'Unprecedented' response to proposed 5% SaskPower rate hike: review panel

The people have spoken and they do not want a five per cent increase in SaskPower rates, according to the Saskatchewan Rate Review Panel.

Power supplier applied for 5% rate increase in August, review panel recommends 3.5% instead

SaskPower has asked for a five per cent increase in rates, effective March 2018. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

The people have spoken and they do not want a five per cent increase in SaskPower rates.

The Saskatchewan Rate Review Panel says nearly 100 people, along with several industry associations and businesses, contacted them to voice concerns about the proposed increase. The review panel said this kind of response is "unprecedented."

Albert Johnston, the review panel's chair, said sometimes a few concerned citizens may get in touch, and usually one association contacts them, but he's never seen a response like this before.

"It was significantly more than we have had in the past," he said.

SaskPower requested a rate increase of five per cent in August, and now the the panel is recommending the Crown power utility trim that back to 3.5 per cent — the same amount rates most recently went up, in January 2017.

Johnston said individuals were most concerned about the cost of electricity. They thought a five per cent increase was too high and was outpacing inflation, and that the pace of rate changes is too quick.

SaskPower rates went up by five per cent in July 2016, and then by 3.5 per cent in January 2017.

SaskPower is planning for massive infrastructure changes as it moves away from coal power to renewable resources, and that's going to cost money — which means more rate increases are on the way, Johnston said.

"There's a lot of money that has to be spent." 

Provincial cabinet will decide

Associations and businesses that contacted the review panel mainly represented the oil and gas industry.

"They are big power users. As a group, they probably consume 25 to 30 per cent of the power that's produced in the province."

He said business are concerned about competitiveness — both Alberta and Manitoba have lower rates than Saskatchewan — and about how increases are adding up.

The Saskatchewan Rate Review Panel takes into account much more than feedback from the public and industry leaders, but Johnston said the panel's other reasons for recommending the smaller 3.5 per cent increase were similar to the concerns expressed by individuals and businesses.

"Competitiveness, need for consultation on their resource planning, and the fact that five per cent over the next number of years means big increases," were reasons Johnston cited.

"Five per cent doesn't sound like much but there was five per cent two years ago, there was another 3.5 a year ago, and the trend line is up."

The provincial cabinet will make the final decision on the recommendations. The rate increase, if approved, will take effect in March 2018.

About the Author

Ashleigh Mattern

Ashleigh Mattern is a web writer and reporter with CBC Saskatoon, and an associate producer with Saskatoon Morning. She has been working as a journalist since 2007 and joined CBC in 2017. Email: ashleigh.mattern@cbc.ca