At the Belly Ice Cream Company in picturesque Huntsville, Ont., business owner Shelley Westgarth is producing less ice cream this winter than she’d like due to rising hydro prices.
“It’s having a reverse effect for us trying to grow the business, we’re actually trying to lay as low as possible,” Westgarth told Global News in an interview.
She said she has chosen to reduce the number of production days this winter in order to keep her hydro bill as low as possible.
Westgarth said Ontario’s hydro price crisis is putting her business at risk.
“The idea of actually shutting down over hydro is insane to me, and I hope it never comes to that,” she said.
Westgarth is not alone in her concerns.
“Members have clearly told us that electricity inputs are very problematic to running businesses in Ontario,” said Allan O’Dette, CEO and president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
O’Dette said business owners have not seen extreme increases in many other key input costs, including labour, but unpredictably high hydro bills are something that can’t be ignored.
“In the case of Shelley, you have to keep that ice cream frozen, you don’t have a choice,” said O’Dette.
Making matters worse for Westgarth was a keystroke error when she paid a bill last year. Instead of remitting the full amount, she said she incorrectly came up 31 cents short. That error, which led to a bill that wasn’t fully paid, triggered a response by her power provider Hydro One.
“We never had any issues, we had never been cut off,” said Westgarth, who said Hydro One then charged her a $1,600 security deposit in addition to her bill for the month.
“So that month, we had a $3,000 bill,” she said, adding it took months for her to convince Hydro One to remove the security deposit.
The Ontario government has promised some relief for hydro customers but details have still not been announced.