New legislation would enable Alberta government to give consumers power, natural gas rebates

Albertans could begin to see rebates on their power bills as early as June, says the minister responsible for electricity and natural gas.

Associate Minister Dale Nally tabled legislation Wednesday that would allow the government to tack rebates onto utility bills, paving the way to offer consumers some relief.

“We all know how much utility costs and gas costs can eat into the family budget and the bottom line, especially over the past few months of high prices,” Nally said at a news conference.

Last month, the government promised three consecutive monthly rebates of $50 to offset consumer power costs for January, February and March.

In February, the province committed to offering a rebate on heating bills next fall, should natural gas prices rise above $6.50 per gigajoule.

Nally said the government needs to change the law and write new regulations to do this.

If passed, the Utility Commodity Rebate Act would replace an existing law permitting natural gas rebates, and instead allow rebates for many utilities.

Once the government has worked with power companies to decide how to get the rebates onto bills, the provincial estimates about 1.9 million households, farms and small businesses will qualify for the cost relief.

The program is expected to cost provincial coffers about $280 million.

If natural gas prices stay high, the government has promised consumers rebates between Oct. 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023.

However, natural gas prices fluctuate, and the province has yet to decide when they will consider that $6.50 per gigajoule trigger to have been met. Nor could government officials say if there would be a cap on the value of natural gas rebates.

Both Alberta’s premier and finance minister have hinted a natural gas rebate could come sooner than the fall with prices recently surging over that $6.50/GJ mark.

Nally wouldn’t commit Wednesday to potential rebates coming any sooner than October.

Roughly $250 million was set aside in the 2022-23 provincial budget for natural gas rebates.

Critics say rebates coming too slowly

Jennifer Smith was hoping to hear more details about both rebates, including timelines, and amounts.

The Calgary single parent moved from a single-family home to a townhouse two months ago, partly to help reduce her expenses — including ballooning utility bills.

Her $500 monthly power bill was beginning to rival her mortgage payments.

Although a $50 rebate on power bills would be helpful, Smith said she’d rather see caps on some of the extra charges. Consumers have less control over the cost of transmission and distribution than power usage, she said.

The promise of future natural gas rebates is far too nebulous, and too late for consumers who have already been paying higher prices since last year, Smith said.

“They aren’t actual tangible solutions that we can roll out right away that help alleviate this problem in the short term while we come up with a long-term solution,” she said. “There is no guarantee there will be rebates.”

Smith isn’t the only consumer scrutinizing her utility bills.

Data from Alberta’s Utilities Consumer Advocate show calls to the agency for information and advice jumped in February after electricity and natural gas rates rose in the previous month.

NDP energy critic Kathleen Ganley says the government is acting too slowly to provide relief to Albertans struggling to keep up with costs now.

“This UCP government has no idea what they’re doing when it comes to utilities, and it shows,” she said.

The Opposition has called for the government to extend a ban on utility disconnections that ended mid-month. The government has so far dismissed that call, but Nally has said utilities are willing to work out payment plans with customers in arrears.

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