A new study suggests 90 per cent of electricity customers in Yellowknife believe the territorial government should consider a partnership between the power corporation and Northland Utilities to lower costs.
The survey was commissioned by Northland Utilities, which is majority-owned by ATCO – a private company.
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The study included over 500 telephone surveys with randomly-selected electricity customers in Yellowknife between Sep. 9 and Sep. 22.
Doug Tenney, vice-president of Northern development with Northland, says the study was conducted as part of his company’s campaign to educate customers about the city’s electricity market.
Northland currently distributes power that’s generated by the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) to customers in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Providence, Trout Lake and Wekweeti.
But come November, the power corporation will take over distribution in Hay River once an existing franchise agreement with Northland Utilities expires.
With Yellowknife’s franchise agreement set to expire in 2020, Northland is genuinely concerned NTPC will bid for a contract in the capital as well.
For more than a decade now, Tenney says his company has been calling for Northland and the government-owned power corporation to merge as a way to eliminate redundancies.
“We’ve been advocating … for the government to take action to create fair and lower rates for everyone in the territory, and it’s clear that the public is supportive of finding collaborative solutions,” he said.
“For years, the electricity market in the Northwest Territories has created an environment where some communities unfairly and inexplicably shoulder higher charges for their electricity.
“It makes sense to have a partnership of some kind … to eliminate some of the duplication of services that we have.
“We just think it’s time that the Government of the Northwest Territories, NTPC and Northland sit down and talk about what we can do to result in real, sustainable savings for customers in the North.”
According to Northland Utilities, NTPC has overcharged Yellowknife customers $28 million for power since 2008 so that customers in NTPC-served communities can receive an ‘artificial’ discount.
But those claims were denied by Louis Sebert, the minister responsible for the power corporation, earlier this week.
Other key findings
In addition to 90 per cent of respondents being in favour of a merger between Northland and the power corporation:
- 86 per cent of respondents agreed that all communities should have a comparable rate structure
- 88 per cent of respondents felt that rate inequalities between Yellowknife and other NWT communities should be brought to the attention of MLAs and city councillors
- 70 per cent of respondents agree that electricity rates would be lower if Northland Utilities and NTPC were to merge
- 81 per cent of respondents agree that a financially strong private partner with experience generating electricity would be of value to the Northwest Territories in achieving its long-term energy objectives
Tenney says it’s clear Yellowknife customers ‘overwhelmingly’ support reform when it comes to the territory’s electricity market.
“We wanted to talk a little bit about what some of the options were that we thought would lower costs and we were curious if our customers shared the same viewpoint.
“The results of our survey certainly indicate that they’re very much in line with what our thinking is on this subject.”
Tenney says a ‘multitude’ of partnership models could be considered and that it’s time to start having that conversation.