FortisBC customer rallying others to speak out
Old age pensioner Donald Thorsteinson is so fed up with FortisBC rate hikes that he’s rallying the troops to join his cause.
“People have the power, FortisBC doesn’t have the power. If people stand together, we can do something about it,” he said from his small home north of Osoyoos.
Thorsteinson began his crusade against the electrical monopoly when he noticed that his rates jumped from approximately $900 (for a two-month period) last year to nearly $1,400 this year. He noted his power consumption didn’t change from 2012.
“It’s hurting me. All I’ve got is my pension,” said Thorsteinson, who had to take money out of his grocery fund to pay for part of the increase. So he contacted FortisBC about his concern.
“When I asked why there was such an increase in my bill, a representative of Fortis told me that they hoped their customers would cut back on their consumption because of the high rates.”
The pensioner said one lady from the Trail office said if he didn’t pay his bill the company would shut his power off.
Neal Pobran, FortisBC’s corporate communications manager, said this winter was the first year with the residential conservation rate so they did experience more of an increase in call volumes than normal.
Pobran said they implemented a 6.6 per cent cumulative rate increase on January 1 – 4.2 per cent for revenue requirements and 2.3 per cent for rate rebalancing. As for the residential conservation rate, electricity is billed in two blocks now rather than a flat rate. Block one electricity is billed at $8.80 per kWh up to 1,600 kWh every two months, and $12.95 for electricity used above 1,600 kWh.
Pobran said when they compare customer bills under the residential conservation rate to those that customers would receive under an equivalent flat rate, they know that a majority (75 per cent) of customers pay about the same or less because of this new rate structure.
“For many seniors, who typically reside in smaller homes or live by themselves, this rate can be beneficial because they get a lower rate on the first 1,600 kWh.”
According to Pobran, the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) directed FortisBC to design and implement a rate that encourages customers to use less electricity.
But Thorsteinson doesn’t buy any of this.
“Complaining to a company with a monopoly is useless (as they have a host of excuses). In the end they say ‘if you don’t like it, move to a smaller house.’ But no service company should be in the position to dictate where we live.”
In his case, Thorsteinson came up with $800 to pay his outstanding bill, and worked out a monthly payment plan where he will pay about $425 a month, up from $350 that he was paying last year.
Since writing letters to the editor, he has received numerous emails from supporters.
One resident said her bill increased by approximately 90 per cent, while another customer said her bill was $361 for an empty house for a period of 49 days.
A war veteran from Keremeos also responded: “My retirement income is such that it’s beyond my means to pay this humongous money grab by Fortis. Right now I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Thorsteinson said part of the problem is that BCUC continually approves these rate hike requests from FortisBC.
“The utilities commission is supposed to be working as an arbitrator for the people, but they keep rubber stamping (the rate hikes).”
But BCUC director of customer relations Alison Thorson said the fact they only approved a four per cent increase as opposed to 6.5 per cent demonstrates that the commission does not rubber stamp all requests by Fortis to increase rates. “However, it is true that FortisBC has been approved for a sequence of rate increases over the past number of years.”
Thorson said the BCUC acknowledged that FortisBC’s request for a 6.5 per cent increase was significant and only allowed spending that was justified. She noted the commission has found that the money FortisBC has proposed to spend is justified for infrastructure upgrades in order to provide greater safety and reliability.
Thorson said large electricity consumers will likely see the largest increases in their bills.
As for how rate increases are approved, the BCUC initiates a public review process where interest groups and private citizens are invited to actively participate by writing letters of comment.
Thorsteinson encourages FortisBC customers to demand explanations from the company and the BCUC. He hopes to gather names on a petition in order to repeal the rate hikes and ultimately let the BCUC know that the public will no longer stand by while it rubber stamps corporate proposals without input.
“There is beginning to be a rebellion in Fortis country regarding the horrendous rates being charged, and although the seniors and those on other fixed incomes are the hardest hit, these rate increases affect everyone.”
Thorsteinson hopes people will contact their new MLA after the May election. “He or she needs your vote, and the ones that heed our warnings will be the next party governing BC.”
Patt Vermiere, constituency assistant to former MLA John Slater, agreed that a petition is one option, with the other being sending letters to the new MLA.