Energy minister in the dark over number of Ontarians struggling with hydro bills

Click to play video: 'Sky-high hydro bills: Ontario energy minister says there’s no crisis'
Sky-high hydro bills: Ontario energy minister says there’s no crisis
WATCH: Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault agreed to speak with Global News, but he doesn't think the situation in rural Ontario is a crisis. Shirlee Engel reports – Jul 14, 2016

Ontario’s energy minister, Glenn Thibeault, has no idea how many people in Ontario are behind on their electricity bills. The Ontario Energy Board, responsible for setting hydro rates in the province, has no idea either.

In an exclusive interview with Global News, Thibeault admitted he’s not even sure if his ministry collects such data.

“I believe some of them are tracked,” said Thibault, referring to a number of programs meant to assist Ontarians struggling with their hydro bills. However, when pressed to provide information on the exact number of people who receive disconnection notices each year, neither the minister, his office, nor the OEB could reveal any further details. The OEB also confirmed it does not consider the number of actual disconnections when assessing rate increases.

“That’s obviously something I’m going to be looking into,” said Thibeault. “I want to ensure that we make this system as affordable as possible.”

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READ MORE: Rural Ontarians left in the dark as electricity bills skyrocket

Over the past ten years, hydro rates in Ontario have skyrocketed. On average, the price consumers pay for electricity has more than doubled. For rural customers, the majority of which are served by Hydro One, steep delivery chargers and distribution fees have made these increases even more significant – with some households paying in excess of $1,000 a month for hydro.

“While I’m still not using the word crisis,” said Thibeault. “I know it’s important. For one family if it’s a hundred bucks out of their own pocket that’s a crisis for them and I get that.”

EXTENDED: Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault speaks with Global National’s Shirlee Engel after Global News received scores of emails from people coping with sky-high power bills in rural Ontario.

Number of disconnections

According to the OEB, nearly 60,000 residential customers were disconnected from their hydro services in Ontario for non-payment last year – 9,772 of which were Hydro One customers. The OEB claims utility providers reconnect 99 per cent of households within two business days of disconnection. However, closer analysis of the data provided by the OEB shows that for Hydro One, this figure is significantly lower.

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Of the nearly 10,000 disconnections performed by Hydro One last year, only 7,269 were reconnected, or roughly 75 per cent.

Hydro rates a “nightmare” for rural residents

Although Thibeault is not yet ready to call high hydro rates in Ontario a crisis, many families across the province are already struggling with decisions such as whether or not to pay hydro bills or put food on the table.

Jason Ladouceur, who three years ago purchased his dream home just outside of Parry Sound, Ont, says high hydro rates are destroying his family.

“It’s just disrupted our lives. Everything’s all about money now,” said Ladouceur. “About what we can and cannot afford.”

WATCH: Eric Sorensen has the story of what one family struggling to bring their bill down.
Click to play video: 'Sky-high hydro bills: Families struggle to keep up with bills'
Sky-high hydro bills: Families struggle to keep up with bills

Ladouceur says his hydro bills average anywhere between $600 and $800 a month. He and his wife no longer have cell phones. They disconnected their cable a little more than a year ago, and can no longer afford luxuries like eating out or traveling up north to visit friends and family in Sault Ste. Marie.

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”I’ve managed to keep the internet for some form of communication for when we’re at home,” said Ladouceur. “But after we moved in we started getting our hydro bills and they just became overwhelming.”

READ MORE: Sky-high hydro rates an ‘absolute crisis’ for rural Ontario

Ladouceur says the constant stress and struggle to pay bills has taken a huge toll on his relationship. Despite having moved from the main part of their home into the tiny basement downstairs in order to conserve electricity, Ladouceur says he and his wife are essentially on hiatus.

“My biggest fear was my wife,” said Ladouceur, wiping tears from his eyes. “And what she would say about it. And I think the most amazing thing she said to me last fall when this was happening was, ‘Honey, don’t worry about it. We have a woodstove now. At least we’ll be warm.’”

Fearing disconnection, Ladouceur installed a woodstove last fall to ensure his family would at least have heat once cold temperatures arrive. And while they have not yet been disconnected – thanks largely to having drained nearly $10,000 from their son’s education fund to cover their electricity costs – Ladouceur fears it won’t be long before Hydro One is at their doorstep ready to cut them off.

“Upset, frustrated and scared,” said Ladouceur, describing how his hydro bills make him feel. “We’re just constantly paranoid about our electricity bill and power being shut off, and the constant threat from them – from Hydro One.”

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How much of a struggle is it for you to keep a roof over your family’s head because of the high cost of basic necessities and utilities? Are you having to choose between paying bills and putting food on the table? Global News would like to hear your stories. Contact us using the form below.

Note: We may use your response in this or other stories. While we may contact you to follow up we won’t publish your contact info.

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