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City policy requires Summerside to follow Maritime Electric’s lead on utility rates

Summerside’s electric plant on Ottawa Street. MILLICENT MCKAY/JOURNAL PIONEER
Summerside’s electric plant on Ottawa Street. MILLICENT MCKAY/JOURNAL PIONEER - SaltWire Network

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - With the recent announcement that Maritime Electric is applying to raise electrical rates over the next three years, residents of Summerside are wondering what it means for them as customers of Summerside Electric – the taxpayer-owned utility that powers most of the city.

In December, Maritime Electric asked the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) to increase rates 3.3 per cent over the next three years – 1.1. per cent in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

If approved, the increase would take effect on March 1, 2019.

In the past, Summerside has followed suit with increases when Maritime Electric's rates rise.

Veteran councillor Bruce MacDougall said Summerside’s current bylaws require them to follow Maritime Electric rates.

“(To change that), we would have to amend that policy to allow for a change," MacDougall said. "If it comes to council for a vote, I will be supporting to follow the Maritime Electric rate, unless there is a rebate to the 600 Maritime Electric customers in the city.”

“When I campaigned, I spoke about not raising the rates if at all possible. Based on what I know, I wouldn’t be in favour of it."
-Coun. Cory Snow

Justin Doiron, a new Summerside councillor and one of the 600 city customers of Maritime Electric, said he doesn’t see the increase as “too significant.”

That’s taking his own electric costs into consideration.

“In the winter, my monthly average is about $300 and that’s when it’s at peak use. And if I did my math correctly it could add up to increases of $7 per month. Now it may not seem like a lot, but for some city residents it could be a very big deal.”

Doiron said there are constituents in his district that could either be on the city’s electric circuit or Maritime Electric's.

“There’s a split in my ward so it’s hard to navigate. But if an increase is introduced it has to be something we look at," he said. "If they go ahead and we don’t, what’s in it for the Summerside taxpayer that relies on Maritime Electric? Maybe that could mean a rebate of some kind for another city service, I don’t know. But we also need to consider the cost of no increase.”

Cory Snow, another first-time councillor, said he is aware of the request Maritime Electric has in to IRAC, but without a decision on the proposal he doesn’t know what it means for the city.

“When I campaigned, I spoke about not raising the rates if at all possible. Based on what I know, I wouldn’t be in favour of it," Snow said. "Realistically, it may not be a decision that affects us, but we won’t know until one is made.”

Mayor said he would not support rate increases

Mayor Basil Stewart campaigned to residents in the fall municipal election that if it came to a vote on raising electrical rates and there was a tie, he would not support an increase.

Stewart was contacted several times for comment on the subject, but didn’t respond.

The mayor did briefly bring up electrical rates during the recent council meeting, the first for the new group.

“I made my stance quite clear, and it will be up to the new council how things unfold here as we prepare the budget. But council knows that my opinion on electrical rates is that I will vote to lower electrical rates if there is enough support,” said Stewart. “I’m not surprising any councillors — they know my stance on that and if it comes up for discussion they know where I’ll be.”

The mayor only casts a ballot to break a tie. So, in order for the city to keep its rate from rising in step with Maritime Electric’s, at least four councillors would have to propose and support a motion to that effect and Stewart would vote to break to the tie.

Each city councillor was contacted for comment on this issue. Coun. Brian McFeely would not comment specifically on his decision, Coun. Barb Ramsay declined to speak to the issue and councillors Carrie Adams, Norma McColeman and Greg Campbell did not respond to the Journal Pioneer.

RELATED: Maritime Electric proposes rate hike for Islanders

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