British Columbia

'We're trying to survive': Struggling Fort Nelson hit with increase in natural gas prices

As temperatures drop and unemployment rates rise, the cost of natural gas in Fort Nelson is about to go up, as well. Kim Eglinski of the chamber of commerce says it means some families will have to choose between paying their bills and putting food on the table.

Rate increases coming as temperatures set to drop to -30 C

Temperatures in Fort Nelson are set to reach -30 degrees C overnight, with highs in the -20 to –27 range. (Kevin O'Connor/CBC)

The president of the Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce says a scheduled increase to natural gas prices means people in the community will have to start making tough choices. 

"I know families right now that, you know, both husband and wife are out of work. They're literally choosing between paying a hydro or a gas bill to put food on their table to feed their kid," said Kim Eglinski in a conversation with Daybreak North host Robert Doane. 

"I can't stress enough: the reality in Fort Nelson is somewhat bleak."

Eglinski was responding to news that the B.C. Utilities Commission has approved an application from FortisBC to increase the cost of natural gas in Fort Nelson.

Starting January 1, gas costs in the region will jump from $1.29/GJ to $2.09/GJ while residential delivery rates will go up from $3.22/GJ to $3.62/GJ.

Eglinski said she's already turning the heat off at her business overnight in order to cut costs, even though temperatures are set to drop to –30 C. 

Kim Eglinski says she's had to start turning off the heat overnight at her business in order to reduce costs. (Susan Walsh)

She also said the increase is ironic, given that the loss of natural gas jobs is one of the main reasons Fort Nelson is struggling.

"It's kind of hitting us at a bad time, kicking us when we're down. Our community is probably the biggest-hit community with the fall of natural gas prices, yet here our natural gas prices that we're paying to heat our homes and our businesses is going up, so it is kind of ironic."

Declining customer demand behind increase: BCUC

The BCUC said it approved the rate increase in part because the number of people paying for natural gas in Fort Nelson is falling.

"With declining customer demand, the costs for FortisBC to operate and maintain its system must be charged to fewer customers which results in a higher rate per customer," reads a statement from BCUC director Alison Thorson.

Thorson also said members of the public are welcome to give their feedback on the changes.

Temperatures in Fort Nelson are set to start falling to below -30 C, according to Environment Canada. (Environment Canada)

"We scrutinize the costs very closely and again welcome people to come in and do the same."

Eglinski said she worries the price increase will only force more people to leave Fort Nelson and lead to even more rate increases in the future.

She also worries about the increase coming as temperatures drop and heat becomes more essential than ever.

"It's minus 25 here right now ... we're trying to survive in the North," she said. "We're having a tough go up here. And we need every little break that we can get right now, so that we can survive."

"I really hope that [Fortis] is going to work with its customers when they can't pay their bills and not just start cutting off homeowners left, right, and centre, because it is going to happen."

To hear the full story click on the audio labeled 'As Fort Nelson struggles with unemployment and cold weather, natural gas prices set to rise'

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