SURREY — City residents are receiving a densely-worded letter in the mail that indicates they will be paying an extra fee on their monthly FortisBC natural gas bill if the British Columbia Utilities Commission approves a new operating agreement between the city and the company.
Marion O’Byrne got hers, “confusing paperwork” and all.
“Does anyone out there clearly understand what is being proposed?” she asked the Now-Leader. “Why do they have to make these notices so unclear – next thing you know you have another bill coming in.”
The public notice, sent out by the utilities commission, informs residents that the City of Surrey on May 17 applied for an order that would specify the terms under which Fortis “may install, operate and maintain its distribution equipment in public places within Surrey’s boundaries.” The current agreement is 60 years old.
Surrey is seeking an operating fee of three per cent of the gross revenues received by Fortis, “for provision and distribution of all gas consumed” in Surrey, to be collected from the company’s Surrey customers on behalf of the city.
“Whenever you receive your Fortis bill, that would appear.”
This would apply to residential, commercial and industrial customers.
“The amount that Surrey is seeking is the same that has been, that’s in place in approximately 70 municipalities, which is three per cent,” Tony Capuccinello, assistant city solicitor for Surrey, told the Now-Leader.
“Currently Surrey is paying 100 per cent of the costs for relocations and modifications when it’s, for example, undertaking a highway project. So it’s meant to offset those costs as well.”
Fortis has 2,685 kilometres of pipes in Surrey, mostly under paved roads or shoulders. Surrey has reimbursed Fortis $5.4 million over the past six years related to relocating the company’s gas mains and transmission pipes to accommodate city projects like widening highways, and water and sewer works.
Both Surrey and Fortis set out their cases on the city’s website, Surrey.ca.
Fortis’s application is 90 pages, and the city’s application is 65 pages.
The BCUC mailout indicates the commission will hear both applications at the same time, and intervener status can be requested by submitting a completed Request to Intervene form, which can be found at bcuc.com/RegisterIndex.aspx, by Friday, Aug. 11.
So, if the application gets approved by the commission, when will the new fee come into effect?
“No one really knows, is the answer to your question,” Capuccinello said. “This isn’t an uncommon process – the Island a few years back had the same process. “There’s no certainty that it will come into effect, either,” he added.
“It’s not a form of back-door taxation because currently Surrey’s paying those costs, so it’s certainly not that,” Capuccinello said.
“It’s a legislative process that’s being followed; both parties are acting responsibly in undertaking this process and the regulator is ultimately the one that decides. It’s nothing unusual, it’s just simply following the legislative scheme.”