Advocacy groups seek bill affordability program for low income BC Hydro ratepayers

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The BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) is representing the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, along with six other anti-poverty, seniors’, and tenants’ organizations, to ask the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) to order BC Hydro to implement a bill affordability program for low income residential ratepayers.

BCPIAC is making this request as part of BC Hydro’s current Rate Design Application proceeding (RDA) before the BCUC.  In the RDA, the BCUC, BC Hydro and stakeholders will review BC Hydro’s rate structures and terms and conditions of service for residential, business and industrial customers. The opportunity to review these rate structures and terms and conditions does not come along often.

The next step in the RDA proceeding will be the oral hearing, which will take place on August 16-18 and 23-24, 2016 in downtown Vancouver, BC.

BCPIAC is seeking four programs for low income ratepayers:

  • Implementation of a reduced rate for an essential block of electricity;
  • Creation of a crisis assistance fund for customers who are having difficulty paying their electricity bills;
  • Adoption of low income customer rules, such as:
    • waiver of security deposits;
    • more flexible payment arrangements;
    • elimination of late payment fees;
    • suspension of disconnections during cold weather periods and for customers using lifesaving medical equipment; and
    • waiver of reconnection fees; and
  • An enhanced home energy retrofit program

BC Hydro residential electricity rates have increased by 51% in the last 10 years, and are on track to increase by another 6.5% in the next two years. Rates are projected to continue to rise significantly in future years as the government continues to order BC Hydro to build multi-billion dollar projects like the Site C dam without a full public review of those projects by the Commission, rate caps which (along with the directive against rate rebalancing) are keeping BC Hydro rates artificially low, and $5.4 billion in expenses which will eventually be collected from ratepayers.

People living in poverty have a hard time paying for essential services such as electricity when their incomes are stagnant. BC Hydro’s rate increases have far outpaced increases in provincial income and disability assistance rates and the BC general minimum wage over the same time period. Over the last 10 years, BC income assistance rates have only gone up by $100 or less (for a single person) and the BC general minimum wage has only gone up by $2.45 an hour.

Evidence uncovered through the RDA proceeding shows that since smart meters were installed, BC Hydro is disconnecting about 30,000 customers a year. Before smart meters, BC Hydro was only cutting off about 6,000 customers a year. For more information, see:

We have submitted detailed evidence to support our proposals:

  • Roger Colton, an expert in low income rate design from the United States, has provided a report detailing the bill affordability proposals:
  • Seth Klein, CCPA-BC Director has provided expert evidence on socio-economic conditions in BC and described BC’s increasing incidence of energy poverty.
  • Five ratepayers and six anti-poverty advocates provided powerful direct evidence of their own experiences (and those of their clients) about the hardships caused by rising BC Hydro rates. All of BCPIAC’s evidence can be viewed here:

The Tyee has published a series of articles summarizing the evidence  – these articles can be found here:

We encourage Coalition members to share these stories through their websites, newsletters and social media.