Calgary

Calgarians experience 'sticker shock' at increasing energy bills

Calgarians are reporting massive increases to their latest billls, and it's forcing some families to make some tough decisions.

Calgary economist recommends locking in to a fixed-rate plan

Cathy Reitz and her family saw their ENMAX bill go over $1,000 this past month. (Submitted by Cathy Reitz)

Calgarians are reporting massive increases to their latest energy bills, and it's forcing some families to make tough decisions.

When Cathy Reitz opened her most recent Enmax bill she was so shocked she had to put the bill away for awhile. 

"I couldn't even comprehend what I was looking at," she said. "I had this incredible sticker shock, I guess."

Reitz's bill was $1,060 for January. That's $460 more than Reitz has ever paid in the same month more than 13 years on her floating rate Enmax plan. 

"We rode that wave for 13 years and it was very manageable, even with increases. This has now become unmanageable. We know the type of house we live in. We live in a 60s bungalow with a 70s extension. We actually have two furnaces because of the build," she said. 

"We know what to expect. We've replaced our windows and we actually replaced our roof this past year. So we have done a lot of energy saving things already to this point, and nothing could have prepared us for what we got this month.​​​​​"

University of Calgary economist Blake Shaffer says soaring prices can be attributed to increased electricity demand, higher natural gas prices and more concentration of ownership in Alberta's power market.

He says the writing has been on the wall for awhile, and last fall it became clear that this winter energy market prices would reach record highs.

"To give some perspective in Calgary, that Regulated Rate Option was about 16 cents per kilowatt [lower] when fixed rates were still available at six cents. Nowadays, they're still available at seven cents … so it's a huge increase in that energy component," he said. 

"In the fall I was screaming at the top of my lungs to anyone who would listen to get on a fixed-price plan."

And it's still not too late to make the switch.

Blake Shaffer is assistant professor in the Department of Economics in the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. (U of C)

"You can still get on it for the future. It's not the slam dunk it was for the winter, but in my view, it's still a reasonable thing to do," he said.

"There might be a few months here where actually floating is cheaper than fixed. That's possible in April and May. But it should be borderline, but then as we go into the summer and next winter again, it looks clear that the fixed rate is going to be preferable."

Reitz plans to do just that. 

"I will be locking in today," she said. 

The increase Reitz's family saw on their recent bill — and likely the next one too —  will have an impact on how they live their lives. 

"We're already seeing the sticker shock in the grocery stores. We're seeing the sticker shock at the gas pumps and now we're seeing it on our utility bills. This utility bill is almost more than my mortgage," she said. 

"When things are so level and have been so stable for so long, how do you manage such a stark increase like that? I'm not going to get paid more. Where does that extra money come from? Well, it's going to have to come from us being less engaged in our community."

For them that means a tighter grocery budget, no more restaurants and possibly saying goodbye for now to some beloved family activities. 

"No more supporting our local restaurants, no more supporting our friends' charities. It's going to have to go on hold until we're able to kind of level out and it's going to give us a hard look at what gets cut next year," she said.

"We had really hoped on getting a ski pass again for next year, but maybe that's something that we take a hard look at if our bills can keep going up like that, and we considered ourselves really middle class. But the squeeze is more than ever."

Market Surveillance Administrator (MSA) said in a statement that RRO rates for electricity were much higher than usual in January and February, around 16 cents per kWh.

"The MSA's best current estimates are for these rates to fall to around 11 cents per kWh for March and April — lower than this if natural gas prices fall in the coming weeks and higher if natural gas prices rise in the coming weeks," said CEO Derek Olmstead. 

Enmax declined multiple requests for comment from CBC News. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to safety on Calgary Transit. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

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