November 28, 2016 6:20 pm
Updated: November 28, 2016 9:24 pm

Ontario community sees 25% rise in Hydro One customers seeking financial help

A Hydro One sign in Oshawa, Ont., April 12, 2015.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen C. Host
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The number of households in need of financial assistance due to rising hydro costs is increasing dramatically year over year in one southern Ontario community, with critics saying it’s a “canary in the coal mine” signalling a worsening trend throughout the province.

New statistics from the United Way of Bruce Grey showed a 27 per cent increase in the number of households seeking financial support from Hydro One, rising from 262 households in 2015 to 333 this year.

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The total financial assistance needs of those households in Bruce and Grey Counties grew 26 per cent from $260,000 last year to more than $325,000 this year, according to the United Way, with only about $30,000 funds granted out of more than $65,000 needed. Those numbers don’t include social services in specific counties and other agencies that provide utility assistance.

READ MORE: Ontario considers offering electricity consumers new, more flexible rate plans

Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey County and an outspoken critic of the province’s energy policy, said the problem doesn’t always lie with consumers but instead with the way hydro is delivered in the province.

“Conservation is not the answer, it’s such a small part. Your actual consumption is such a small part,” she said.

“People are making decisions around Christmas lights and all those kinds of things. Are you going to do Christmas lights? Heat or eat is that new phraseology. It’s just amazing what people are going through.”

WATCH: ‘It ruined me’: High hydro rates force elderly Ontario couple to move

Dobbyn said she’s heard from consumers who have been forced to move to find a more affordable way of life because they “can’t escape” their utility bills.

“I think we’re the canary in the coal mine. It’s the reality here. We are in southern Ontario, we’re not northern Ontario,  so we don’t have those deep cold winter temperatures,” she said.

“Certainly we’re seeing people in urban centres struggling, those with low income are struggling with the increase of [rates].”

The changing temperature also isn’t having as big of an effect on consumers as some might think, as the data also showed there has been a 60 per cent drop in Union Gas applications.

READ MORE: ‘It ruined me’: Ontario fixed income seniors forced to move due to sky high hydro rates

Those dropped from 41 applications for $23,000 in assistance in the second half of 2015 to 17 applications for $9,000 this year.

“That means we can take weather as a cause out and say this is not caused by weather,” she said.

“That’s what it tells us. It’s definitely electricity. It’s definitely that challenge and I think this is across the province. We’ve seen the stories coming out of Kingston that Global’s able to tell and they’re typical across Ontario.”

WATCH: Hydro One announces moratorium on disconnecting delinquent customers. Mike Drolet reports.

Hydro One told Global News in an emailed statement Monday that a winter moratorium on power disconnections went into place on Friday, a week earlier than scheduled. The statement said the move was due to a review of the organization’s customer policies.

READ MORE: Exclusive: Shutting down Ontario nuclear plants, buying Quebec hydro is path to cheaper electricity

Dobbyn has been an outspoken critic of hydro disconnections and stressed a moratorium on service cancellations should be put in place — something Ontario Energy Critic and Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns echoed as well.

“This past summer, the Minister of Energy refused to call energy poverty a crisis, even though 60,000 Ontario families have had their hydro cut off. We can expect the number of disconnections to soar next spring, when Hydro One will resume cutting off families who can’t pay their bills,” he said during question period in the Ontario Legislature Monday.

“The premier has finally acknowledged that soaring hydro prices are a ‘mistake,’ but the minister refuses to do anything to correct that mistake.”

READ MORE: Hydro One leaves family of 6 without electricity for months

Tabuns said Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault “won’t halt the sale of Hydro One even though we know that privatization is going to drive prices up even further.”

“He won’t direct the Ontario Energy Board to put the interests of consumers ahead of the private investors who will benefit from that privatization,” added Tabuns.

“Will he at least agree to a moratorium on hydro disconnections?”

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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