The end of the year always brings with it a pause for reflection, particularly when inclement weather forces us indoors, huddled by the fireplace, slowing down from the hectic activities of summer and fall. It’s not yet winter and we’ve already seen a few cold snaps – many of us are particularly conscious of the fact that our power bills will jump, particularly those of us who rely on electricity for heat.
Elected officials throughout the province of British Columbia continue to call for a better strategy than the conservation rate imposed by Fortis and BC Hydro. This rate was applied at the call of BC Utilities Commission, conceived as a way of making British Columbians more conscientious of our energy use. Fortis has just completed a report to the BC Utilities Commission: this report outlines the overall effects of the conservation rate on consumers and points out that 70 per cent of B.C. residents will be only marginally affected by the billing change. This report uses a comparison of a $300 bimonthly bill as its average baseline.
The anecdotal stories I have heard, along with bills which I have been shown, contradict these numbers. People have approached me with horror stories about bills that were $900 every two months which are now $1,200. The highest bill, for an elderly couple in their 80’s living in a house on acreage, was $2,839.32. This was for a two month billing period in 2013, and it is likely that the rate increase, paired with the conservation rate, was a driver in the increased bill – but what is reasonable?
Many residents in the Similkameen have participated in the Energy Diet, which is a program delivered by Fortis to make our homes more energy efficient and more comfortable.
I think most of us participating in the program can see the value in sealing drafty windows and doors, and identifying problem areas of leakage- but the fact remains that many tenants are not eligible to make significant changes to rental properties, and landlords are also not eligible to apply for the grants to make their rental properties more comfortable for tenants. So a single-wide mobile home built in the 80’s will remain cold unless extra heat is supplied- and the bottom line is that is expensive.
Our MLA’s Dan Ashton and Linda Larson have indicated that people who are suffering hardship from these conservation rate increases can make application to Fortis for consideration. I have not seen a published mechanism for this to happen, but if your bills are making you choose between food and warmth, or medicines and heat- you may qualify for some exemption. Fortis toll free number is 1-866-436-7847.
This year, the tiny hamlet of Hedley lost more people than anyone can remember in a single year. Our population hovers around 350 -380 when one includes the town, the Upper Similkameen Indian reserve, and the residents scattered along Highway #3 to Princeton and Keremeos.
2013 saw 13 people pass away in Hedley. We were shocked by a murder, a motor vehicle accident, the loss of strong community members, and the deaths of many elderly. In a community of our size, this toll has been numbing and saddening. Many residents are worried and have vowed to work on a buddy system to check on one another.
In fond memory, we acknowledge the passing of: Tom Cummins, Monty Doucette, Art Hayward, Nellie Halverson, Thom Leslie, Shirley Powers, Steve Roy, Myrtle Sawiuk, Peggy Sheppard, Doug Smith, Greg Sykes, Gene Tillotstrom, and Karl Withler.
This winter, please exercise caution travelling through snowy and icy road conditions. There is no point in rushing to your own accident. Please be sure to assign a designated driver if you plan on drinking and don’t become a statistic over the holidays. Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year!
Angelique Wood – RDOS Area “G” Director