In a dramatic shift in policy, Hydro One – Ontario’s largest utility provider – is planning to reconnect more than 1,400 customers living without electricity.
The move comes after a Global News investigation into rising electricity costs across Ontario.
In a statement obtained by Global News, Hydro One’s executive vice president of customer care, Ferio Pugliese, said the company is reaching out to some 1,400 customers without power to arrange reconnection for the remainder of the winter and to set up payment plans customers can “afford.”
“This program is about doing the right thing for our customers,” Pugliese said.
“We are changing the way we do business and by doing so we are reviewing all of our customer-facing policies and practices, including how we care for our most vulnerable customers.”
In addition to working with customers to ensure payment plans are both flexible and manageable, Pugliese says Hydro One has authorized front-line customer service operators to make decisions and take immediate action to assist customers with reconnection.
In 2015, Hydro One disconnected nearly 10,000 residential customers from their electricity services, roughly one per cent of their total customer base. At present, 1,425 Hydro One customers are living without power.
Last year, utility providers across Ontario disconnected roughly 60,000 customers. And while the vast majority – upward of 95 per cent – of customers are reconnected within two business days, the skyrocketing cost of energy has left hundreds of thousands of families in the province incapable of paying their bills.
The Hydro One Winter Relief Program, which launches Wednesday, will not include debt forgiveness, says Pugliese, but will help customers by relaxing certain rules and policies surrounding reconnection.
“Forgiving debt is not something we’re in a position to do,” said Pugliese.
“We need to be fair to all customers … to ensure that we don’t have a rate-base of customers that are actually paying – that are offsetting – for those that are not.”
As a part of the program, Hydro One says it will waive reconnection fees and electrical safety inspection charges for customers currently without power – a move Pugliese says will save customers hundreds of dollars.
The company says it will also monitor those it reconnects to ensure they remain up-to-date on their bills and to direct them toward additional assistance programs if needed.
Pugliese says this shift in policy is a recognition by Hydro One needs greater reasonableness and flexibility in the way utility providers interact with customers.
WATCH: Disconnected Hydro One customers to have electricity by Christmas. Mike Drolet reports.
“Nothing would give us obviously more pleasure than to see these customers that are disconnected be in a position where they could remain connected for a long period of time,” Pugliese said.
While Pugliese stopped short of saying there’s a moral imperative for utility providers to keep customers connected to their electricity services, he acknowledged that companies such as Hydro One need to do better at assessing customers’ needs and exercising greater caution before performing disconnections.
“We think over the course of the next five to seven days we should have them all reconnected,” said Pugliese. “It’s going to be based on us reaching people, making contact with them, and them making contact with us.”
Hydro One customers currently without power can reach out to the Hydro One Winter Relief Program by contacting the company’s customer communications centre at 1-888-664-9376 or by visiting the company’s website.