By Rob Vogt Local Press Writer
Claresholm town council will send a letter to the Alberta Consumers’ Representative expressing the town’s concern with ever increasing utility costs in rural communities, and direct the town’s administration to work towards providing a more detailed utility bill statement from the town for users to more easily understand.
At its March 28 meeting, council reviewed a letter from Rose Petek, a Claresholm resident, indicating over the past two years she has tried to gain an understanding of why her rural residential utility bills are ever increasing.
She has reached out to the various Alberta Consumer Advocates’ offices, local MLA Roger Reid, and Dale Nally, the associate minister of natural gas and electricity.
“Understanding that utilities are recognized as a ‘natural monopoly’ addressing shareholders receive a fair return on investment, but this must be balanced against fair rates for customers,” Petek wrote.
She noted in 2002 Alberta predicted the province’s current population of three million would double in the near future so there was a massive expansion of infrastructure to accommodate this prediction, resulting in a hefty cost.
Petek said the population is now four million, so who is left to pay this cost?
She then pointed out that due to this expansion of infrastructure, Alberta has seen an increase in tranmission charges since 2004, and distribution charges are higher for customers in rural Alberta than customers in urban areas because of the low population density and longer distances between customer sites.
Petek then provided her own experience from 2002 to 2022.
The monthly natural gas bill has gone from $49.71 to $151.94; and the Town of Claresholm utilities bill, which is every two months, has gone from $80.50 to $181.66.
“In summary the Utility Consumer Advocate shared with me that they receive very few complaints from residential consumers contrary to the many they receive from the commercial consumers,” Petek said.
“Is this council interested in further enquiry in order to make a determination as to whether they would support a collective address to the Alberta consumers’ representatives.”
Mayor Chelsae Petrovic and Coun. Brad Schlossberger both supported sending a letter.
“I think we could do a little on our own,” said Coun. Rod Kettles.
He observed that Petek mentioned the town’s utility bills as well. He encouraged council to look at its billing noting it can be more transparent about what is included in a bill.
Schlossberger said he has two sons with houses in Lethbridge. The bills are clearer there, but extremely more costly than Claresholm.
Petrovic said they could look at other municipalities for more transparency.
Abe Tinney, the town’s chief administrative officer, said the town has some utility comparisons.
Kettles said he was okay with the rates, but more explanation of them is required.
So more information on the billing, Tinney clarified.
Kettles said yes, adding there is a mention of 50 per cent, but 50 per cent of what?
Coun. Kieth Carlson said 50 percent of the water rate, but added the physical, actual number that percentage represented should be included on the bill.
He also said the town has done 100 percent cost recovery on its utilities. He cautioned some municipalities include part of their utility costs in other parts of the budget, and not utility bills.
Kettles said the town has to provide as much transparency as it can, noting council can justify the decisions it made and acknowledged the cost is tough on some families.
Carlson said there are people living cheque to cheque, and there are challenges, but the current billing is the best approach. He added the town has been very proactive in the work it has done, admitting the information can be displayed better.
Tinney said it seemed as if Petek wanted to work with the town on a collective letter. Did council want to pursue that or write its own letter?
Council then agreed to send a letter to the Alberta Consumers’ Representative expressing the town’s concern with ever increasing utility costs in rural communities and sending copies of this letter to the MLA and appropriate ministers, and to direct administration to work towards providing a more detailed utility bill statement from the town to our users to make it easier to understand.
By Rob Vogt Local Press Writer