SUNDRE — The municipal council recently decided to stand in solidarity with the Town of Fox Creek in expressing concerns to the Alberta Utilities Commission regarding surging costs of both natural gas and electricity.
Linda Nelson, chief administrative officer, brought to council’s attention during the regular April 11 meeting correspondence signed by Fox Creek mayor Sheila Gilmour.
“The letter is just concern raised with the utilities commission about the rising costs of utilities,” summarized Nelson, adding the correspondence was carbon copied to municipalities across the province.
Also listed among the CC’d recipients on the letter dated March 23 were Sonya Savage, energy minister, as well as Todd Loewen, MLA for the Central Peace-Notley riding.
“Over the course of the past two years, our residents have dealt with the strain of the pandemic, rising costs of groceries, rising gas prices, and job insecurity,” reads a portion of Gilmour's letter.
“Now, they can add the stress of maintaining utilities in their homes to that list," she wrote, adding the economic ripple effects have also impacted non-profit organizations.
The letter concludes with Gilmour imploring on behalf of Fox Creek that the commission "perform a review of the fees being charged on top of the actual usage fees all the while giving strict attention to the amount of profit the corporations are making off Albertans.”
The Town of Fox Creek did not include any specific requests for other municipalities to consider, such as a coordinated letter campaign, but simply sought to inform their counterparts in municipal governments throughout Alberta.
“When municipalities send letters like this to other municipalities, do other municipalities respond by also supporting it in a letter?” asked Coun. Paul Isaac.
The councillor said he had recently joined Mayor Richard Warnock for a meeting with MLAs Jason Nixon, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre riding and minister of environment and parks, as well as Nate Horner, Drumheller-Stettler riding and minister of agriculture and forestry.
“The two of us met with them regarding this exact topic,” said Isaac. “One of the things we realized after our meeting, is it’s not necessarily (Horner’s) department that could give us many answers as to the high rising costs of electricity.”
Rather, Isaac said he and Warnock were advised such concerns might better be addressed to the energy minister and even the premier.
“I do believe that municipalities need to push the (provincial) government to look into the utilities commission,” said Isaac. “Because I don’t know if there’s a strong enough watchdog with the energy utility companies. They seem to have an awful lot of control as to how they charge.”
In 2019, the UCP government scrapped a program previously introduced by the NDP to cap electricity prices at 6.8 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for regulated customers. At the time, the energy minister defended the decision, citing support for its removal not only from consumers but also industry stakeholders.
Electricity prices reached record highs in January, with consumers in Calgary and Edmonton seeing rates hit more than 16 cents per kWh.
And yet distribution and transportation costs for cities and lager centres are minimal compared with rural areas, said Issac.
“The equalizing throughout the province of Alberta is very, very unfair,” he said, adding Horner shared the concerns raised during the meeting but that the issue was out of the minister’s departmental mandate.
One way or another, the councillor said he wants to see some action taken on the issue.
So, Isaac amended administration’s recommended motion simply accepting the correspondence as information, to include an addition to also write a letter to the AUC expressing those shared concerns in solidarity with the Town of Fox Creek.
Speaking in support that motion, Coun. Jaime Marr said, “I don’t see how that would hurt. Everyone is feeling the push.”
Council unanimously carried the motion.