It’s a nightmare scenario. Your power is cut off in the middle of winter because you can’t afford to pay your electricity bill. And where you live in Ontario plays a big part in whether this nightmare could happen to you.
That’s because there is no province-wide regulation stopping companies from pulling the plug on customers who fail to pay their bills – regardless of how cold it gets.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government introduced legislation last June that will give the Ontario Energy Board the power to prevent winter disconnections. But seven months later, the legislation still hasn’t passed.
The result is a patchwork of winter disconnect policies across the province. Ontario’s largest electricity provider, Hydro One, doesn’t disconnect customers during the winter – in fact, they’re now reconnecting customers following a Global News report that revealed inconsistencies in the way the company handled its clients. But many other companies have not followed Hydro One’s lead.
A patchwork of policies
The disconnection policies of the roughly 70 utility providers in Ontario can be described as a hodgepodge. In some cases, companies will only disconnect a customer when temperatures are above zero. In other cases, companies will reconnect customers when the temperature drops below freezing.
Some companies rely on load limiters during the winter – a device that restricts the flow of electricity to a home – while others choose to shut off all power to a home completely.
WATCH: Late power bill payment could get you disconnected, even in winter. Sean O’Shea reports. (Feb. 7)
As part of its ongoing investigation into rising energy costs in Ontario, Global News reached out to every local utility provider in the province. We asked companies to provide detailed information on their winter disconnection policies and whether these policies were being reviewed in light of Hydro One’s decision to reconnect more than 1,400 customers this winter.
Of the 40 companies that responded, 22 confirmed their policies permit winter disconnections, though most said they prefer to use load limiters to deal with customers who can’t pay their bills.
Companies that disconnect during the winter
- Brantford Power – will disconnect during the winter, but did not send disconnection notices in Dec. 2016. Says disconnection is a last resort.
- Espanola Regional Hydro – disconnects in winter, but not if temperature falls below -10 C or over the holidays.
- ENWIN – disconnects in winter, but not if temperatures expected to fall below freezing for two consecutive days.
- Fortis Ontario – uses load limiters for seven business days. If payment isn’t negotiated in that timeframe,customers can be disconnected.
- Greater Sudbury Hydro – will disconnect customers unless temperatures are expected to fall below -20°C.
- Grimsby Power – will disconnect, but only as a last resort. Says only 0.01 per cent of customers disconnected.
- Hearst Power – will disconnect, but prefers to install load limiters.
- Horizon Utilities – will disconnect, but prefers to use load limiters, particularly when customer uses electric heat.
- Kingston Hydro – will disconnect as last resort. Decision made after extensive review.
- Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro – disconnections are only performed as a last resort and reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
- Lakefront Utilities Inc. – will disconnect, but prefers to use load limiters unless in multi-unit buildings where not possible.
- Niagara Peninsula Energy – considers personal circumstances, weather and customer payment history.
- Niagara-On-The-Lake Hydro – will disconnect, but not if overdue balance is less than $200.
- Oshawa Power & Utilities – will disconnect, but uses load limiters for customers with electric heat.
- Peterborough Utilities Group – will disconnect, but says 99 per cent of customers are reconnected the same day.
- PUC Distribution Inc. – same policies as Espanola. Disconnects in winter, but not if below -10 C or over the holidays.
- Rideau-St. Lawrence Distribution – will disconnect, but currently has no customers without power.
- Wasaga Distribution Inc. – will disconnect, but has no customers without power.
- Waterloo North – considers factors such as weather and reviews files on a case-by-case basis.
- Wellington North Power – will disconnect, but currently has no customers without power.
- Westario Power – will disconnect in the winter as a last resort and uses load limiters.
- West Coast Huron Energy – will disconnect, but not when temperature falls below 0 C.
The remaining eighteen companies that responded say they do not perform winter disconnects. Instead, these companies rely exclusively on load-limiters, which still present challenges for rural customers – particularly those who rely on electric heat and use pumps to pull drinking water from a well.
Of the 40 companies that responded to our request for information, only one, Enersource Hydro based out of Mississauga, Ont., said their disconnection policy requires customers without power be reconnected during the winter.
Meanwhile, Greater Sudbury Hydro, which provides electricity to Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault’s home riding, said its policy allows for winter cut offs until the temperature is expected to reach -20 C or colder.
WATCH: Rising energy costs threaten to close Ontario curling clubs
The company doesn’t specify whether customers whose power is cut off at -19 C will have their lights switched back on when temperatures drop below the -20 C mark, but it did say the company routinely works with customers to avoid disconnections and provide information on government assistance programs – such as the Low-income Energy Assistance Program and the Ontario Electricity Support Program.
“Disconnection is the only leverage we have to collect for electricity already delivered,” Greater Sudbury Hydro told Global News in a written statement. “When we have to write off bad debts the ratepayers who do pay their bills end up with higher rates.”
WATCH: Brantford Power under investigation by the Ontario Energy Board