Maritime Electric held a public session this evening at the Delta Prince Edward. Hosted by President & Chief Executive Officer Jim Lea, the session was an opportunity for the company to make its case to the public over the rather dramatic increase in electric rates that is scheduled for April 1.
For a matter of such importance to the day to day lives of Islanders, the session was poorly attended: there were perhaps a dozen people present. Nonetheless, the presentation by Mr. Lea was comprehensive and compelling. He began with a thorough overview of the electricity marketplace in the Maritimes: where the power comes from, how much it costs, and so on. He then explained Maritime Electric’s position in the marketplace, its regulatory environment, and the challenges it faces going forward.
I’m not a electricity expert, and I don’t have any way of testing the veracity of Mr. Lea’s remarks. But I have to laud him, and the company, for making the effort to meet with the public: it’s certainly more than our other monopoly utilities have done.
I recorded the entire session, and you can download and listen to it in one of two formats: AIFF (10 MB, PureVoice) and MP3 (25 MB). The recording is 1 hour and 47 minutes long. Jim Lea’s presentation from the podium is very clear; there was no floor mic for the audience, so the questions are difficult to make out.
The question I wanted an answer to I asked at 1:38:46:
Is there a situation in which it is beneficial to Maritime Electric to have consumption drop?
Mr. Lea responded:
It would depend on, which customers reduced. Some customers we probably supply at a loss. So yah there are some customers — right across the board, generally speaking, from Maritime Electric’s perspective, no it would not be beneficial. All you have is fixed costs that you have to spread over fewer kilowatt hours.
And there’s the rub, if you’re someone like me who thinks we should all work to reduce energy consumption: it’s in Maritime Electric’s best interests to sell more electricity. I don’t fault them for this and, indeed, to pursue any other course would be irresponsible to their shareholders.
On first blush this means that those working to reduce energy consumption are at odds with Maritime Electric (and, in a more general way, with all profit-making investor-owned utilities). At the same time, it’s the utilities who know most about the energy market and how it works, and we depend on the utilities’ viability to toast our toast and power our computers.
I’m not sure how to resolve this paradox.