By Bob Mackin
A decision on Centra Gas’s proposed 22 per cent propane rate hike may come as soon as the end of this week.
Robert Pellatt, secretary of the B.C. Utilities Commission, said a report based on the Oct. 3 public hearing in Whistler should be released by the latter part of this week or early next week.
Depending on the results of the report, "it would be up to Centra Gas to comply or submit a new application," he said.
Pellatt said he wouldn't prejudge the commission's findings, but if Centra's proposal is approved, it's not likely that it would receive a rubber stamp without some changes.
"In the past, the commission hasn't approved retroactive increases; increases would have to be from the day an application is made or decided on."
The Centra application sought to make the 22 per cent increase effective Sept. 1. The application comes just a year-and-a-half after the last rate increase. Centra says the proposed increase would add an extra $204 per year to the cost of heating a home with propane and would make annual propane heating costs just $36 lower than heating with electricity.
Ken Derpak, director of finance for the Resort Municipality of Whistler and one of four interveners at the Oct. 3 public hearing, predicted the commission will approve an increase, but at a rate that's less than Centra wants. He expects a 10-15 per cent jump, with the balance being deferred. He said that's still not good enough for local propane users.
"On the raw basis, since 1993 it's gone up 64 per cent," Derpak said. "That's taking into consideration the last increase that was proposed and didn't get passed through in its entirety.
"It will be a bitter pill to swallow, but it's the same old story, do you pay me now or pay me later?"
Derpak said a rate increase that relies on propane's fluctuations on the futures market isn't desirable, particularly with the upcoming enactment of the 3 per cent provincial tax on propane.
Other interveners included representatives of the Chateau Whistler and Delta Whistler hotels and Tim Wake, a residential customer.
The cost of propane has climbed 47 per cent in the last year-and-a-half according to Centra. Centra's rate increase application covers projected cost increases from Sept. 1, 1996 to Dec. 31, 1997.
The meeting at Myrtle Philip School was attended by approximately 20 people, including Utilities Commission executive director Bill Grant and senior petroleum financial analyst Phil Nakoneshny, as well as representatives of Centra and members of the public.
More people could have been there had the commission made a better effort to publicize the meeting, Derpak said.