Alberta energy economist takes closer look at summer power prices

Alberta electricity prices reached 90 cents per kilowatt hour – equivalent to about $7 to wash and dry a load of laundry – this afternoon, according to an energy economist.

Alberta electricity prices reached 90 cents per kilowatt hour –  equivalent to about $7 to wash and dry a load of laundry – this afternoon, according to an energy economist.

Energy economist David Gray blames the high rates on TransCanada, arguing the company is taking advantage of economic withholding rules and cutting back power production at six of its coal-fired power generating stations.

Economic withholding, charge critics, is a strategy where electricity companies intentionally reduce power production, creating an electricity shortage that leads to higher energy prices. 

"High prices and and high volatility, which we have lots of in this market, add up into everyone's bill," Grey said.

TransCanada comments

A spokesman for TransCanada said in a statement that the company operates well within Alberta electricity market rules.

Alberta Electric System Operator’s Mike Deising says year-to-date pricing is still lower than the five-year average. (CBC)

"Focusing on the price of power at one minute (out of 1,440 minutes in a day) does not accurately reflect the price that retail consumers pay for electricity. On July 28, the wholesale price of electricity settled at $0.24; year-to-date it has sold for an average of $0.057 and the 10-year average is $0.065."

Wholesale prices are not paid by individual retail consumers, according to the statement.

"In fact, Alberta's retail electricity consumers are served by either the Alberta regulated rate option, or if they choose, by private contracts offered by various retail providers. These two vehicles reduce or eliminate the impact of wholesale price volatility on individual retail consumers."

Normal operations

Alberta's Electric System Operator – the organization that runs the province's power grid – says what's happening is normal.

"During hot days in summer, you are going to see price move," said Mike Deising. "But the important thing is to look at the average across the year. And, this year even though we went through the tremendous heat wave from just a couple of weeks ago, our year-to-date pricing is still lower than the five-year historical average."

Alberta's Market Surveillance Administer, an independent energy watchdog, is watching what's happening with the province's energy producers. But insists what TransCanada is doing appears to be just normal market activity. 

Gray has created a free smart phone app called Alberta Power Price allows Albertans to track energy prices.