A business takeover deal involving two major energy companies has left some Upper Columbia Valley residents worrying about a lack of competition for propane heating here.
Superior Plus Corp. signed a deal in mid-February to buy Canwest Propane from parent company Gibson Energy Inc. for $412 million, with the deal set to close some time later in 2017, once the necessary approvals are obtained.
The deal has prompted concern here in the valley, and has already resulted in one local municipal council — Invermere — firing off a letter, registering this concern with the federal Competition Bureau because Superior and Canwest are the only two large-scale propane companies operating in the Valley.
“A major part of the problem is we don’t have natural gas, so for energy options for homes and businesss, you only have electricity or propane. And since in many cases you need a backup system different than your primary system, you end up without much to choose from at all,” Invermere mayor Gerry Taft told The Pioneer, adding that those who use larger heating systems (such as bigger businesses), even if they opt to go electric, still will need to incorporate propane as part of the primary system, not just as backup.
“So there’s not a lot of choice. If you have only one major supplier, it’s easy to imagine a situation in which prices are not as competitive as they might otherwise be, and in which levels of service may fall,” said Mr. Taft, adding he’s not entirely sure what effect the letter sent by the District of Invermere to the Competition Bureau will have, but that “it seems there is an opportunity to give input and I do think that the volume of input to the Competition Bureau may have some impact on the decision.”
The Pioneer contacted the Competition Bureau to find how much input it had received on the matter, but was told by Bureau communication advisor Marie-France Faucher that “as the Bureau is required by law to conduct its work confidentially, including the handling of complaints, we cannot confirm whether or not we have received a complaint on a particular matter.”
Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Clovechok told The Pioneer that “no businesses have reached out to us on this issue, yet but we can appreciate that they would be concerned, and we would advocate on their behalf, as that is what Chambers do.”
Mrs. Clovechok added, however, that there is another propane option for valley residents, one that she and her husband make use of — Lethbridge Lo Cost Propane Ltd. She said when they shopped around for propane service for their Dutch Creek home in 2009, Lo Cost was the most competitively priced.
Mr. Taft said he’s heard of Lo Cost, but from what he understands, it is quite a small company and may not be able to ramp up its business enough to service the entire valley and compete on equal footing with a giant corporation such as Superior.
The Pioneer contacted Lo Cost to find out if this was the case, but was unable to reach anybody for comment.