Spanish Room N.L. — Randell Prior is “rotted.”
Prior and his wife Claudine own Spanish Room Manor — a four-and-a-half-star-rated bed and breakfast business — in Spanish Room on the Burin Peninsula.
Next door to this property the Priors are building a 15-room hotel, which Prior said “will rival the Fogo Island Inn, except in price.”
The three-story building is 12,000 square feet, with a ballroom and kitchen on the main floor. The Priors started construction in October 2016 and are close to finishing the building.
To save energy Prior is using LED lights and heaters with programmable thermostats.
He also sets the thermostats on a low setting.
“I had the heat on 15 degrees for two weeks and on 12 degrees the other two,” Prior told The Gazette.
Usually, his power bill is about $300 a month.
Last month, however, the bill was over $700.
“When I called to inquire about my bill, they said if your electricity spikes for one minute in a month’s cycle, you are charged that higher rate for a whole month, if you are commercial.
“They charged me 18.28 cents per kilowatt hour instead of the normal commercial rate of 10.511.”
Prior is also upset they are charging him commercial rates for a structure that is still under construction.
“They’ve been charging this commercial rate since 2016. The building is still not finished. To me it should not (be classified as) commercial until it’s actually making money.”
Prior said he feels “bullied and blackmailed” by Newfoundland Power because he is speaking up about it publically and took his concerns to the Public Utilities Board (PUB).
“I’ve contacted the PUB three times and they’ve done nothing for me,” Randell said. “All they told me is, we’ve allowed them to charge a certain amount.”
Extenuating circumstances have left the Priors struggling to pay their hydro bills.
Randell had bladder cancer over the winter, needed a surgery and had a very slow year with his B&B.
The couple has been paying what they can on their light bills, but have been unable to pay the full amount each month.
Prior said that’s when he noticed the charges start fluctuating.
“They have no sympathy,” Prior remarked. “I had bladder cancer this winter and these people just don’t care.”
According to Prior, when he called the company and explained this to them, the woman who took his call said, ‘We’re not talking about that, we’re talking about paying the light bill.’
“I said, ‘Can’t you understand? I can’t even go away to go to work because I’ve been sick, even though business has been slow.’ They don’t care if you are dying, as long as they get their money.”
Prior said he contacted other business owners to see if they are seeing similar rates.
“I called other businesses in the Marystown area and they’ve never been charged what I’ve been charged these past two months.”
On Prior’s latest bill Newfoundland Power threatened to discontinue his hydro service.
“I have a disconnect notice on this one,” Prior said. “They’re saying unless I pay a couple of hundred dollars by Friday, they’re going to take the meter off my B&B. I told them that would impede us from paying you any more of what we do owe you.”
Prior said he is “about to go bankrupt and is at his wit’s end with N.L. Power.”
He also worries when Muskrat Falls comes on stream, saying only the rich will be able to pay their power bills.
“If they can do it to me right now, next week they will do it to you,” Prior said. “There are seniors who can’t afford to pay their bills now, let alone when it doubles. Grocery stores have coolers, so if their bills go up, our groceries will skyrocket, gas, Marine Atlantic, everything is going to bounce off this electricity.”
The Southern Gazette contacted Newfoundland Power. Spokeswoman Michele Coughlan indicated that while she couldn’t speak to Prior’s case directly for privacy concerns, she could address two main questions.
On the matter of why an empty structure is charged a commercial rate, Coughlan wrote via e-mail:
“The appropriate commercial electricity rates would apply when the property is connected. There are several categories for commercial customers depending on their usage and energy requirements.
“Newfoundland Power has to build its electricity system, and provide the power lines and equipment to meet customer demand, or the maximum electricity usage they require at any point in time.
“Commercial customers with higher demands or energy requirements are more costly to serve, require more infrastructure and electricity rates are set to reflect these cost differences.”
And on the question of how a commercial account can be charged for a whole month at a higher rate, simply due to a single energy spike, Coughlan explained, “A demand charge only applies when the customer’s demand is greater than 10 kW. The charge is based on the maximum electricity required at one point in time during the month and is determined based on the usage over approximately a 15-minute period.
“We work closely with our customers to provide information and advice on how they can manage demand and reduce their costs by minimizing the equipment that must be on at the same time,” her email stated.
“Our electricity rates are in line with common utility practice and are approved by our regulator, the Public Utilities Board.”