Michael Miltenberger ‘the Gary Bettman of the North’

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A power company threatened with losing its contract in Hay River has compared minister Michael Miltenberger to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

The Town of Hay River, in search of cheaper energy, has not renewed its contract with distributor Northland Utilities and is opening up the power franchise to bids.

Miltenberger, the minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC), has backed the government-subsidized power corporation in that bidding process. He says NTPC can help to drive down power costs for local residents.

Northland says, on the contrary, NTPC is to blame for much of the high cost of power in Hay River.

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Speaking to Moose FM, Northland vice-president Doug Tenney said a bidding war against Miltenberger’s NTPC would be nothing like a fair process.

“The only analogy I can come up with, because I’m a hockey fan, would be Gary Bettman and the NHL,” said Tenney.

“Let’s say Gary Bettman decides he’s going to put in a team of his own.

“So Bettman gets to set all of the rules, he gets to decide on salary cap issues, design the rulebook, pick the referees and hand out suspensions. Yet the rest of the teams are supposed to compete with Gary Bettman’s team.

“I don’t think those teams have a very good chance of winning the Stanley Cup.”

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Background: Battle brewing over power in the Northwest Territories

Residents in Hay River pay roughly 10 cents per kilowatt more with Northland than those with NTPC in neighbouring Fort Smith.

Last week, Miltenberger used those prices to suggest NTPC would deliver cheaper energy in Hay River. But Tenney says Hay River’s inflated rate should be largely laid at NTPC’s door.

Tenney contends there are three relevant factors:

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  • “Current government policy penalizes customers based on where they live,” argues Tenney, “so customers who live farther from the energy source are forced to pay for a greater portion of the cost to transmit power to their community.”
  • “NTPC [which currently generates, but does not distribute, Hay River’s power] overcharges customers in Hay River by a factor of 30 percent for power, compared to Fort Smith, and has done so for a number of years,” believes Tenney.
  • “Hay River customers are paying significantly more than they should for NTPC administration costs,” he adds.

Speaking in the legislature on Monday, MLA Daryl Dolynny gave the power minister a chance to address those claims, asking why Miltenberger’s riding of Fort Smith is charged less than Hay River.

“The rates are set by the Public Utilities Board,” replied Miltenberger.

“The rates are there. There is a rate rebalancing process underway. It has been set at a 1 percent increase for this year and 3 percent for subsequent years as we move towards rebalancing a rate structure that we inherited going back to federal times.

“The town of Hay River has made a conscious decision to go out and start a public process to seek providers to distribute power under a franchise agreement. We, the power corporation, are going to put a bid in. There is no guarantee that we are going to be successful. Other bidders may be successful if they choose to bid. That is yet to be seen.”

Read: Hay River mayor – community backs decision to open power bidding

MLA Bob Bromley accused the territorial government of operating in an “energy policy vacuum” when it comes to any form of legislation governing “when a private, highly regulated utility must bid against a publicly owned business directly and indirectly subsidized by over $100 million in recent years”.

Miltenberger responded by not directly addressing the issue of a level playing field.

He said: “There are cost of living issues here. There are decisions being made in a community that’s interested in lowering those costs-of-living challenges, and it’s an issue for the territorial government.

“The power corporation is a vehicle for all people in the Northwest Territories, a Crown corporation with 42,000 shareholders. That’s the underlying impetus here.”

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