a formal complaint.

He didn't discourage that, but he said he wished more people with a complaint about their gas bills would discuss the situation with him first to see if there was anything that could be done.

Since the SNG was introduced, McKay said the company had introduced a number of initiatives, including budget billing, to help customers deal with the increased costs.

"We've never done that before," he said.

McKay said he wouldn't reveal the number of customers who had been disconnected due to outstanding arrears, but said it was "small."

He said he has personally worked diligently with customers wherever possible to sort out the issues, but he has heard about many complaints on a second-hand basis that he can't deal with.

"No one ever wants to talk about the people we've helped," he said.

McKay stressed the SNG is only a temporary solution to "help bridge the gap" until a permanent energy source is found for Inuvik.

Inuvik Gas is in the final year of its franchise agreement with the town. Both parties are now in discussions over the possible sale of the pipeline distribution system to the town.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.