By Theodora Macleod
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Minister of Affordability and Utilities and MLA for Lethbridge East Nathan Neudorf met with Chamber of Commerce members on Jan. 25 at Tony Roma’s to discuss some of the work his ministry is doing to address electricity supplies and costs to consumers.
After the province-wide scare on Jan. 13 when extreme temperatures led to increased electricity consumption and the loss of two large natural gas suppliers, electricity has entered the ring of top concerns for Albertans. The electricity situation had the government asking everyone to limit their electricity use as much as possible; lights were shut off, appliances unplugged.
Neudorf said the purpose of his presentation was to help the public’s “general understanding of our electricity utility grid and where we’re going with it.”
“People, maybe for the first time, are interested to understand the electricity grid, why prices are where they are, how it works and what an energy only system is compared to a capacity market and where we’re going as a province,” he explained.
It was a discussion of technology and regulations with Neudorf explaining some of the technicalities of delivering electricity, including the system costs – transmission, distribution, and generation – and the management of approximately 26,000 kilometres of transmission lines.
Touching upon the Regulated Rate Option (RRO), including the restructure for which a working group has been assigned, Neudorf shared that energy prices are forecasted to decrease with data predicting the RRO will remain 20 cents and eight cents.
Addressing both the audience and the media, Neudorf remained firm in his message that the best option for electricity going forward is to have a solid and reliable plan for the power grid – one that considers the future as much as the present and investigates electricity storage options as well as setting up parameters to ensure the right kind of investment from those looking to invest in the province.
Neudorf says that part of future planning is to empower consumers with demand-side management and incentives to lower consumption including the use of solar panels and solar panel micro-grids. Those solutions, however, remain in the future and do not address present day-to-day concerns of Albertans.
Neudorf says that the events of Jan. 13 taught government a lot.
“We’d never done it before as a government,” he says, adding the night was a “great learning experience. I don’t want to be there in that state of emergency all the time, but we learned.”
Addressing concerns that the calls for reduced power consumption didn’t seem to apply to public spaces and areas such as Edmonton and Calgary’s downtown cores, Neudorf said that demand side management and authorization allowing the ability to suspend electricity is being investigated.
Noting how new the topic in public discourse, he said “typically in a consumeristic society of Canada and North America, even western cultures, if you use more electricity just build more generation, that’s been the answer until now.”
He added “We don’t have to be consumeristic. We can actually conserve and if we create a system that creates benefits, not just environmental but also financial, I think we’ll get a lot of uptakes, and strike while the iron is hot, this is very fresh in our minds.”