Seeking fairness for Vancouver Island

Parksville Qualicum Beach residents pay twice as much as those in other parts of the province for natural gas

People living in places like Whistler, Osoyoos, Kelowna and Vancouver are getting their natural gas from Fortis for half the price paid by those living on Vancouver Island.

As municipalities search for ways to cope with rising costs, they are also looking for some fairness in what residents and businesses pay for natural gas. Right now, people in Parksville Qualicum Beach are paying $14.44/gigajoule, compared to $7.86 in the Lower Mainland.

“There is a push among municipalities to get some rate equalization so we don’t get so hammered,” said Parksville Mayor Chris Burger.

“We need to be on a level playing field on the Island if we are going to be a viable place to live and work.”

Parksville Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell said she has heard pleas for help in this matter from the councils of Qualicum Beach, Parksville and the Regional District of Nanaimo.

“I have raised this concern with  (Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman) and right now we are in the process of waiting for the appeal that Fortis put forward,” said Stilwell. “It’s a challenging issue right now for us.”

It seems Fortis B.C. is in favour of making the playing field more level.

The company is proposing to move to common rates and services across the province, excluding the Fort Nelson service area. The company applied in April of 2012, and this application was denied by the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) in February of this year. It has since reapplied, requesting that the BCUC reconsider the application, excluding Fort Nelson from the postage stamp rate proposal.

Fortis B.C. spokesperson Michael Allison told The NEWS on Monday he expects a decision from the BCUC in the first quarter of 2014. Allison said if the BCUC looks favourably on the company’s proposal for a new rate structure, Vancouver Island customers would pay 25 per cent less for natural gas.

“We want all customers to be able to pay the same amount for their gas service no matter where they live,” said Allison.

“If our application is approved, each customer in a given customer class will be charged the same rate, regardless of where they live,” the company states on its website. “This provides significant benefits to a sizable portion of our customers, notably on Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast, Powell River and Whistler over the longer-term.”

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