Calgary city council to explore how to use extra revenue from fees on utility bills

Calgary city councillors are trying to determine what to do with an extra $47 million in revenue from fees on power and gas bills in 2021.

According to city officials, the unexpected revenue jump was due to a spike in utility rates last year.

The fee is applied as a percentage on electricity and gas bills from Enmax and Atco, and it’s based on the regulated or floating rate.

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In 2021, the fee brought in $241 million to the city, an increase from $194 million in 2020.

The figures were included in annual financial statements presented to Calgary city council at a special meeting on Monday.

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According to city officials, $39.7 million of the extra revenue is a surplus and some city councillors want to see the money used for financial relief for Calgarians struggling to pay their utility bills.

“We know it’s been a very difficult time for everybody, and we’re working actively to make sure that Enmax understands the dire situation that many people are in,” Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

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Utility rates began to rise late last year and many Calgarians, like Leola Handel, saw major spikes to their monthly bills.

According to Handel, her power bill tripled between December 2021 and February 2022.

“We’re all trying to stay within a budget, and when your budget has gone up triple in just the utility department, something has to change,” Handel said.

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The Trellis Society, which provides support for families in financial instability or at risk of homelessness, said demand for services has grown with costs continuing to rise and that Calgarians are struggling to pay their utility bills.

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“We’ve definitely seen an increase in calls,” Trellis Society program director Jocelyn Adamo said. “We were contracted to serve 85 families a year and there were months where we were getting 130, 140 calls a month from families that were experiencing rental, utility arrears or were at risk of homelessness.”

According to Adamo, many families trying to access support through the Trellis Society are doing so for the first time and haven’t had to rely on those services in the past.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said she’d like council to discuss how to support Calgarians through the recent rise in utility rates.

“I think we’re really keen on providing some great choices for Calgarians in terms of programs that they may be able to access,” Penner said. “There is work that we need to do in order to provide some relief and some compassion and care to those who are struggling.”

But how city council can use the money is still up for discussion.

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According to city officials, the surplus of $39.7 million has been placed in a reserve to be used to fund future capital projects, and city council doesn’t have decision making power over that money just yet.

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot said he feels the surplus money from the utility fee should be used for capital projects.

“The fact that we’re benefitting from it is actually good for Calgarians because it means we can then build stuff for them,” Chabot said. “The idea of reducing the rates… it’s not going to benefit anyone; the best option for people is go to a fixed (rate) contract.”

A decision on how the money will be used is expected in November, when city council will deliberate over the next four year budget cycle.


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