6 things to know about your utility bill

Alberta's utility system can be confusing. That's why CBC Calgary is publishing this short guide in English and five other languages. Check for translations in Arabic, Tigrinya, Spanish, Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

Check to find this in Spanish, Tigrinya, Arabic, Traditional and Simplified Chinese

In Alberta, every customer has a default option and choices. Enmax is the default supplier of electricity in Calgary; Direct Energy Regulated Services is the default for natural gas.

Roughly 40 other companies compete for your business. Compare contracts at — the website of the provincial advocate who helps Albertans navigate the system. 

Companies offer long-term contracts. But advocate Chris Hunt says most companies now let you end the contract early without penalty.

"Most offer the ability to cancel the contract with a month's notice," said Hunt. "People don't like to be stuck." 

Alberta also has two types of rates for customers to choose from. The default is the regulated or floating rate, which is linked to the wholesale cost of power. The second is a fixed rate, which customers can access through a contract for power or gas. 

It works like the variable and fixed options in a mortgage, except that many companies allow customers to keep switching between the fixed and floating rates.

For many years, the floating rate was a better deal. But prices surged last year and are expected to stay higher than the fixed rate at least through the winter. The graph above shows expected prices based on the long-term contracts the power companies have already signed.

These fees pay for the electrical infrastructure across the province. They look like static fees on the bill. But a portion is tied to how much electricity you use. 

For the average house, 40 per cent is from a fee charged per day. The rest is charged per kWh (the unit of measurement for electricity). Actions like turning off the lights, using a toaster oven instead of the oven, turning down the thermostat and blocking drafts will help. More tips.

These charges have also increased over the past decade as companies upgraded Alberta's pipeline network.

An average household pays $32 a month in fixed (per day) fees. The rest is calculated per gigajoule or unit of natural gas. Experts say gas is usually cheaper than heating with electricity in Alberta. So think twice before turning down the furnace just to plug in a space heater.

(Brooke Schreiber/CBC)

Another charge listed on the bill is the "franchise" or "municipal access" fee. This goes to the city's general revenue.

Franchise fees started years ago, when cities gave one company exclusive access to deliver power, gas or water to residents. They didn't want competition and multiple sets of power lines, for example. 

Now cities and towns charge a fee for access, and companies charge that to customers. Calgary's fee is 11 per cent, based on the floating electricity and gas rates.

Alberta's system is set up so that companies can charge all approved costs back to customers in their rates and fees. 

The Alberta Utilities Commission has the job of keeping this fair. They act like a judge, reviewing requests from the companies at hundreds of hearings a year.

The provincial advocate, an independent advocate and other interveners also attended hearings. Their job is to argue for a better deal for Albertans.

Thank-you to the Calgary Local Immigration Partnership and Immigrant Services Calgary for translating this page. You may share these images with anyone who needs the information.