/

Hokkaido Electric takes aim at bonuses ahead of fresh rate hike

JIJI

Hokkaido Electric Power Co. might skip bonus payments this winter as part of streamlining efforts and as a gesture to customers before its next hike in electricity rates, informed sources said.

The utility will launch talks on the plan with its labor union, the sources said Saturday.

In late July, Hokkaido Electric asked the government to approve a hike in household electricity prices of 17.03 percent on average, as it deals with the impact of soaring fuel costs for thermal power generation on its earnings, amid uncertainty about when it can restart the Tomari nuclear power plant.

The increase would come after the utility lifted household rates by 7.73 percent last September.

The utility also plans to hike corporate electricity rates, which does not require government approval, by an average of 22.61 percent.

Including Hokkaido Electric, seven power companies across the nation have conducted large-scale electricity rate hikes since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Of the seven, Hokkaido Electric is the first to request an additional hike in household rates. All of the nation’s nuclear reactors are offline.

As part of moves to mollify customers about the rate hike, Hokkaido Electric held a meeting with customers in Sapporo on Saturday to explain its efforts to improve efficiency and measures to help households save energy.

But many participants voiced frustration. A 51-year-old corporate employee from Sapporo whose home is entirely electricity-dependent, complained about the hike and said, “I want Hokkaido Electric employees to know users’ pain from the hike.”

The utility will hold more than 60 such meetings in Hokkaido.