Posted by: Rob | October 4, 2010

The Ridiculousness of Utility Deregulation

Y-axis: Dollars per cubic meter natural gas at...

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One of the hallmarks of “King” Ralph’s* legacy from his tenure as Premier of Alberta was the misguided execution of the deregulation of the utilities in the province.  Conspiracy theorists would likely consider the timing to be slightly suspicious as this great initiative, which was supposed to save “consumers” money in the long run, came during the time of Enron‘s famous shenanigans.

I was perusing the details of my latest utility bill from Enmax today after having paid it yesterday in order to add the figures to my tracking spreadsheet – yes, I am that much a geek – and although I wouldn’t have thought it possible that more ridiculous charges could be added to a utility bill, it turns out I was wrong.

I remember (wistfully) the days after we moved back to Alberta from a brief sojourn stateside, when the monthly gas bill from ATCO (and it may have actually even been Northwestern Utilities still at that point) contained three lines:

  • Natural Gas used x price = total
  • Tax
  • Total Bill

Deregulation seems to have been code for think up as many ridiculous line items as you can to put on a bill and get the suckers customers to pay it or else we cut off their service.  It’s particularly maddening in the summer time, when natural gas consumption is nearly negligible since all we use it for is to heat water.   This past summer, the natural gas part of my bill has run $45 to $50 for about 2 gigajoules of gas use.  2 GJ of gas has been costing on the order of $5 or $6.  So that means, for preparing my bill and for the privilege of being hooked up to ATCO’s distribution system, I have to pay $40 to $45 per month.  Kind of sounds like I’m paying something for nothing.

Here are some examples of the bullshit line items that appear on my monthly bill:

  • Admin charge (presumably the cost of preparing my monthly bill)
  • ATCO Fixed Charge (cost for privilege of being connected to the distribution system)
  • ATCO Variable Charge (additional cost of connection floating on amount of gas they push through the line to your house)
  • ATCO Placeholder Rider (?  Sounds made up to me.)
  • Transmission Service Charge Rider (?  Sounds made up to me.)
  • ATCO Fixed Charge Rider (?  Sounds like “We fucked up and didn’t charge enough to cover Christmas bonuses.)
  • Weather Adjustment Rider (? Sounds like “We need to cover unbudgeted wintertime OT costs somehow.)
  • Interim Shortfall Rider (?  Sounds like “Oops! Raises were too large last year.  Need to make it up!”)

And this month’s two new beauties:

  • Deferral Account Rider
  • Pension and Benchmark Rider

I have no idea what these latest two charges are supposed to be for or what the justification for them is.  This is simply just out and out douchebaggery, in my opinion.

But, in all honesty, the figures attached to most of these line items are pretty small potatoes and barely worthy of a rant, other than on principle – as this one is.  I should be more upset about the magnitude of my monthly water bill from Strathcona County.

How did we ever allow ourselves to be manipulated into these traps of dependence where all we do is pay and pay and pay?

* Ralph Klein was dubbed, informally, as such.  During his acceptance speech after (I think) his last electoral victory, he actually used the phrase, “Welcome to Ralph’s world.”


  1. I couldn’t agree more. I hate Enmax more and more each day. Here’s what Atco says about their new crap charges. Biggest load of BS ever.

    What is the Pension and Benchmarking Rider (Rider P)?

    Rider P will recover 2010 pension contribution shortfalls approved in Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) Decision 2010-189 and Benchmark shortfalls for the period 2003-2007 approved in AUC Decision 2010-102. The rider will be in effect from August 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010.

    What is the Interim Shortfall Rider (Rider S)?
    Rider S is a temporary rider implemented November 1, 2009 to recover the balance of approved revenue shortfalls from 2008 and 2009 that are not recovered through current ATCO Gas Interim Rates. The north Rider S will be in place from November 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010. The south Rider S will be in place from November 1, 2009 to December 31, 2009.

  2. Re: Rider P. Albertans will be making a portion of ATCO’s pension contributions for them, via their utilities bill.

    Just about everybody’s pension was hit. But ATCO can raid Albertan’s pocket anytime they feel because the folks at the Alberta Utilities Commission are on-side.

  3. Mr. Southern has to pay for Spruce Meadows somehow. He and ATCO are truely an example of the rich continuing to rape the little guy, because they can. The best solution is to move away from ATCO gas and use a 3rd party

    • Boyd,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I can’t really move away from ATCO gas. They are the ones who “own” the piping network that brings gas to my property. I am buying my gas through Enmax currently. It doesn’t make sense to build redundant gas distribution networks just to have an alternative to the monopoly. These things used to be done sometimes as a co-op. That’s hard to do anymore, but in comparison to today, the regulated utility monopoly was a better deal for the end user.

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