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Electricity costs in 'twilight zone'

Sky-high utility bills a challenge for local home-based businesses.
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Nora Yaghi said she is worried the increased costs of everything from fuel to electricity will negatively impact her home-based business. She operates Zen Blossoms out of her basement. JESSICA NELSON/St. Albert Gazette

Nora Yaghi started her home-based floral business, Zen Blossoms, in August of 2021. It’s a business she wants to grow slowly.

“It has done well. It's still growing. But now I'm getting hit with, ‘Oh, we have to up our delivery fees.’ And this is going to cost you more, and this is going to cost you more. It's hard to do that when you're small,” she said.

From the increased costs of gas, electricity, and food, Albertans have been hit from all angles by the skyrocketing price of nearly everything, and home-based businesses have not been immune.

In a press conference on March 10, St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud called on the province to provide extra relief for Albertans.

In the meantime, how are home-based businesses coping?

Renee Veltkamp started her sourdough bread and pizza dough business, My Bubbly Kitchen, in the fall of 2020.

“When the pandemic started, I got on that whole sourdough train,” she said.

Although business has been booming in her kitchen, rising costs have been a topic of conversation, “Because flour has doubled since I started,” she said.

When Veltkamp started her business 18 months ago, a 20-kilogram bag of flour was $10.

“Now the same bag of flour I use from Costco is $20 … and I go through a bag of flour in three days,” Veltkamp said.

On top of the price of flour increasing, Veltkamp said the price for other ingredients she uses such as cheese, chocolate, raisins, and cherries have also increased.

“I haven't increased my prices at all since I started. But that's actually going to be one of my next social media posts, is that I have to increase my prices to help cover the ingredients,” Veltkamp said.

Veltkamp said she will likely raise the price of her loaves and pizza dough by $1 and she will also likely raise the cost of delivery from $2 to $3 to help cover the “insane” gas prices.

Yaghi said normally delivery fees for supplies would cost her about $20.

“I placed a $167 order with for some hard goods in from the company in Ontario … She called me, and she said, ‘I don't know what your delivery fees are going to be, but it's probably going to be a little bit higher.’”

In the past when her supplier has called her about increased delivery fees, it has been about $10 more.

“This time, it was $60. It’s outrageous,” she said.

Yaghi bought a new fridge in October and paid close attention to her electricity bills. She said she was pleasantly surprised there was not a “skyrocketing” increase in the price of their energy bills.

“Then January, February, and March — it's like we're in the twilight zone when it comes to electricity costs,” she said.

Yaghi said she sat down and compared her bills to 2021.

“I couldn't believe — for gas, we're paying 41 per cent more. For electricity, we're paying 31 per cent more than we did at the same time last year,” she said.

Yaghi doesn’t think the province is doing enough to help people get through these expensive times. She is critical of the elimination of the fuel tax — she is concerned the savings won’t make it to the consumers.

She describes the $150 electricity rebate over the course of three months as laughable.

“OK, I'm saving $50 here, but I have to spend it over here.

“My mom was actually telling me, ‘You need to shop around for your groceries.’ I was like, so you want me to spend $50 in gas to go shop around to save $50 in groceries?’”

Yaghi would like to see the government diversify energy sources and not be so reliant on oil and gas. She would also like to see the province re-index Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and other benefits, and she would like the province to put the caps back on electricity and natural gas.

“Those were helping. It's not like we haven't been in the situation before, but when the caps were in place, we were at least a little bit protected,” she said.

Veltkamp runs her oven for three hours every night. She said the increase in electricity costs has made her a more mindful consumer.

“We're a lot more careful to turn off lights and not run a fireplace and that kind of stuff,” she said.

She wasn’t aware the province is offering a fuel tax break starting April 1, nor was she aware of the electricity rebate, but she thinks any break is helpful at this point.

Veltkamp isn’t worried about her business, but she also doesn’t want to have to continue to increase the price of her loaves.

“I don't want to have to be charging insane prices for a loaf of bread. But I guess that kind of it's happening everywhere now,” she said.

Yaghi does have fears her business will not make it, as the flower industry is already pretty costly, and if people see a bouquet that is $10 or $15 more they may not think it is worth it to buy.

“If their bills are increasing, they don't have money for the extra things like a nice bouquet of flowers. Am I going to survive? I don't know,” she said.

About the Author: Jessica Nelson

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