Letter: Stiff fines required to deter power price rigging

Deregulation has been an overall success for Alberta’s electricity system, but there is still work to be done to ensure Albertans are getting the best services at the lowest cost possible.

A recent investigation by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) concluded that TransAlta, Alberta’s primary electricity generator and wholesaler, deliberately timed power outages at its plants to drive up power prices on businesses and families.

The power plant shutdowns came mostly during cold winter nights, and they spiked our power bills anywhere from ten to 60 per cent – generating an extra $16 million dollars in profit for TransAlta off Albertans.

Where was the oversight? When the average price per kilowatt hour in Alberta spiked into unseen territory, the government should have acted immediately to protect consumers and fix a broken power system, but it did nothing.

Wildrose has been sounding the alarm about a broken power system for years – asking question after question about electricity prices in Question Period, but the former PC government ignored our concerns. Former PC Energy Minister, Diana McQueen, even called them “fear mongering.”

Now that we know the facts, consumers must be protected from future threats of market manipulation, and industry must be protected from overregulation that will hurt its ability to be competitive.

But how do we strike this balance?

The answer is stiff penalties for members of government and industry who are involved in taking financial advantage of Albertans.

Let me be clear, more government regulation is not the answer. The typical NDP line on this would hurt jobs, competition and efficient investment in our future. That is not a solution.

The AUC needs to do its job and levy penalties that deter any and all future threats of market manipulation in its upcoming decision on how much to fine TransAlta. The AUC then needs to toughen oversight protocols and ensure that the people at the AUC tasked with protecting from market manipulation are the right people for the job.

The last time TransAlta was caught doing something like this, in 2011, the power provider recommended its own punishment – just a $370,000 penalty out of the $5.5 million it made then – and the government agreed.

Clearly, it doesn’t make any sense to allow violators to recommend their own punishment.

As a parent, I know it’s wrong to reward bad behaviour, and I’m eager to work with Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd to protect Albertans from future threats of market manipulation and price rigging without hurting our industry.

I’ve extended an olive branch to the Minister. I hope to convince her of the severity of this and other issues distorting our electrical system, and work collaboratively with her to find solutions for Albertans.

Market manipulation in Alberta’s utilities is real and it’s serious. It’s harmful to the economy and it should be illegal with significant penalties attached.

Wildrose will continue to fight to fix Alberta’s broken electricity system. Stiff penalties for the players in this latest price rigging game would be one small step in the right direction.

Don MacIntyre,
Wildrose Shadow Minister of Electricity and Renewables

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