Sask. businesses, residents balk at proposed SaskPower rate hikes

The proposed change would see a four per cent increase this September and another four per cent jump on April 1, 2023.

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While dealing with higher costs for her business, gym owner Jolene de Vries says the last thing she needs is a steeper electrical bill.

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With SaskPower proposing an eight-per-cent rate hike over the next two years, de Vries said the added cost would come at a difficult time.

“We really honestly have no way left to recoup that,” de Vries, who owns one Anytime Fitness gym in Esterhazy and one in Yorkton, said in an interview on Wednesday. “We’re at the point where we can’t keep raising prices. You end up eating that cost.”

de Vries isn’t alone in her concerns over SaskPower’s proposed rate hikes, which would see a four-per-cent increase this September and another four-per-cent jump on April 1, 2023.

For the average residential customer, that’s an extra $5 per month starting Sept. 1 and a further $5 in April. For businesses, it’s a lot more.

The increase would be the first in four years. SaskPower has said it would ensure the system remains reliable and sustainable.

The Saskatchewan Rate Review Panel is currently receiving public feedback over the proposed increases. Once it drafts its final report in July, it will then be up to the provincial government to approve or deny the changes.

Residents, businesses and organizations have already weighed in on the proposal, with the majority of them expressing concerns over the rate hike.

“It’s just another cost we have to deal with on top of everything else,” de Vries said, adding the incoming PST on gyms will affect membership. “Sometimes you think you should just close your doors and give up. Now, I wouldn’t do that because I’m a fighter.”

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The SaskPower head office in Regina.
The SaskPower head office in Regina. Photo by TROY FLEECE /Regina Leader-Post

Meadow Lake pulp manufacturer Paper Excellence wrote to the panel that the increase will make the mill less competitive by increasing costs.

This will challenge its ability to compete with manufacturers in other provinces, it wrote.

“The proposed design of the rate appears to put (the Meadow Lake mill) at a disadvantage relative to other large customers,” it wrote.

Paper Excellence didn’t specify how much the hike will increase costs, but said electricity is its largest component of manufacturing costs.

Don Morgan, the minister responsible for SaskPower, told reporters earlier this month that while the rate review panel is still doing its work, the Crown utility has seen a three-fold increase in natural gas costs.

“That’s our significant source for electrical generation, so we’ll watch it carefully,” Morgan said. “And we’ll wait and see what the rate review panel says.”

According to the panel, SaskPower has indicated the increase in natural gas prices and renewables is the main driver for the rate hike.

NDP SaskPower critic Aleana Young told reporters the proposal would mean added costs for businesses and residents already struggling with inflationary pressures.

“It’s not the right time,” Young said earlier this month. “Whether it’s our smallest employers or our biggest employers, they are staring down an eight per cent power hike.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses wrote to the panel that the increase would result in another blow for owners in the province.

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It said businesses continue to struggle as they recover from impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to its dashboard, 42 per cent of small businesses in Saskatchewan are making normal sales.

“Small businesses simply cannot afford to take on any additional cost burdens,” the CFIB wrote, noting business are experiencing higher fuel costs, carbon tax pressures and increased premiums. “Higher electricity costs mean small businesses will have fewer resources to create jobs, invest in their businesses, and contribute to the growth of the provincial economy.”

According to submissions to the panel, many residents wrote the increase will add to their cost of living. Some said it will make it more difficult to buy food.

Paying about $3,000 per month in electricity for both gyms, de Vries said the costs make up a large portion of her expenses.

She said she wants the federal government to scrap the carbon tax and would like the provincial government to provide relief, whether that’s through energy bills or at the pump.

“There are things that are within the control of our provincial government,” de Vries said. “We’re not seeing them use their powers to help people right now.”

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