NDP leader hopes to jolt voters by raising concerns over electricity costs

EDMONTON - NDP Leader Brian Mason said Wednesday his party would regulate power rates if they win the provincial election.

Seated at the dining room table at a retired couple's house on the south side of Edmonton, Mason said the NDP's plan to reform the province's electricity system would provide more reliable and affordable electricity.

"I promise you that relief is in sight," Mason said as the election campaign rolled into its third day. "With regulation, power companies could not unilaterally raise their rates because they want to make more money. They would need to justify increases. Unless you have a regulated power market, rates are open to manipulation."

As part of its energy plan, Mason also said the NDP would give Alberta's Utilities Commission a mandate to protect consumers; remove cabinet power to approve utility projects and open them up for consideration at public meetings; require power corporations to pay for transmission lines and make infrastructure projects subject to regulatory approval; and would encourage wind and solar generation to cut the need for expensive power lines.

Conservative Leader Alison Redford has promised the Tories would review the electricity system after the election. Alberta is the only province with a fully deregulated energy system, which Mason said hurts consumers.

Seated at a table with Edmonton-Goldbar candidate Marlin Schmidt and Angus and Carolee Perry, Mason said unpredictable electricity rates make it hard for people to budget.

"We want to make sure that life is affordable," Mason said. "In a province with so much prosperity, a lot of people are left behind."

A retired rural school principal, Angus Perry complained that in recent months the amount that he has paid per hour of usage has fluctuated wildly, and that the percentage of savings he apportions for electricity has more than doubled in the 10 years since the province endorsed deregulation.

"Ten years ago we were putting money away for our grandchildren's post-secondary education," 74-year-old Perry said, photos of his beaming brood of seven grandkids a few feet away. "Now we can't put funds aside because the cost of electricity takes such a big bite out of our budget.

"We are paying more, even though we have done everything we can do to reduce consumption. To me, it is an essential service and its cost is totally out of control and nobody is answerable."

Mason, who met with voters later Wednesday at a bake shop on the northwest side, acknowledged that the New Democrats have a smaller war chest than the Conservatives and Wildrose, who are running neck and neck in a new poll.

"It is quite clear they have a lot of money in the bank and a lot more to spend than we do,'' Mason said. "Our approach is a more patient, door-knocking approach that we think will pay dividends in the long run."

The cost of electricity is one of the issues voters are raising when the NDP comes knocking.

"I think we are putting on enough pressure that the Progressive Conservatives are nervous about the issue," Mason told the Perrys. "I am confident that if we do well enough in the election, we will get things done."

Edmonton Journal, Thurs Mar 29 2012
Byline: Marty Klinkenberg

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