No amount of sweaters can offset a $3,800 hydro bill

Terrace City Council is to be commended for seeking support from Northern Governments and lobbying the Provincial Government to establish an affordable electricity program for low-income residents. This lobbying, however, should not stop there and should be expanded to include the shocking prices local residents and businesses are forced to pay for heating with natural gas.

Local stories of families and businesses paying multiple thousands of dollars monthly to heat homes and buildings are not difficult to find. As we all know, heat is not a luxury, particularly in our part of the world and the option to just turn our thermostats down or put a sweater on is simply not always a viable one. A great many businesses and people have invested in high-efficiency heating in an effort to reduce this crippling expense and yet the prices continue to rise higher and higher.

While they do provide excellent service, one of the worst parts about our local gas vendor Pacific Northern Gas (PNG) is that a degree in accounting, or possibly Acronyms 101, is required to make head or tail of the bill. A quick look at my heating bill reveals 15 separate line items. There is a basic charge, two separate delivery charges, six different “Rider” charges, two commodity charges, a Franchise fee, GST, PST and an “ICE” fund.

How much gas did my business here actually use? Well, we actually consumed 235 gigajoules, which, when you strip out the PST and GST, works out on a $3,800 a month or $15.99 per gigajoule. Contrasting this to our sister store in Prince George (which is in a larger building served by Fortis, another gas provider), the net cost is only 7.53 per gigajoule consumed. Their delivery charge averages 2.92 per GJ, ours a whopping 10.50 per GJ. All figures assuming that I am actually reading my gas bill correctly. By the way, the Fortis bill requires no special talent in acronyms or shorthand to decipher.

The ICE (Innovation Clean Energy) fund was created in September 2007 to collect $25 million to subsidize clean energy projects. Unfortunately, one of the facts about taxes is that once implemented, they never really go away. In fact, the province has applications to the ICE fund for nearly $140 million a year in handouts that you and I are supporting.

PNG said the increase in gas prices is due to the lack of industry using their product. This puts business customers at a massive disadvantage compared to non-PNG customers.

Profit makes the wheels of commerce go round, but we, as gas consumers, may be held financially liable for repairs to the main gas line through the Copper River Valley which was nearly wiped out by flooding last fall. To me, this is a bit like suggesting that because we don’t have the same traffic volume on our roads, we should pay more for road maintenance.

Still, I do have some sympathy for PNG when it comes to fixing up the Copper River Road itself. The Copper River Road is used not only by PNG but by loggers, fishermen, guide outfitters and off-road RV users.

To force PNG and other users to pay for rebuilding that road is an abdication of responsibility by the provincial government. The government certainly has had no issue spending the stumpage cheques and fishing licenses from that valley. It’s time that they wrote some cheques back to maintain it to a proper standard.

Maybe the residents served by PNG should be eligible for an additional amount on our homeowners’ grant to offset the significantly increased cost of heating our homes. Businesses could also be able to access some form of rebate or cost reduction strategy to level the playing field of living and doing business in the northwest.

Putting another sweater on just isn’t cutting it anymore.

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