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Simpson man petitioning forlower electricity costs

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 29, 2009

LIIDLII KUE/FORT SIMPSON - At T.J.'s Grocery in Fort Simpson, owner Gordie Villeneuve can almost hear the electricity meter ticking.

"My power rates have gone through the roof, as a small business owner trying to make it in Fort Simpson," said Villeneuve.

Gordie Villeneuve, left, owner of T.J.'s Grocery in Fort Simpson, hands Premier Floyd Roland a petition asking for a one-rate power zone across the territory as a way to lower electricity costs in diesel-generated communities. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

In December, Villeneuve paid approximately $8,000 in electricity for the small business. That amount is substantial, he said, especially considering the slushie machine, walk-in freezers and coolers aren't currently being used. In the summer when all that equipment is operating, the bill will be much higher, he said.

The current system of electricity rates isn't working, said Villeneuve. Many residents of diesel power-generated communities like the village, along with small businesses, are at a tipping point and can barely afford the cost of living, he said.

"I feel we have to do something about our outrageous power rates in the diesel-generated communities," he said.

After the subsidized 700 kilowatt-hours, in Fort Simpson residential customers are currently paying $0.5494 per kilowatt-hour while commercial customers pay 0.4584. In addition to the base rates, there are also two riders that add an additional $0.1851 per kilowatt-hour.

Villeneuve wants the territorial government to implement a one-rate power zone across the NWT. Having one electricity rate would even out the cost between the hydro- and diesel-generated communities.

Villeneuve isn't the only person who thinks a one-rate zone is the answer.

Villeneuve designed a petition asking Premier Floyd Roland for a one-rate zone. Copies of the petition were put in T.J.'s Grocery and the Nahanni Inn. In three days, starting on Jan. 17, 161 people signed the petition.

"Everyone who reads it is in full agreement that something has to be done," said Villeneuve.

The petition included a space for comments where row after row of people wrote "rates too high."

Despite the fact that a one-rate zone would increase the cost of electricity for people living in hydro-powered communities, Villeneuve thinks they wouldn't mind. Northerners don't discriminate against each other based on where they live, he said.

"That's what it boils down to. It's not fair," said Villeneuve.

"We're not asking for special treatments or handouts. We just want a fair system."

Villeneuve took this idea and the petition directly to its intended target, Premier Floyd Roland. Villeneuve timed the petition so it would be ready for Roland when he came to Fort Simpson on Jan. 20 for a series of meetings.

Villeneuve said he hopes to see some action as a result of the petition.

"He can make it happen," he said of Roland.

Roland said he'll take the petition to Yellowknife, where one copy will go to the Northwest Territories Power Corporation and another will go to the ministers on the Ministerial Energy Coordinating Committee.

The petition ties into the discussions that are currently taking place about the way the territory regulates and distributes electricity, said Roland.

In December, the government released a discussion paper on electricity regulation, rates and subsidy programs asking residents of the territory what they want to happen.

The petition for a one-rate zone will be considered as part of that process, said Roland.

"We'll have to have a discussion - is that something that can be supported?" he said.

The territorial government is also looking at other topics related to electricity.

One of the strategic initiative committees is looking at the cost of living and trying to come up with initiatives, said Roland. To address the needs of small businesses, there have also been discussions about commercial subsidies.

In the long term, the government is looking at more hydroelectricity development and getting that type of power to the majority of the communities, he said. The government is also investing in alternative energies as part of the upcoming budget.

"We're trying to have an impact as near term as possible as well," he said.

Solutions to electricity costs can, however, start at home. Roland points to the first 700 kilowatt-hours that all residents have subsidized to the Yellowknife rate.

"Conservation to live within those first 700 kilowatt-hours would be the first biggest thing we can do as individuals," said Roland