Still no explanation of 13-cent gas-price differential: BCUC

A supplementary report from the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) says after hearing more evidence from gasoline wholesalers and retailers there is still “no concrete evidence” to explain the 13-cents-a-litre difference in wholesale gasoline prices between Southern B.C. and the U.S. Pacific Northwest it found in the original report released in August.

“Some interveners presented a number of factors in an attempt to account for the unexplained difference, but the [BCUC] panel finds their evidence either inconclusive or conflicting, making it difficult to determine an appropriate amount for these factors,” a summary of the report released on Nov. 12 said.

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“As such, the panel’s best estimate is that the unexplained difference could potentially range from 10 [cents per litre] to the originally reported 13 [cents per litre].”

The BCUC panel also found that gasoline pricing throughout the province is being influenced by “the most expensive five per cent of supply in the Pacific Northwest.”

According to the BCUC, “The unexplained difference in wholesale prices raises the question as to whether there is a well functioning competitive gasoline and diesel market within B.C.”

As well as submissions from interveners, the BCUC panel also received more than 40 letters from the public and noted that the majority of them came from Powell River, including one quoted as saying, “My suspicion at this stage is that the oligopoly, or monopoly, has somehow forced all our local gas retailers into a situation whereby your ‘mystery 13 cents’ is probably nearer 25 cents.”

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons also submitted a letter, saying, “We would like clear answers. Many constituents are angry and want things to change.”

Many Sunshine Coasters have been expressing their frustration with gas prices on local social media forums, and the Sunshine Coast Labour Council has also been speaking out on the gas price differential between the Coast and Metro Vancouver.

In an Oct. 10 letter to Premier John Horgan, copied to Coast Reporter, labour council president Ed Erickson wrote, “After the inquiry was announced, we believed the findings would show the overcharging and the specific areas of B.C. where it was most extreme. While the inquiry does confirm overcharging in the Metro Vancouver area, it does not confirm the most extreme over-charging is in other areas. Furthermore, it does not suggest any resolution.”

The BCUC panel is also standing by its earlier conclusion that “regulation could potentially reduce the wholesale and/or retail margins to what is earned in comparable jurisdictions and reduce price volatility. However, further investigation should be done to determine if such an approach would be of benefit to British Columbian consumers.”

On the other side of Howe Sound, the high price of gas sparked a protest in Squamish Nov. 10. About 40 people gathered near two prominently located gas stations waving placards saying, “Stop the ripoff’ and “Gas up in Vancouver, save $$.”

– With files from Squamish Chief


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