Politics
Albertans should expect electricity price hikes

Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason.

Credits: Ian Kucerak/Edmonton Sun/QMI Age

JACKIE L. LARSON | QMI AGENCY

EDMONTON - While last winter's wild day-to-day electric cost roller-coaster may be a thing of the past, critics say more price hikes are probably on the way in Alberta.

Energy Minister Ken Hughes introduced the long-awaited Retail Market Review Committee report Tuesday.

The Tory government acted on two of the report's 41 recommendations.

Transmission companies will now have to prove rate increases are justified, Hughes said.

"We are taking thoughtful, co-ordinated steps to ensure the best of both worlds: protection for consumers, and market forces to keep costs down," he said.

The Tories rejected six recommendations seeking to wipe out the regulated rate option, or default option, currently serving 65% of Albertans.

The changes will allow companies to buy power 120 days in advance for the regulated rate option, instead of the current 45-day window. That should reduce effects on consumers of severe weather or short-term plant shut-downs, Hughes said.

A Tory MLA team will study 33 recommendations accepted "in principle," including one to make the province's Utilities Consumer Advocate an independent agency, with greater capacity to advocate for Albertans.

The Wildrose Party said consumers will soon be hurt by the changes.

"The first thing you need to know is power bills are going up and they're going up immediately," said energy critic Joe Anglin.

"We're going to build a lot of transmission lines that ... nobody's ever proved were needed," Anglin said.

Anglin favoured the Tory move to keep the regulate option, but said a wider window for buying power won't help Albertans.

"There's nothing I can see that's going to make this any less volatile," he said.

The report's proof Tories won't protect Albertans from high and volatile electricity prices, said NDP leader Brian Mason.

"They will still be at the mercy of a deregulated market.

The only thing that would provide real protection to consumers is regulated electricity prices," Mason said.

"The idea of choice is a complete red herring--it's just buying the same electrons from different middle-men," said Mason.

Liberal Energy Critic Kent Hehr noted recent Hydro Quebec numbers found Edmonton and Calgary were right at the top of most expensive in terms of monthly average electricity cost in Canada.

"For starters, now that the pre-election price freeze on some electric charges is no longer in effect, just how much more are our electricity bills going to go up?" he said.

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