Recent spikes in utility bills have some Calgarians feeling the pinch, and with the province set to release its budget on Thursday — they’re hoping for relief.
CBC News heard from dozens of Calgary households when we asked people to send us their utility bills.
Some have not realized the importance of signing a fixed price contract and see the price of the energy unit soar; others are locked in but still seeing increased costs due to additional charges and increased consumption in cold weather. Still others report that they signed fixed-term contracts years ago and now it’s the new renewal rates that eat into the budget.
In this week’s Speech from the Throne, the United Conservatives said Thursday’s budget will include a refund, at least for natural gas bills. Details have yet to be released.
Here’s what four families told us about how they’re doing and what they’d like to see in the budget.
The Sami family
Adnan Sami’s children had their own playroom set up in the basement of the Chaparral family home. Now it is unused.
“Everyone is in the bonus room on one level so we at least don’t use the electricity from the basement.”
Sami is still on the variable rate. He said he heard the warnings last fall but did not realize the impact would be so extreme. Last month, his Enmax bill doubled from $300 in December to $600 in January.
Rates are up; so is its use. Then there are the fees.
“I only used my electricity for $90,” said the oil and gas IT worker.
“Then a $127 charge which is basically the distribution charge, then the passengers and there’s a huge amount of tax, and then there’s another $70 charge on my bill for the federal carbon tax. So those are the things that bother me a bit.”
Sami is looking for a new supplier – even talking to an Energy Direct salesman at the Wal-Mart kiosk who offered gift cards to sign a contract, but the rates were no better than the big companies .
He wonders if he will have to reduce his workforce.
“We live in a three-bedroom house with a basement,” he said. “I might have to sell this house and then buy a smaller, cheaper house that we can manage with utility bills and all. It’s a last resort.”
Regarding the next budget, Sami said he hopes aid will be targeted to the middle class, not just low-income people, as people in his bracket are also struggling to join the two. ends.
The Biglin family
Angie and John Biglin were a two-car family. This winter, with the cost of living rising — including steep increases in their utility bill — the Biglins parked Angie’s car indefinitely.
“I garaged my car, took my insurance out of it, except for home coverage,” she said. “I’m very housebound.”
Angie is a retiree who worked for 40 years in the financial sector. Her husband is now the only wage earner, working part-time as a baker. For the past three years, Biglins had been in a locked-in Enmax plan, but in January their rate was renegotiated and the best rate they could lock in was $0.0659/kWh.
“Which was a big leap for us and is now locked until 2025,” she said.
This means that in addition to parking the car, they no longer use the basement of their house in Douglasdale.
“We have a nice electric fireplace in one of our front rooms. It’s unplugged. We don’t use it anymore. All the lights and everything else in the house, if we don’t use that room, everything remains unplugged now.” she says.
“If it’s a really super cold day, then that’s the day I’m baking and cooking and using the oven to try to warm the house up, instead of turning the oven up even more. We only do the dishes once a day in the sink instead of using our dishwasher.”
In addition to the rate increase, Angie noticed an increase in fees.
How many times do you have to hit us?”-Angie Biglin
“Delivery fees, distribution, transmission, balancing pool allocation, all of those fees, they seem to go up not just like two or three dollars, but every year it seems like an extra $10, $15 extra,” she said.
“Why do you also pass all these other extra costs on to the consumer, you’ve already hit us once? How many times do you have to hit us?”
As for the promised natural gas rebates, Angie is weary: “I just hope it’s something better than what those rebates were historically, because they really weren’t that helpful.”
The Kasimi family
Jay Qasimi describes his family’s utility bills as “out of control”.
“The same goes for groceries and everything else. I’m afraid that if trends continue as they are, I won’t be able to provide that. It’s a terrifying prospect for me as a young father. , as a Canadian, as an average citizen, middle class person.”
For his family of three, the Enmax bill went from $278 in December to $372 in January. This is with a fixed rate contract, during the colder winter months.
He was stunned when the February bill came in at $514.
“It’s exponentially higher, like…all of a sudden you’re now going over $500, it’s hard to understand,” he said.
With a baby on the way, Qasimi, who is a carpenter for an oil and gas company, says his wife is also not working at the moment and he is worried about how they will make ends meet.
“Basically, we have to cut back on some other essentials like groceries. I cringe in the aisles and wonder what to get – beef is almost impossible to touch,” he said. “I’ve never been in this role before because I bring in a six-figure salary.”
On the budget, Qasimi is looking for something to ease those pains, but he would prefer lower taxes to a rebate on utilities.
“There should be less tax so we have more money in our pockets and we’re not running to social services and we’re not as stressed and depressed…and so we can spend so that the economy is recovering.”
The Halverson family
Deb Halverson works in sales and her husband is an electrician. They have high-efficiency appliances and spend most of their day outside their northwest Calgary home.
“I really don’t know what else we could do to cut costs because with all the fees they charge, it’s just unreal. Even if your usage isn’t that high per month, that are all those fees that kill you.”
Even though they locked in their rates with Atco Energy, the bill rose to $526 from $262 for the same month a year earlier. It’s the highest bill since they moved into their home in 2006. Its distribution fee has risen from $27.42 in January 2021 to $66.85 this year.
“It totally shocked me. I knew the prices were going to go up, but not that much.”
Rather than a rebate, she would like the provincial budget to bring back a cap on rates, as well as on fees.
“I’m sorry because the elderly are on a fixed income. I don’t know how they will survive.”
The government “recognizes the pressures”
After CBC Calgary’s latest report on utility prices, provincial Associate Minister of Natural Gas and Power Dale Nally sent a statement about the increase. He says the province recognizes the pressures high electricity and natural gas prices can put on Albertans.
“It is important to note that electricity tariffs are based on market conditions – namely supply and demand – which are beyond the government’s control,” he said.
Nally said that in addition to seeing record demand this winter, much of the historically low-priced coal-fired power has been taken out of the system.
“This shift in our electricity supply mix is also contributing to above-average prices,” he said. “It’s a signal to investors that new generation is needed and the market is responding with around 40 generation projects underway delivering 4,000 MW of new power to the grid in the months and years to come.”