centra ruling 

Propane rates to rise By Bob Mackin The B.C. Utilities Commission has approved an application by Centra Gas to raise propane rates in Whistler, but the monopoly didn't get all it was asking for. Rates go up next Friday, adding another 15 per cent to the annual bill for Whistler customers. Centra applied for an increase of 22 per cent. Centra applied to the B.C. Utilities Commission on July 29 for a Sept. 1 increase date, but a hearing wasn't held until Oct. 3. The decision was handed down Oct. 18. Commission secretary Robert Pellatt said dissatisfied parties have 30 days after the decision to file an appeal. As of Tuesday, no appeals had been filed, he said. "We've approved the increase and the utility, being Centra, has got to monitor it closely and advise customers and keep them informed as well," he said. Centra was required to set up a propane cost deferral account. The difference between the actual cost to the company for propane and the rates paid by customers will "enable the utility to buy better priced propane should the prices go down," Pellatt said. Centra has to report back to the commission on the status of the deferral account at the completion of the calendar year to determine whether further rate increases may be needed in 1997. Ken Derpak, finance director for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, predicted the 15 per cent increase, but suggested the utilities commission should force monopoly utilities to act like they are in a competitive environment and actively pursue the best prices available. Derpak noted restaurants, for example, cannot always pass food cost increases on to customers because the market cannot bear it. They must make other changes to the way they do business, such as adopting lower profit margins. Centra based its application for a rate increase on a continent-wide increase in the price of propane. However, some have noted that as a monopoly, Centra has no incentive to look for the best price when it is buying propane.

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