Energy costs Electric shocker: Power prices set to rise sharply

Originally published by the CBC News 31st, 2011. To go to the CBC News website please click here

The price of electricity, already triggering shock from consumers and businesses in many parts of Canada, will rise rapidly through the end of the decade, according to an analysis by CBC News.

A study of provincial utilities’ power-purchase agreements and financial statements indicates the average cost per kilowatt-hour countrywide will rise more than 50 per cent by 2020.

And as provinces introduce staggered time-of-day pricing, seniors and other ratepayers on fixed incomes will suffer a double hit to their wallets, advocates say.

“Electricity prices have run up very substantially since 2003, but the increases that we’ve seen so far are just a warm-up for what we’re likely to see over the next four or five years,” said Tom Adams, an energy analyst and former head of Energy Probe.

The average Canadian household currently pays about $100 a month, before taxes, for electricity — though the provincial range is wide, from $68.75 in Montreal to $161 in Charlottetown.

Between now and 2020, however, more than 100 new power plants are slated to be built and thousands of kilometres of new transmission lines erected. The costs will be borne by consumers, and the average household electricity bill will rise to more than $150. (Since 2000, by comparison, electricity rates have only nudged up 12 per cent after adjusting for inflation.)

‘Enough is enough’

Customers in B.C. and Ontario are already feeling the pinch. BC Hydro raised its rates 7.3 per cent last year and has announced it will seek an additional 30 per cent hike over the next three years. The Ontario government declared last fall that the province’s rates will rise 46 per cent by 2015.

“Well, my first reaction is there’s nothing you can do about it, but there’s something I can do about it. I can turn off the lights, and that’s what I did,” said Arnold Hull, a retired teacher and a board member of the Council for London Seniors in London, Ont.

For nine years, Hull shone two spotlights every night on a public walkway next to his house because the city refused to install any illumination. Then last year, his average power bill surged from $76 a month to $100 — while his pension benefits inched up $240 for all of 2010. “I said enough is enough, I’m not lighting that anymore.”

Hull said he’s taken a host of other conservation measures, like replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, replacing every window and door with less drafty ones, and retrofitting his home’s insulation.

The Ontario government says that such steps can reduce the average household’s bill up to 30 per cent.

But as a pensioner, married to a retiree also on a fixed income, Hull’s still worried, particularly about what will happen when they’re switched to time-of-day pricing.

Ontario is one of several provinces to install “smart” electricity meters on households. They promote better resource use by billing customers extra for energy consumed during peak daytime hours, however it means added financial pain for those who have little choice but to stay home on weekdays.