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Centra applying for another rate increase



Company looking at long-term options for providing propane or natural gas to Whistler

Centra Gas Whistler will be applying for another increase in the rate of piped propane within the next few weeks.

Although the hike could be retroactive to January, 2001, it is not likely to be approved until about April this year.

The company will be asking the B.C Utilities Commission for the increase to offset approximately $2.2 million spent last summer in the construction of a seven-kilometre loop of pipeline from Blueberry to Function Junction and a larger vapourizer at the Function storage site.

Centra’s Paul Madsen told Whistler council at the end of November last year that the price increase will be in the region of 10 per cent.

Geoff Higgins, Centra’s manager of regulatory affairs, said he will be filing for the hike as part of the company’s 2001 revenue requirements within the next two to three weeks.

"Ten per cent is probably the out side amount of an increase," noted Higgins. He could not say, at this stage, whether he will be asking for additional hikes to offset any projected increases in the wholesale cost of propane. "I will have a better idea within two to three weeks."

Whistler customers already saw a 19.3 per cent jump in the cost of piped propane last November. That hike came on top of a 16 per cent jump in August and another 17.2 per cent increase in January of 2000.

Centra constructed the pipeline loop and added a larger vapourizer in Function to meet the needs of its Whistler customers until April 2001. But as Madsen told councillors last year, beyond that "it is going to be pretty tight."

In 1999 Centra added five propane tanks to its Nesters storage facility. Council approved the expansion but made it clear that should the company need to add any further capacity to serve Whistler’s needs, it would have to build a natural gas pipeline to the resort.

Whistler wants to see the natural gas pipeline routed away from the highway and incorporated into sections of the existing and proposed Sea to Sky bike trail route. Centra, however has indicated it finds the cost of the off-highway solution prohibitive.

The company did apply to the Utilities Commission to build the natural gas pipeline in 1997 but announced it had officially shelved the plan in April 1999, based on a feasibility analysis that showed the new routing requirements were not economically viable.

As well, the increased cost of natural gas at the time, coupled with historic low prices for propane, did not justify the construction of the pipeline.