A utility pole in the hamlet of Ulukhaktok in January 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
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.