Newfoundland Electricity Rebate In The Offing

ST. JOHN'S - - There's $134 million in electricity overpayments waiting to be doled out to thousands of customers in Newfoundland, but those waiting on their money will have to wait a little longer.

The issue of repayment has now dragged on for several years, and has been debated at the highest court in the province.

But formalizing a repayment plan is a lot more complex than initially envisioned, says consumer advocate Tom Johnson.

"You have something in the order of 80,000 customers who are no longer in the system and who paid in, and then we have 180,000 customers who are still on the system and paid in," he explained.

Lawyers haggled for months over who should benefit, with the province's Supreme Court ruling eight months ago that only customers on the island portion of the province should receive a refund.

Customers in Labrador, the court ruling stated, should not receive a refund because they did not pay into the so-called rate stabilization plan.

The pot of money began building up after the newsprint mill in Grand-Falls Windsor closed, lowering the demand for power on the island, and in turn the amount of oil being used to fuel the Holyrood thermal generating station.

The Public Utilities Board PUB is now overseeing the refund process.

"I'm not going to tell you that it hasn't had a lot of tortured history to it," Johnson stated, adding he had hoped the refunds would have been distributed by now.

But figuring out how much each customer is entitled to has not been easy, he said.

In the past, reports suggested customers would received somewhere north of $400. Johnson said those numbers are no longer accurate.

That was before the overall rebate swelled to $134 million.

He said individual rebates will vary, and a preliminary proposal should be presented by Jan. 15.

Johnson will have to approve it, along with utility companies Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and Newfoundland Power.

"I would just as soon take a little more time to try to get it as right as possible," Johnson said.

This pending rebate will be welcomed by ratepayers, but it won't change the fact that bills will be going up in the future as the controversial Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador comes online.



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