It may soon be easier to hook up to natural gas if a pending application to expand services receives support from municipalities.
On Monday, members of FortisBC appeared before Saanich council as a delegation to request a letter of comment regarding provisions in their system extension application, which is currently under review by the B.C. Utilities Commission. The energy company is seeking approval from the BCUC to more easily provide natural gas to potential users in the province.
“Oftentimes, we hear back that seeking natural gas as an energy option can be prohibitive due to costs and accessibility in some of the communities that we serve,” said Carmen Dreichel, part of FortisBC’s community relations team.
“We’ve asked the B.C. Utilities Commission to help us make natural gas easier for our customers to connect to.”
John Drazic, regional energy solutions manager for the Interior and Vancouver Island at FortisBC, said approximately 60,000 homes on the Island have access to natural gas – 23 per cent of which are in Saanich.
“We believe that these are a high potential for conversion,” he said. “We’ve had tremendous growth in your community, and that’s a result of demand for our product – demand that we believe will continue to grow.”
In cases where the cost of hooking up someone to natural gas is more than the estimated revenue generated, Drazic and Dreichel said that FortisBC will ask for a contribution from the customer. However, that cost can sometimes be excessive for users, so the company is considering methods to offset those expenses.
The 753-page application outlines a number of proposed initiatives to allow for cost-effective expansion, including extending expenses over a longer period of time and setting up a fund to offset costs for new attachments to the natural gas grid.
“In new subdivisions or in new developments, sometimes the cost of that can be too prohibitive and we’re looking to set aside this $1 million fund to make that a more affordable option,” said Dreichel.
Coun. Vic Derman questioned the proposed fund, namely its use of revenue from FortisBC’s existing customer base to pay for connections to new users.
“That money, I presume, cumulatively actually comes from current users, so in a way, you’re asking current users to subsidize extension to places that would otherwise not be economic. Is that not correct?” he asked.
Drazic confirmed that current users are the source for the fund, saying the cost works out to a fraction of one cent per gigajoule per customer on an annual basis.
“We also feel this aligns with a similar policy that BC Hydro introduced to help extend service to areas that would be unreasonable to provide service to otherwise,” he noted.
FortisBC requested that Saanich council submit their letter of comment by the end of August, as the review of their application is expected to wrap up in mid-September.