Guest Post by David Vardy
Premier Dwight Ball said this week that power rates will not
be allowed to double. This statement is an important step toward a better
solution. It recognizes that the take-or-pay power purchase agreement (PPA) is
not a workable solution to the question as to who will pay for Muskrat Falls.
The PPA places the burden on ratepayers which is unfair because ratepayers did
not ask for Muskrat Falls. It was imposed by an overbearing government,
supported by a relatively small group of people who stood to benefit.
cost and that taxpayers pay the rest, citing 2021 rates in the Maritimes at 18
cents per kWh, compared with 12 cents on the Island. Such high power rates,
even when reduced from 23 cents to 18 cents per kWh, would still be
unaffordable for low income people. They represent an increase of 50%.
PlanetNL, in his Monday blog post, refuted the Maritime
benchmark and showed that rates in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI are on a
par with current Island rates and are expected to remain stable. PlanetNL
proposes a better solution to the allocation of the burden, one which calls for
the reinstatement of the role and powers of the PUB.
cost option, which is its proper mandate under legislation which calls for the
power system to be managed in a way
“that would result in power being delivered to consumers in the province
at the lowest possible cost consistent with reliable service.” PlanetNL
proposes that the PUB decide how much it will cost to supply power if the least
cost option had been selected and to allow only these costs to be charged to
ratepayers. The PUB would disallow costs in excess of these least costs by
declaring them to be “imprudent.” Costs over and above “prudent” costs will be
charged to taxpayers.
efficiency standpoint. Demand for electric power is elastic and higher prices
will cause demand to collapse and make the investment unused and useless.
Stability of rates is a better solution both from the standpoint of social
justice and economic efficiency.
Muskrat: A Fair Rate Idea That Won’t Shock You
PUB, shows that a 50% increase in rates could lead to a drop in demand of 1.4
to 2.1 billion kWh. This would eliminate the need for Holyrood power and for
power from Muskrat Falls. Feehan also points out:
following completion of Muskrat Falls are a signal that simply raising the
price-per-kWh is an incorrect approach to rate design. Setting prices in that
way is not related to the core economic principles of marginal cost pricing
and, as demonstrated herein, it fails to take account of consumer response to
higher prices. The higher rates for Island customers would push them away from
consuming electricity even though the benefits to island consumers from using
that electricity may well exceed the export revenue it earns.”
ways. We need to look at the question of equity: who has benefited from Muskrat
Falls and who is being forced to pay the costs. They are not the same people.
Power rates are regressive and place too much of the burden on low income
people, compared with our progressive tax system. Recovery through taxation
means those higher income people who benefited greatly from Muskrat Falls will
pay for these imprudent costs. By keeping rates in check citizens will not be
forced to make further investments to avoid the crushing costs of Muskrat
Falls. If rates are set to reflect Muskrat Falls costs then demand for power,
including Muskrat Falls power, will collapse and our investment in Muskrat
Falls will be an unused and useless stranded asset. By resolving the
uncertainly over future power rates government will restore confidence in our
rates government must reinstate the powers of the PUB. Government must enable
the PUB to regulate the Muskrat Falls assets of Nalcor, removing the PPA which
demands that NL Hydro purchase only from Nalcor and immunizes Nalcor from PUB
the Muskrat Falls project from the Board’s jurisdiction. Government must also
rescind the regressive and repressive legislative changes enacted by the House
of Assembly in December of 2012, when Muskrat Falls was sanctioned. This
legislation enhanced the monopoly powers of Nalcor Energy and degraded the
powers of the PUB in a fit of petulant rage.
Power, from sourcing power from outside the province. They impose the same
restriction on industrial enterprises. They restrict independent power
producers from building new generating facilities. At the same time the
amendments gave the government the authority to issue directives to the PUB on
a wide variety of matters, including the rate of return on equity and even on
whether a hearing should be held. These changes represent a further weakening
of the powers of the PUB, on top of the exemption of the project from its
from political interference. We cannot turn back the clock but we can make
public policy more rational and reinstate the rule of law over the rule of
hubristic leaders. The better solution is to restore the authority and
independence of the Public Utilities Board and allow the Board to decide how
much of the burden of Muskrat Falls, if any, should be included in power rates
and how rates can best be designed so that consumers will pay only for “the
lowest cost power consistent with reliable service” and have “equitable access
to an adequate supply of power”.
equitable or efficient to make ratepayers pay its unaffordable costs. Premier Ball did not sanction Muskrat Falls
but it is his government which must deal with unaffordable rates by finding a
better solution, one which recognizes that the benefits and costs of Muskrat
Falls are not being shared equitably. The present course, continuing the
direction set by the previous government, is doomed to failure. Premier Ball has
signalled his willingness to change direction.
Let us hope he will seize upon a better solution for power rates.