Power rate increases ‘not OK,’ says Fort Smith’s MLA
Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos says proposed power rate increases in her region are unfair and the territory needs better solutions to address the cost of electricity generation.
Martselos, who represents Fort Smith and the surrounding area, on Thursday criticized the NWT Power Corporation’s recent request to hike power rates in many communities.
She particularly took issue with NTPC’s plan to increase electricity costs by 20 percent over two years in Fort Smith and Fort Resolution, together known as the power corporation’s Taltson zone – named for the river and hydro dam that supplies power.
Only the Taltson zone has a proposed increase of that size. The power corporation, in justifying that proposal, has said customers in the Taltson zone are already paying the lowest rates in the NWT.
“For NTPC, attempting to single out the Taltson zone with a 10-percent increase in both years is not OK,” Martselos told the legislature, “especially in Fort Smith, where the Taltson dam is situated, and around the traditional lands of multiple First Nations and Métis people.”
In its submission to the Public Utilities Board – an independent body that reviews power rate increase requests in the NWT – the power corporation said higher power rates are needed because not enough revenue is coming in to meet the cost of generating electricity while maintaining ageing infrastructure and, where possible, replacing it.
Martselos said instead of hiking electricity rates, the power corporation should use surplus power more efficiently to improve its financial situation.
“With the increasing cost of living and the historic levels of inflation we’re experiencing, it is extremely important that our government continues to find positive solutions to ensure that the people of the NWT can make ends meet on all their household bills, including electricity,” she said.
The Public Utilities Board earlier this month approved interim rate increases of 2.5 percent for many communities – for the Taltson zone, a much lower rate hike than the interim increase NTPC had requested – while it considers the power corporation’s larger general rate application.
The towns of Fort Smith and Hay River are jointly challenging both the interim and general rate applications. In a letter to the Public Utilities Board last month, first reported by NNSL, the municipalities argued the proposed increases would “constitute rate shock.”
“Covid-19 and a general economic downturn in the past two years have created significant hardships and limited capacity to withstand increased costs of necessary electrical power,” the letter states.
Martselos on Thursday asked Diane Archie, the minister responsible for the power corporation, whether she would ensure that power rates in the Taltson zone would continue to be lower than other communities.
Archie said each zone pays rates reflective of power costs in those communities. She said rates in the Taltson zone would remain lower than other zones only if that zone’s costs remained lower.
The minister said Taltson customers currently pay a rate that does not cover the zone’s costs, due to a Public Utilities Board policy that seeks to spread out rate increases.
Rates will increase over time to meet costs, Archie said. The question will be how quickly that increase is allowed to happen.