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'Disingenuous and misleading': Calgary mayor, province at odds over plan to lower utility bills

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek (left) and Alberta’s Minister of Affordability and Utilities Nathan Neudorf (right) have differing takes on the province's new local access fee legislation. (CTV News) Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek (left) and Alberta’s Minister of Affordability and Utilities Nathan Neudorf (right) have differing takes on the province's new local access fee legislation. (CTV News)

Calgary's mayor is sparring with the Government of Alberta over the rollout of new legislation meant to lower utility bills in Calgary.

On Monday, the province announced plans to amend the Municipal Government Act and ban cities from using variable rates to calculate local access fees on power bills.

Electricity customers are currently charged a local access fee, which is used to compensate a municipality for the use of its property to provide electricity services.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Calgary already has a plan to bring down local access fees, approved in March, with implementation expected in 2027.

She blamed the province for the long timeframe.

“Because of the complexity of having to change existing agreements and get an approval for new agreements that our utilities will probably have to spend about that much time to get the approvals from the Alberta Utilities Commission,” Gondek said Tuesday.

“If the minister would like to cut that red tape, he certainly can. We have no ability to do that.”

Alberta’s Minister of Affordability and Utilities Nathan Neudorf said it is “disingenuous and misleading” for Gondek to blame the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUS) for the delay in changes to Calgary’s access fees.

“The AUC has confirmed to us that any future applications would take less than three months, not three years like the mayor suggests,” Neudorf said, in an emailed statement Wednesday.

“The Alberta Utilities Commission hasn’t received an application from the City of Calgary since 2017, which was fully processed in only two and a half months. The City of Calgary needs to take responsibility for this issue. As it has not done so, the province will.”

While the province offered an embargoed technical briefing on the legislation ahead of time, Gondek said city officials were unaware of changes until they were announced.

Speaking Wednesday, Gondek said it is news to her that the province is looking to expedite the application process, but she would be thrilled if those approvals could move forward faster.

“We’ve been told it will take a number of years. If it could take months as has been implicated, we’d be very happy to see that,” Gondek said.

“We had our experts weigh in on the amount of time it would take for our two utilities to move forward and ask for the requested changes. That’s the best information we had at that time.”

The mayor added that the city would “actively embrace” a new application model.

“However, we would need some certainties that the applications put forward by our utility providers would be through that expedited process,” she said.

What are local access fees?

Local access fees, which may not exceed 20 per cent of the distribution charge for electricity and 35 per cent of the distribution charge for natural gas, must be approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) and are regulated by the Municipal Government Act.

Edmonton and Calgary both have agreements with municipally owned subsidiaries, which exempts them from needing AUC approval.

Edmonton follows a consumption-based calculation for its fees, while Calgary bases theirs partially on market rates.

As a result, Calgary customers can see fees vary wildly, depending on the price of electricity or gas.

The government says Calgarians paid an average of $240 in local access fees in 2023 compared to the $75 paid by Edmontonians during the same period.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Karyn Mulcahy Top Stories

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