City questions green intentions

Whitehorse and the Yukon Energy Corporation see two different shades of green. The city is challenging Yukon Energy's proposal to alter power rates. Yukon Energy wants to decrease rates for people who use less than 1,000 kilowat

Whitehorse and the Yukon Energy Corporation see two different shades of green.

The city is challenging Yukon Energy’s proposal to alter power rates. Yukon Energy wants to decrease rates for people who use less than 1,000 kilowatt hours a month, the so-called first-block users, and increase rates for people who use more than 1,000 kilowatt hours, known as second-block users.

The 20 per cent of Whitehorse residents who use electric heat are second block users and their bills will increase, said Brian Crist, the city’s manager of operations. The higher bills will force them to switch to furnace oil, encouraging fossil fuel consumption.

On the other hand, Yukon Energy believes higher bills will force second-block users to use less energy, encouraging conservation. Only 30 per cent of residential customers are second-block users.

The proposal will go before the Yukon Utilities Board in April or May. The city plans to argue its case as an intervenor.

“(Customers who use more than 1,000 kilowatt hours) will be paying a lot more or they’ll have to switch and come right off using electricity,” said Crist.

“People have to heat their homes, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “They have to decide if they can pay for the runoff increase or if they can’t, and the onus is on them to switch over. Is that fair? Is that fair that a rate adjustment forces 20 per cent of the people to make that kind of choice?”

“It might be only affecting 20 per cent of the people, but is it affecting the bottom 20 per cent of the income scale? This was not clear in the (general rate application,)” he said.

The city “ideologically” supports Yukon Energy’s effort to promote conservation, it just doesn’t think it will work on a practical level.

Any rate decrease should be applied evenly within the existing rate structure, said Crist.

“If I was heating with electricity, under the way the rate structure will affect me, darn night (I’d switch to oil),” he said. “You’d be crazy to continue to be heating with electricity.”

Though it lacked specific data on Whitehorse, Yukon Energy said 12 to 15 per cent of all Yukon residents heat their homes with electricity.

It’s also difficult to say whether everyone who uses electric heat will go over 1,000 kilowatt hours in a month, said spokesperson Janet Patterson in an e-mail.

“It depends on how large and energy efficient their home is, what energy conservation measures they practise, how many people live in the home, etc. As a general statement though, it is probably fair to say that an average home that heats solely with electricity will likely use over 1,000 kilowatt hours a month, at least in the colder months.”

The city’s argument challenges Yukon Energy’s claim that its rate changes promote green power because the rate increase for second-block users may affect everyone who uses electric heat and none who use furnace oil.

But no one has the numbers to confirm it.

The decision to investigate the effects of the new rate scheme ultimately rests with the Yukon Utilities’ Board, said Patterson.

While the city and Yukon Energy aren’t looking to inflame things, the solution that the city is proposing isn’t likely to gain Yukon Energy’s blessing.

“The city wants the rate changes to be dealt with in another phase 2 rate proceeding that would a comprehensive cost of service study that would look at the whole rate structure issue,” said Crist.

“We’d just want to know a little more about who (the second block rate increase) affects. Will it be people who will be able to take on the extra expense?”

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

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