MLAs want the public’s feedback on proposed legislation that would remove power distributors’ ability to disconnect indebted customers during the coldest periods of the year.
The changes being considered take the form of a private member’s bill, which means – unusually – the legislation is being proposed by a regular MLA rather than cabinet.
In this case, Bill 23 is proposed by Jackie Jacobson, the MLA for Nunakput, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the NWT Power Corporation’s use of limiters in winter.
The power corporation uses limiters to restrict the flow of electricity to homes, including cutting power entirely every 10 minutes, when payment is more than 28 days late. The corporation argues their use is a standard practice among Canadian utility companies.
Jacobson, however, says limiters are “inhumane” in northern communities where temperatures routinely drop below -40C.
“This is the North, a harsh reality, a different climate, and other parts of Canada are a lot warmer,” he said in October last year.
“The GNWT has to step up and stop this.”
Diane Archie, the minister responsible for the power corporation, has said she does not like limiters but believes they are necessary.
“Just allowing a debt to increase – to a point where customers have no chance at all for repayment – ends up getting their power cut off for good,” Archie told Jacobson in the legislature last year.
“Limiters protect the person’s house and provide just enough power to run the furnace and rotate use of other appliances.”
Bill 23 would outlaw the use of limiters in the NWT.
The bill would also amend the Public Utilities Act to stop any public utility disconnecting a resident’s power for reasons of overdue payment between October 1 and April 30 or when the temperature is forecast to be below freezing.
Anyone whose power was disconnected because of an outstanding debt during the summer would have their power reconnected by October 1 under the bill’s provisions, regardless of whether the debt had been paid. They could, however, be required to agree to a payment plan first.
Hearing in late September
The Standing Committee on Government Operations – a panel of regular MLAs chaired by Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos – will meet on Wednesday, September 29 to examine the bill in a public hearing.
The hearing, to be held at the legislature from 6pm that day, will also be live-streamed.
The committee asked for residents’ feedback about the bill to be emailed to the committee clerk.
Bill 23 has passed two readings in the legislature and requires a third reading, including the support of a majority of MLAs in a recorded vote, to become law.
Cabinet has, however, outlined “serious concerns” about potential unintended consequences if the legislation is enacted.
In March, RJ Simpson – as government house leader – said Jacobson’s bill would “essentially create a right to receive power while removing the obligation to pay for it.”
Simpson said the bill would mean “perpetually growing debts” for some power distributors’ customers, ultimately resulting in higher rates for everyone else to cover the missing revenue.
“This isn’t just speculation. We saw it happen last year when NTPC paused collections, ceased disconnections, and removed load limiters during the first months of Covid-19,” Simpson said.
“Ultimately, the lost revenue created as a result of this bill would have to be recouped through the ratepayers, meaning higher power rates and higher bills for everyone.
“This Assembly made reducing the cost of power a priority, and this bill would almost certainly have the opposite effect.”