Top News

Protesters say energy poverty awaits many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians

This trio was among a handful of people who showed up Friday morning outside the Public Utilities Board (PUB) building on Torbay Road to voice their concerns over proposed electricity rate hikes as PUB hearings were taking place inside.
This trio was among a handful of people who showed up Friday morning outside the Public Utilities Board (PUB) building on Torbay Road to voice their concerns over proposed electricity rate hikes as PUB hearings were taking place inside. - Joe Gibbons

Call on provincial government to assure rate mitigation

Before the protest over power rate hikes ended outside the Public Utilities Board (PUB) offices in St. John’s on Friday, Keith Fillier encouraged people to write to their MHAs, and to the PUB, and suggested there will be another in-person protest event soon.

Fillier still had the same questions and criticisms as when the protest at the Prince Charles Building started about four hours earlier. He still wanted to know what will be done to force rising hydro rates down, given the impending bill for the $12.7-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

He wanted to know what is being done for the well-being of people in the province.

RELATED STORIES:
Protests keeping up the pressure during N.L. PUB hearings

IN DEPTH: Options for Newfoundland and Labrador power rates still unclear

His message for the provincial government was the same: “If they’re listening, what are they doing about it?”

Gail Miller spent her time in front of the PUB on Torbay Road Friday holding a sign of black marker on yellow poster board that simply read, “Say NO to rate increase.”

“We cannot pay for that. Look at all the taxes we’ve been enduring, the levy that’s supposed to be gone. … What about the carbon tax? That’s not even here yet. That’s coming,” Miller said, noting it’s still a mystery what exactly the province is doing about it.

The blown-budget hydro megaproject on top is too much, she said.

“Seriously, based on the number of people that’s in this province working, how are they going to pay for (Muskrat Falls)?”

Miller said she is angry over the power rate increase on July 1 and more increases to come, followed by the jump for the Lower Churchill Project.

While less than 20 people were on hand for most if not all of the protest, none spoke about one political party over another.

“I don’t care what colour the bucket is, whether it’s blue or red, I expect that every politician who is for the Newfoundland people, that they pick up their bucket and they join together and they start representing the people of this province and do what’s righ,” Miller said. “And never mind about crossing party lines and never mind about what’s the leader of the party going to think. What are the people of Newfoundland going to think? Because they’re not getting back in. We are not voting for them.”

Many passing drivers honked their car and truck horns in support.

Drivers responded to signs like the one held by Lori Best, who told The Telegram she has been and expects to continue to manage power rate hikes by relying more on her woodstove, but she decided to protest for the people she knew couldn’t make it, who are not able to do the same.

She spoke about multiple power rate hikes in quick succession.

“It’s coming so often that people in Newfoundland and Labrador are not going to be able to keep up with the pace of taxation and everything else,” Best said. “It’s way too much.”

Protesters spoke about the fear associated with living on fixed incomes and seeing the bills on the horizon.

Others were already being challenged by the cost of living, making expected rate increases a threat.

“If it wasn’t for The Gathering Place I wouldn’t be eating at all. I have absolutely nothing in my fridge and it’s been empty and turned off for over a year,” said Roger Bouey, who added he expects people to have issues with maintaining housing if rates go up to where they have been forecast without a great deal of mitigation.

Already struggling to pay for medications, Bouey said he sees himself homeless and begging downtown in two years’ time.

Former city mayor and former PUB chair Andy Wells was on site at the start of the protest, but did not participate. MHA Paul Lane spent some time speaking to the people who had come out and set up at the site, offering his support.

The PUB office is also the constituency office for MP Nick Whelan, who spent time speaking with the protesters at the line.

“I think it’s pretty obvious from the demonstrations here today that people are pretty concerned about a six per cent increase in power rates,” Whelan said, referring to the rate review and near-term decision. “The PUB is authorized to make the determination on whether or not they’re going to allow the rate increase, and I think it’s appropriate that they have that independent right to do so.”

Whelan also said he was glad the public has Consumer Advocate Dennis Browne to give them a voice inside the rate hearings.

The Telegram reported in Friday’s print edition that Fillier had written to his MHA, Colin Holloway, about the power rate issue. A response from Holloway was shared Friday.

“Let me be very clear, I understand and appreciate that any increase in electricity rates, including the recently approved increase on July 1, is difficult on most households. Having worked for many years with the most marginalized individuals in our community, I know how difficult an increase in a utility bill can be,” Holloway wrote in the letter, as provided to The Telegram.

“In the past year, I have raised these issues with my colleagues and I know we are taking steps to help reduce the long-term impact of the Muskrat Falls project. These measures are being directed through the Rate Management Committee which includes officials from the Department of Natural Resources and Finance in addition to Nalcor and N.L. Hydro.”

Holloway stated the government has directed Nalcor to “explore all options” to manage rates, but offered no greater explanation of what financial pain the public would be spared.

Recent Stories