Hydro-Québec hikes home electricity rates by 2.9%

Hydro-Québec has received approval to increase home electricity rates by 2.9 per cent, starting April 1. The province's energy regulator estimates the increase will cost the average home $44 a year.

Large industrial rate to increase by slightly less, at 2.5%

Hydro-Québec enjoyed record-breaking profits in 2014. (CBC)

Quebecers will soon be shelling out more for electricity, as Hydro-Québec rates are set to increase 2.9 per cent on April 1.

The increase, approved by Quebec's Energy Board, is less than the 3.9 per cent hike that Hydro-Québec had requested

The rate increase comes on the heels of Hydro-Québec's record-breaking profits posted in 2014.

Quebec's Energy Board estimates the 2015 hike will cost the average household an additional $44 a year. Quebec households already faced a 4.3 per cent hike in 2014, while Hydro-Québec had requested a 5.8 per cent increase. 

Olivier Bourgeois, energy analyst for the consumer group Option Consommateurs, calls the latest hike "small" but said the rate increases year after year have a cumulative effect.

"When you add up all the increases, the figures become astronomical," said Bourgeois, who points out electricity rates have increased 28.9 per cent since 2004.  

"It's not like you're going to pay $44...this year and then it's going to end. You're going to pay $44 more this year, and the year after and the year after and forever."

According to Bourgeois, Hydro-Québec had to cut off electricity to 77,000 households last year because they couldn't pay. He said that's up from 34, 000 households the previous year. 

"One of the reasons are that people are unable to pay those rate increases year after year," said Bourgeois.

Wind energy blamed

Quebec's Energy board says the rate increase was prompted mostly by Hydro-Québec's increased costs in purchasing electricity produced by wind energy, which is more expensive than electricity produced by hydro-electric dams.

Those costs account for 2.1 per cent of the 2.9 per cent increase, according to the board. Hydro-Québec is also anticipating a decrease in revenues, due to a slowdown in activity in the pulp and paper sector. 

Bourgeois believes consumers are paying out of pocket to support the wind energy industry, and the government's plans for regional economic development. 

"It's mainly for energy that we don't need and for energy that we won't even use," said Bourgeois. "So why do the consumers need to pay for energy they don't use?"

When Hydro-Québec requested its latest rate increase back in August, wind energy advocates said wind power should not be used as a scape goat for rate hikes.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association said increased costs are inevitable, whenever a new kind of energy is added to the grid. 

The Quebec government says it is taking citizens' concerns seriously.

A spokeswoman for Pierre Arcand, the minister of Energy and Natural Resources, told CBC via email that "the minister hears the concerns regarding wind energy" and has not launched any new bid for contracts for any wind power projects.

"As Mr. Arcand has already said, the the wind energy sector should look to export in order to no longer be dependent on Hydro-Québec," the email said.

Hydro-Québec would not comment on the increase. 

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