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Power Charges- Up,Up, and Away!

Power charges ready to surge in Alberta


Transmission fee may double, report warns

Power charges ready to surge in Alberta

The cost of constructing power lines will more than double the transmission charges on residential electricity bills and could drive some commercial and industrial users out of province, says a report prepared for the Alberta Utilities Commission.

Photograph by: Bruce Edwards/Postmedia News files , xx

The cost of constructing power lines will more than double the transmission charges on residential electricity bills and could drive some commercial and industrial users out of province, says a report prepared for the Alberta Utilities Commission.

The report by the industry experts on a transmission cost recovery subcommittee warns that "wire" costs are forecast to increase from $14 per megawatt-hour in 2011 to about $32 by 2018.

While that could boost transmission costs on residential bills $15 to $20 per month, large industries could see their bills jump several hundred thousand dollars monthly - and that could have an even greater impact on households, says the report.

The subcommittee, chaired by Henry Yip, says higher transmission costs are difficult for some customers to absorb.

"Higher transmission wire costs may result in load customers reducing their dependence on the transmission grid with behind-the-fence (cogeneration) or by relocating outside of Alberta," says the report. "If this were to occur, it would result in an increased cost burden on the remaining ratepayers."

Industrial users pay 80 per cent of the cost of transmission in Alberta.

The report is posted on the Alberta Energy website, but the provincial government said it was not prepared or approved on its behalf, nor is it a statement of policy.

Wildrose utilities critic Joe Anglin said the costs of the controversial high-voltage transmission lines will have a much larger impact on residential consumers than the government stated when cabinet approved the lines without a cost analysis or public hearings to determine whether they were necessary.

"What is clear from the report is the government did not tell us the truth or didn't know the truth," he said. "They always maintained that the transmission lines were not going to cost that much ... nothing more than the cost of a cup of coffee on your monthly bill. Well, that's not what this report is saying. The report is saying we have to mitigate these costs and we can't pay them off like we normally do because they are too outrageous."

Last February, the government's panel of experts forecast the $3-billion cost of two major 500-kilovolt DC north-south power lines would add about $3 a month for residential consumers and $3.75 per megawatt-hour for industrial consumers.

However, the cost of all critical transmission lines is forecast to top $8 billion and the total planned transmission infrastructure costs top $15 billion.

Alberta Energy spokeswoman Janice Schroeder said the provincial government won't respond to the report, but it does question the forecast costs.

"As is so often the case with financial information, the data S used in the model is F based on information available at a particular point in time," she said in an email. "They should not be considered official forecasts of future costs. The government will not be using the estimates."

But Sheldon Fulton, a subcommittee member, said the costs were based on a model created by the Alberta Electric System Operator.

"They may not want to use them, but that's the most recently available estimate as to what the cost impacts will be and it's all data provided by the Alberta Electric System Operator and the transmission facility operators," he said. "The rates will go from $8 to $32. It will be a $21 increase per bill."

Fulton said it was the magnitude of those costs that triggered the formation of the subcommittee to look at options to reduce the impacts or spread them out over 40 years since the current system would see the costs heavily front-loaded on today's ratepayers.

It came up with seven options, including government loans or loan guarantees, but highlighted three that would likely have the largest impact on deferring immediate costs.

The committee endorsed the use of a fixed-price cap as an option, as well as fixed-term deferral account mechanism. It also suggested funds could be drawn from climate change and carbon capture and storage programs to partly finance transmission lines to support wind farms in southern Alberta.

It estimated a rate cap would reduce household bills by $5 monthly, but could cut large industrial monthly bills by as much as $157,000.

Alberta Utilities Commission spokesman Jim Law said the report will be one piece of information the commission will consider when it develops a plan to reduce the immediate impact of the critical transmission projects underway.

David Gray, former executive director in the office of the province's Utility Consumers Advocate, said it's ironic the Alberta Utilities Commission now has to mitigate the costs related to the cabinet decision to proceed with two 500-kilovolt transmission lines against the arguments of a long list of consumer groups and academics who said from the outset it was an expensive overbuild that could hurt Alberta businesses.

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