Almost every day, it seems, the Ontario government must publish a press release announcing the wonders of what the government does for its citizens.
The press release of December 28, 2017 was typical, listing “free” stuff the government had announced over the past year. It referred to minimum wage increases, free tuition, free prescription drugs, etc.
Strangely, there was no mention of the Fair Hydro Plan or electricity in general, the issue that is/was top of mind by most voters in the province.
The December 28 release carried a quote from the Premier on how government is making life “fairer.”
“As Premier, the most important part of my job is listening to the people of Ontario. When we make changes to legislation and regulations, it’s about responding to real concerns from people in every corner of our province. And it’s all part of our work to make Ontario a fairer and better place to live. We want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to get ahead in this changing economy.”
Electricity may not have been mentioned expressly but a lot is happening on that file that will affect Ontario’s ratepayers, in addition to kicking the costs of the Fair Hydro Plan down the road.
The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) appears to be the epicenter: the OEB recently announced it is establishing a “panel” to review how the OEB “can continue to protect consumers”. The panel won’t report until next year, well after the election date of June 7, 2018.
The OEB’s survey on service rules, or dealing with “energy poverty”
The launch of the OEB panel was preceded by announcement of a survey by the OEB on September 7, 2017 to deal with why many ratepayers are unable to pay their electricity bills. The OEB explained why in a press release.
“Are there any times when Ontario energy utilities shouldn’t be allowed to disconnect customers? How much time should customers be given to pay and should they be allowed to use credit cards? Should energy utilities be allowed to ask for security deposits?”
A web search using the press release’s heading, “Public asked for input on customer service rules for Ontario energy utilities” indicates the survey received no media attention. Nothing on the OEB site indicates local distribution companies (LDC) were told to notify their ratepaying customers about the survey. How will this survey receive a broad and “fair” response? The survey results will be provided by pollster Ipsos to the OEB. The survey is copyrighted so you cannot copy/paste any of the material provided or the questions asked without permission. What happened to the transparency we were promised?
The survey will supposedly inform the OEB on how to treat ratepayers caught in the “heat or eat/energy poverty” scenario.* The survey asks for responses on “arrears payment arrangements” e.g., how long it should allow for repayment, whether late payment charges should apply, etc. It asks, how long notice should be given for “disconnection” and if “load limiting devices” should be allowed, if utilities should offer equal monthly payment plans and if security deposits should be required, etc. The survey appears to want a consensus allowing the OEB to set terms and conditions on how households living in energy poverty are to be treated.
No questions ask about pre-paid meters, but that idea is part of the Hydro One application submission for a rate increase currently before the OEB.
Tomorrow: why the sudden interest in how best to treat those living in Energy Poverty.
* Energy Poverty is generally defined as spending 10% of household income on heat and utilities: From Huffington Post “ In Ontario, at least one in five households fall into this category spending on average 12 per cent of their income on utilities