The mayor of Inuvik, N.W.T., says a 13 per cent territory-wide rate increase isn't fair to communities that already pay higher rates for power.
Floyd Roland says the government needs to eliminate zone-specific rates.
“We're always trying to go back to why some rates are impacted by one zone and why it's felt by everybody,” Roland says. “I think it's time for the government to look at it and say, well you are the power corporation of the territories, you need to pay one rate.”
This week, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation applied to the public utilities board for a 13 per cent rate increase across the territory. They say low water levels at the Snare hydro system means they’ll have to use 25 per cent more diesel to supply power to Yellowknife, Behchoko and Dettah.
Michael Miltenberger is the minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation.
He says it would be too costly for the affected areas to pay a $20 million diesel bill alone.
“This is an essential service for all northerners. It's one system with component pieces. We want to make sure that while we all benefit whatever good times are there, that in the bad times we don't abandon each other.”
He also says the Snare hydro customers are in a risky situation.
"Usually we've been running on hydro with diesel backup. Now we're running on diesel with almost hydro backup because we don't have capacity, so we have no more backup.
"If something happens to our diesel we're going to really be in tough trying to keep the system operational. We now are challenged to try to adapt to this issue. Is it something that's gonna be one year, two years... we don't know."
No way to see this coming
Water levels at the Snare hydro system are at their lowest in 64 years, down by over two metres on average.
NTPC spokesperson Pam Coulter says there was no way to predict it.
“We do readings on both snow and rainfall,” she says. “The snow readings this year were 95 per cent of normal. There was no indication that we were gonna have a drought this year. We just didn’t get rain.”
Coulter says the rate rider could be in effect for two years — less if people on the Snare system conserve power and use less diesel-generated electricity than anticipated.
Coulter also defended the shared power rate hike, pointing to the fuel-stabilization rider of 1.17 cents per kWh. That rider is applied to cover fluctuating fuel prices for the 19 communities that rely on diesel generators. Coulter points out that it was applied throughout thermal and hydro zones.
“It’s the way we balance the cost of living,” Coulter says.
Coulter says NTPC is using every ounce of water they do have in the system.
She says they plan to launch a conservation campaign shortly.
How power costs vary in N.W.T.
The N.W.T. has four zones, each with different power rates The idea is to provide all customers a rate similar to that in Yellowknife.
Most people in the N.W.T. pay the same rate for the first 600 kWh power (1,000 kWh in the winter) they use each month, with the exception of those relying on the Taltson hydro system. After that, consumers pay the actual cost of power, which varies widely by zone.
In the thermal zone and Norman Wells, the territorial government pays more to subsidize a base amount of power, but once consumers use more than that, they pay the actual cost of generating power.
The Snare hydro system provides power to Yellowknife, Behchoko and Dettah.
Taltson hydro goes to Fort Smith, Hay River, Hay River Reserve, Fort Resolution and Enterprise.
The Thermal zone includes: Aklavik, Colville Lake, Deline, Fort Good Hope, Fort Liard, Fort McPherson, Fort Simpson, Gameti, Inuvik, Jean Marie River, Lutselk’e, Nahanni Butte, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Tsiigehtchic, Tuktoyaktuk, Tulita, Ulukhaktok, Whati, Wrigley.