Power rates to climb in 2009: McRobb

Yukoners can expect to see power bills soar in 2009, says Gary McRobb, energy critic for the Liberals.

Yukoners can expect to see power bills soar in 2009, says Gary McRobb, energy critic for the Liberals.

Power bills grew by 20 per cent in 2008 and will swell by another 15 per cent in 2009 because of the elimination of the Rate Stabilization Fund, McRobb told the legislature on Thursday.

This means the average customer will spend an additional $40 per month, or $450 annually, he said.

“This comes at a bad time when a lot of families are trying to make ends meet,” he said.

But Janet Patterson, a spokesperson for Yukon Energy, questions McRobb’s numbers.

It’s impossible to say how much power bills will grow in 2009 until the Yukon Utilities Board makes an important decision in the next few months, she said.

But it seems unlikely bills will rise anywhere near as dramatically as McRobb predicts, she said.

It appears McRobb leaves out a rate decrease proposed by Yukon Energy.

If the Yukon Utilities Board approves the decrease, it should eliminate most of the pain caused by the loss of the Rate Stabilization Fund, which subsidizes power bills.

If the rate decrease goes ahead, a person who paid $132.80 for 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy in a month of 2008 would only see a modest increase of 2.2 per cent, to $135.84, according to Patterson.

But that’s not all. Rates may grow more, depending on whether the utilities board decides to boost the surcharge collected by Yukon Electrical Company, which purchases power from Yukon Energy and distributes it to customers.

Yukon Electrical received a five per cent increase in July of last year as an interim decision.

But whatever decision the utilities board makes, it is unlikely to give Yukon Electrical a big boost to that rate when it makes a final decision in the next few months.

The utility originally asked for an 11 per cent increase. It was denied.

In an interview, McRobb said his intention was not to “predict what the utilities board will do.”

And there’s “no doubt” that consumers will pay more, even if Yukon Energy’s rate decrease is approved, he said.

As McRobb sees things, the demise of the Rate Stabilization Fund is directly connected to the large number of blackouts experienced by the Yukon recently.

When the subsidy began to disappear, Yukon Energy compensated by slashing the money it spent on maintaining its infrastructure, said McRobb.

Yukoners have endured 37 power outages in the past year.

“This is simply unacceptable,” McRobb told Energy Minister Jim Kenyon during question period.

“The lights have been out for some time and we do apologize for that,” Kenyon replied.

He promised a “significant improvement” in the number of outages for the year to come.

Two-thirds of the power corporation’s capital budget for 2009 will be spent on improving the reliability of the power supply, he said.

One reason why Yukon experiences so many outages is because Yukon Energy has fewer backups, or “redundancies,” than public utilities in other jurisdictions, said Kenyon.

This should improve when the territory’s two power grids become connected, he said.

And, while Yukon experiences an unusual number of outages, these outages are “much shorter in duration than the national average,” said Kenyon.

That’s of little comfort, said McRobb.

“Tell that to the people in Burwash Landing, who experienced an eight-hour outage about three weeks ago,” he said.

People around the world turned off the lights for an hour on Saturday during Vote Earth, a symbolic gesture against global warming.

But the novelty of sitting in the dark is probably lost for many Yukoners, said McRobb.

“Yukoners deserve a badge of honour because they’ve been experiencing their own Vote Earth campaign all too frequently in the past two years,” he said.

“With the possible exception of this annual event, Yukoners just want the lights to stay on.”

“They want to work on their computers, work in their shops, shop in their stores and not have the lights go off every week or two.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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