Decision to stop E-Plus program leaves Valley customer unhappy

A long-running BC Hydro program has finally come to an end, leaving those who used it unhappy

A long-running BC Hydro program has finally come to an end, leaving those who used it including one valley resident unhappy but faced with little other option than to accept it.

The B.C. Utilities Commission decided in January to end BC Hydro’s E-Plus program, leaving the thousands of B.C.homeowners who use it more than a little upset.

The program was launched in 1987, and was meant to equalize heating costs for those in regions that do not have access to natural gas (such as the Upper Columbia Valley). Homeowners who signed up for the program were required to install back-up heating systems (such as wood-fire or propane) and get a second hydro meter to qualify for the program, and in return they have been getting electricity at a deeply discounted rate.

After the decision, the commission justified its move by saying the program has been started at time when BC Hydro hadplenty of surplus power, which was what was sold the E-Plus customers, and that since the province no longer has any surplus electricity, other B.C. homeowners are in effect subsidizing E-Plus customers.

E-Plus customers, however, have pointed out they have signed contracts that were supposed to last for life and that surging electrical heating costs will come as big shock to some E-Plus customers.

“I don’t think it will comes as news to everybody. Most of us have gotten notices by now,” Valley resident and E-Plus customerDavid Flowitt told The Echo. “But there are a lot of people out there who are not aware this is going on, and don’t know athing about it.”

Flowitt and other E-Plus customers had been advocating for a gradual phase-in back to normal electricity rates over a periodof 10 years, but Flowitt did not express too much optimism on this front.

“It’s almost to the point that I don’t think there’s any point in being hopeful,” he said.

E-Plus Homewoners Association co-founder Gary McCaig said that although E-Plus owners had benefitted from paying lowerhydro rates for decades, the larger issue is one of fairness, and the commission’s decision is decidedly unfair.

The bigger issue is that in installing electric heat, because of the promise of a long-term discount, they (E-Plus homeowners) had missed the opportunityto install alternate systems such as oil or gas that are now more economical than fully priced electricity,” he told the Victoria Times Colonist.E-Pluscustomers are effectively trapped with a form of heat that is about to become much more expensive for them and expensive by any measure.”

According to the commission, the E-Plus rate is about two-thirds the normal electricity rate.