Calling for Electricity Affordability in BC – BC Hydro Rate Design

In 2015 BCPIAC intervened on behalf of seven organizations in a rare opportunity to ask the BC Utilities Commission, the province’s utilities regulator, to order BC Hydro to implement programs for low income residential ratepayers including a discounted rate for electricity, low income customer rules (including waiver of reconnection fees and late payment charges, and waiver of the security deposit requirement), expanded low income energy efficiency programs, and a crisis intervention fund.

BCPIAC represented seven community organizations seeking these programs because low income customers are struggling to pay BC Hydro’s endlessly increasing electricity rates. In support of these proposals, BCPIAC has presented evidence from two expert witnesses, and a number of advocates and low income ratepayers.

BC Hydro has increased residential electricity rates by 50% in the last 10 years, and is on track to increase them by over 30% in the next eight years. Rates are projected to continue to rise significantly in future years as BC Hydro proceeds with multi-billion dollar projects such as the Site C dam, which has been exempted from a full public review by the BCUC and is currently estimated to cost over $9 billion.

rising bc hydro costsBC Hydro’s rate increases have grossly outpaced increases in income for low income British Columbians. For example, BC social assistance rates have been frozen since 2007 at $610 per month for basic assistance and $906 for disability assistance, and in the last 10 years the BC general minimum wage has only increased by $2.45 an hour.

The BC Utilities Commission, which regulates the province’s electricity rates, issued its decision in BC Hydro’s rate review process on Friday, January 20, 2017.

Unfortunately, it was a really disappointing decision.  The Commission denied BCPIAC’s requests for a discounted rate for electricity for low income customers, low income customer rules, and expanded energy efficiency programs, essentially finding that it does not have jurisdiction to order BC Hydro to adopt measures to help low-income customers afford their electricity bills. The one silver lining is that the Commission has ordered BC Hydro to create a pilot crisis intervention fund for people who are in arrears and facing service disconnection.  We are currently working with BC Hydro and other stakeholders to design the crisis intervention program.

We remain of the view the Commission does have the jurisdiction to order utilities to offer a low income rate and low income customer rules, and have requested that the Commission reconsider its decision in this proceeding.  Pending the outcome of that request, we may seek leave to appeal at the BC Court of Appeal.

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