Hydro One is promising to have 1,400 customers back on the grid in time for Christmas after their electricity was cut off for failing to pay their bills.
The pledge came Wednesday with the provincial government under pressure over hydro pricesthat have put too many Ontarians into what opposition parties call “energy poverty.
“We’re working through each of the cases,” said Ferio Pugliese, the utility’s executive vice-president of customer care.
“It’ll take us the better part of the next five to seven days to get to them all.”
Reconnection fees, which can reach up to $300 and are a barrier to many customers, are being waived. The accounts being reconnected are in arrears as much as $10,000, but most are under $1,000. About 500 are for premises that are now vacant.
Opposition parties at Queen’s Park applauded the move but said it was a long time coming given that cold weather and long, dark nights are here.
“It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I’m glad that they’re being reconnected and other utilities should follow the lead,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, noting that more than 500,000 Ontarians are in arrears on their hydro bills to some extent.
“There has to be more empathy and help for people who’ve planned a budget and seen their bills (rise).”
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said the government has proposed legislation — Bill 27 — that would ban any electric utility from cutting customers off during winter.
The Ontario Energy Board also has powers to increase fines on utilities that are too demanding in terms of payments from customers facing hardships.
“When it comes to families, if they’re feeling that they’re being treated unfairly, contact the OEB . . . and ask them to investigate for you.”
While Hydro One has a policy of not cutting customers off during the cold winter months, it has decided to use “greater latitude and discretion” with people whose accounts weren’t paid in the last six months or so, Pugliese added.
“This program is about doing the right thing for our customers who are experiencing hardship,” the company — now being privatized by Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government — said in a statement.
“We are changing the way we do business, and, by doing so, we are currently reviewing all of our customer-facing policies and practices, including how we care for our most vulnerable customers.”
People who fell behind on their payment plans will be offered a chance to tailor them to levels “they can sustain beyond the winter,” said Pugliese.
To help Ontarians with their hydro bills in the face of higher rates over the last few years as coal-fired power plants have been phased out and more expensive renewable sources of energy, the government is waiving the 8 per cent provincial portion of the HST on electricity starting in January.
NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh said it is “completely horrible” so many ratepayers are feeling the pinch but is heartened to see signs the government is listening.
“People are in a desperate situation. The desperation people are experiencing is finally getting through and people are listening.”
Source: Toronto Star