Hydro hikes loom for senior E-Plus customers

8,000 homeowners around the province are at risk of their wallets becoming considerably lighter at the hands of BC Hydro.

According to Invermere resident David Flowitt, approximately 8,000 homeowners around the province are at risk of their wallets becoming considerably lighter at the hands of BC Hydro.

In the late 1980s, Flowitt and other residents who lived in locations that did not have access to natural gas were offered a 50 per cent discount on their electrical bills through BC Hydro’s E-Plus program. The catch was Flowitt had to purchase and install a secondary heat source, and agree he would shut off his electrical meter if BC Hydro asked him to.

Now, Flowitt said BC Hydro is working towards breaking its E-Plus contracts and reverting long-time customers back to standard electrical rates.

“I do not think there is any fairness in what they are proposing,” Flowitt said.

Over the last year, BC Hydro has been going through the necessary process to submit a Rate Design Application to the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) for approval. According to Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett, the process is transparent and offers many opportunities for public input, starting with an introductory workshop that was held in 2014.

“There was not a single E-Plus customer invited to that workshop,” Flowitt said, adding the majority of the guests were from the Sierra Club, an environmental non-profit, who did not know about E-Plus before the workshop began. “The workshop was in Vancouver, not on Vancouver Island, where many E-Plus customers live.”

After the workshop, BC Hydro concluded that stakeholders in general felt the E-Plus program was unfair, because certain residents were paying less than the majority of British Columbians.

The next step in the process were two open houses held for E-Plus customers in Nanaimo and Victoria in April, and customers were allowed to share their opinions via email. According to BC Hydro spokesperson Mora Scott, BC Hydro asked customers to choose between two options.

“The first option is to maintain the E-Plus rate under the same terms and conditions,” Scott said. “The second option is to phase it out over a period of time. It could be five or ten years, for example.”

Scott said that, as predicted, most customers want to maintain the E-Plus rate. BC Hydro will be filing a proposal to the Utilities Commission later this year using customer feedback, which will also be uploaded to the BC Hydro website. According to Scott, BC Hydro has yet to decide exactly what it will ask for from the commission.

Flowitt said BC Hydro seems to be overlooking the amount of money customers spent to gain access to the E-Plus rates in the first place.

“All I can say is if those people are put out, the only sum I can remember this far back was about $2,600,” Flowitt said about the price to buy a wood-burning furnace. “In the day it was paid out, that represented a great chunk of money.”

According to the E-Plus contract, the rates are still valid until the homeowner who originally signed no longer possesses the property.

Flowitt said BC Hydro would be better off simply waiting out elderly E-Plus customers, rather than driving up their bills when they are most vulnerable.

“At 85, I am not expecting to live forever,” Flowitt said.

By the end of the year, E-Plus customers should know about the future of their electricity bills. Flowitt said he would be surprised if the issue does not go to court.

“The only way you can get into the BCUC process is by being represented,” Flowitt said. “The unfairness of it in my mind is that they are able to get all of the counsel that they would need, should it ever go to court.”