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Emergency funding to prevent hydro disconnection in Ontario jumps 50% in one year

The number of hydro customers receiving funding through the Ontario’s LEAP program nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015, the province says.
The number of hydro customers receiving funding through the Ontario’s LEAP program nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015, the province says. Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story indicated data was released late Wednesday.

The number of Ontarians that received emergency funding to prevent disconnection from their electricity services jumped by more than 50 per cent in a single year, according to the province’s energy regulator.

Data released late Thursday by the Ontario Energy Board shows the number of customers who received funding through the province’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, or LEAP, jumped from 9,656 in 2014 to nearly 14,500 in 2015. That’s an annual increase of 50.1 per cent, compared to a rise of just 3.9 per cent a year earlier.

Lars Hansen, a spokesperson for the OEB, says the steep increase was due primarily to the fact that $2.2 million in additional funding was made available through LEAP in 2015 – an increase of roughly 40 per cent over the previous year.

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READ MORE: Ontario in talks to buy more power from Quebec

LEAP provides up to $500 in emergency relief to low-income families that receive a disconnection notice from their local distribution company.  These funds are not provided by the government, but are instead collected from ratepayers.

Announced last week by Premier Kathleen Wynne, the government’s Fair Hydro Plan proposes shifting this responsibility to taxpayers instead.

WATCH: Premier Kathleen Wynne announces Fair Hydro Plan

Alan Carter speaks one-on-one with Kathleen Wynne about hydro rate reductions
Alan Carter speaks one-on-one with Kathleen Wynne about hydro rate reductions

 

The program also grants customers who receive a disconnection notice an additional 21-day grace period to allow them to set up payment arrangements with their local utility.

Reported in April 2016, it took the OEB nearly 10-and-a-half months to complete their analysis.

Hansen says timing of the release was consistent with the publication of other materials released by the OEB. He also says time is required to “conduct a responsible review and analysis of the data.”

READ MORE: Ontario to slash hydro bills by up to 25 per cent

“The OEB’s priority must be our current and forward-looking work to protect consumers,” Hansen said. “For example, the recent ban on winter disconnections and facilitating enrolment in programs like the OESP that provide ongoing benefits to low-income customers.”

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In 2015, the average LEAP grant to hydro customers was $381. That’s roughly $40 less than the average grant of $418 handed out in 2014.

In total, 42 of 73 local distribution companies in the province exhausted all available LEAP funding.  However, at the end of the year, there was roughly $1.3 million remaining in LEAP funds that other companies had left unspent.

According to the OEB, these funds were carried forward to 2016.