Alberta’s new affordability minister receives mandate letter to address rising cost of living

Click to play video: 'Alberta to address high utility and insurance rates'
Alberta to address high utility and insurance rates
The province is looking to make utilities, insurance rates, and just about everything else more affordable. This comes in Premier Danielle Smith's latest mandate letter, in it she tells Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf to tackle a wide array of issues. Provincial affairs reporter Saif Kaisar has the details – Jul 19, 2023

When Nathan Neudorf was sworn in as Alberta’s minister of affordability and utilities last month, he took on a portfolio dealing with a central plank of his United Conservative Party’s election campaign pledge: reducing the cost of living.

On Wednesday, the provincial government released details of the mandate letter Neudorf has been issued by Premier Danielle Smith, highlighting issues he is being asked to address to accomplish the government’s goals.

The letter calls on Neudorf to continue “pushing back against any federal regulation requiring a net-zero power grid by 2035.”

Earlier this month, federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he believes Alberta can get its electricity grid to net zero by 2035, but acknowledged his government needs to listen to concerns being raised by the provincial government.

Alberta has committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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Neudorf has been asked by Smith to look at how agencies including the Alberta Utilities Commission and the Alberta Electric System Operator operate and to recommend ways they could work towards a carbon-neutral power grid by 2050 and ensure that grid is reliable.

In his new cabinet role, Neudorf will also be asked to look at the province’s electricity pricing system and ways of reducing transmission and distribution costs for Albertans.

Neudorf has also been asked to address “the cost of utilities for Albertans by exploring the potential phase-out of the regulated rate option for electricity and otherwise protecting consumers from spikes in electricity and natural gas prices, while ensuring Albertans continue to have a competitive range of provider choices within those markets.”

“Affordability continues to be at the top of mind for many Albertans,” Neudorf said in a news release. “We need to build a utilities system that is reliable, dependable and affordable all while working to achieve our goal of carbon-neutrality by 2050.

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“I look forward to working for Albertans to ensuring heating their homes and powering their lives remain affordable for generations to come.”

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The Lethbridge-East MLA has been asked to also work with relevant ministries to come up with solutions to cost-of-living problems in the fields of housing, food costs and insurance costs, where auto and property insurance were specifically mentioned in the mandate letter he received.

Neudorf is also being asked to co-ordinate with colleagues in the province’s Indigenous relations to improve accessibility for First Nations and Métis settlements when it comes to internet services and utitilies like electricity and natural gas.

Neudorf is also being asked to work with others in government to “develop and implement an affordable home ownership and rental strategy that focuses on incentivizing the construction of new homes and rental units while removing barriers for prospective homeowners and renters.”

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After Smith’s mandate letter was made public, the Alberta NDP responded by also acknowledging the importance of finding ways to reduce costs for citizens and improving the power grid while also criticizing previous steps the UCP government has taken in response to cost-of-living concerns.

“I have door-knocked thousands and thousands of doors and Albertans told us that the power prices and the cost of living is hurting them,” said Nagwan Al-Guneid, the Opposition’s energy and climate critic. “The UCP  had removed the cap on electricity prices and the cap on car insurance prices, and Albertans’ bills exploded.”

Al-Guneid also criticized a three-month program that had been put in place by the provincial government that was meant to put a cap on power costs and help Albertans through the more expensive winter months.

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The program capped power charges at 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour for January, February and March 2023 but the real cost of power was somewhere between 20 and 33 cents.

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“Now all those costs are landing on Alberta ratepayers,” Al-Guneid said.

“Albertans are hurting. The cost of electricity is out of control. This government needs to create a short-term relief plan for Albertans, as well as a long-term plan to advance a more diversified electricity grid that is reliable, affordable, and low-emission.”

–with files from The Canadian Press’ Amanda Stephenson and Global News’ Emily Mertz

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