Small New Brunswick landlords who heat their buildings with natural gas are calling for tighter government control over gas companies as record bills for February began arriving this week.
"It's just ridiculous," said Marilyn Bogle of her $4,300 February gas bill on a four-unit building in west Saint John. "We've heated this building all month and now I get this bill. Where do I get the money to pay this."
Bogle says her building generates $3,000 a month in rent, which includes heat for tenants. Her bill shows she was charged $52.51 per giga joule plus tax for gas in February — which is almost certainly a Canadian record. It's eight times more than apartment owners pay for natural gas in Ontario, and double the cost of heating with electricity.
There are no rules in New Brunswick requiring natural gas retailers to inform customers what they are being charged for the gas they are using until a bill arrives the following month. Enbridge Gas New Brunswick does post current prices on its website but the province's other two retailers, Park Fuels and Irving Energy, do not.
That's led to some awful surprises this winter as natural gas prices escalated dramatically, catching many customers off guard. It's been especially hard on small landlords who are also charged the highest gas distribution rates in the province.
Landlord Terry Corkery says the government should force companies to disclose prices they are charging so customers can take action to use other heating sources.
He was shocked by a $4,000 gas bill he got on Wednesday for consumption at his six-unit apartment building in February. That ate up almost all of his rental income with nothing left over for taxes, maintenance, insurance or the building's mortgage payments.
Corkery says he has no idea what he is being charged this month, despite asking Park Fuels directly.
"I don't know. I won't know until I get the bill in April — that's the deal, " said Corkery. "There should be more regulation."
New Brunswick's Energy and Utilities Board was so alarmed about escalating gas prices in January it issued a warning to consumers of likely price spikes coming in February. But nothing compels retailers to disclose what those price spikes are until customers are billed for them, after the fact.