Keeping costs down and lights on in Peterborough amid the COVID-19 pandemic

A compact fluorescent lightbulb is shown in a file photo.
A compact fluorescent lightbulb is shown in a file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Donald King

If you’re hoping Peterborough Utilities Group will chop its electricity rates to make things a little more affordable for those in isolation or social distancing due to coronavirus, the short answer is: maybe.

Peterborough Utilities has no control over electricity rates, explains David Whitehouse, vice-president of customer and corporate services for the utility commission.

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Over the past week, the Peterborough electric company has been inundated with calls, requests and tweets asking if rates can be lowered to off-peak hours.

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But it’s something they simply cannot do, Whitehouse explains.

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In a nutshell, the company takes 24 readings a day and gets the cost information based on rates set by the energy board, he says. All rates are pre-determined and set according to the time of day. Setting a different rate themselves, Whitehouse says, would be contrary to PUG’s licensing agreement.

“We just can’t arbitrarily change the rates,” he says. “It would be just like us arbitrarily increasing the rate. No one would be happy about that.”

But Whitehouse says PUG is well aware of the concerns residents are raising about increased energy costs, particularly when more people are home during peak hours.

He says PUG, along with several other utility companies, has asked the Minister of Energy and the Energy Board to consider lowering rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It shouldn’t be hard for them to be able to do it,” Whitehouse said.

He says there is a system in place that sets off-peak rates — what it costs to keep the lights on — on Saturdays and Sundays, for example. Whitehouse believes it’s just a matter of resetting the system to keep those rates in place throughout the week.

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The Ontario Energy Board has listened to PUG’s concerns, Whitehouse says, and a response is pending.

Whitehouse says PUG knows there are some customers who are worried about paying their bills due to work or job loss because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The company has halted all water shutoffs, he says, and has suspended electricity shut-offs for non-payment until May 1.

There are programs available to help those struggling to pay their bills. Whitehouse says there’s also a fund available through the Housing Resource Centre that provides assistance for electric and water bills.

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In the meantime, residents can take a few steps to cut down on energy consumption, to help lower their bills.

“Phantom power is a huge thing that consumes a lot of energy,” he says.

“Phantom power” refers to appliances and gadgets that are plugged into sockets, but aren’t switched on.

“If there’s anything that you’re not using, anything that’s not important. Simply unplug it, and then when you need it, plug it back in.”

Residents can also do laundry during off-peak hours to keep bills down, he adds, and turning the lights off when you don’t need them can make a huge difference.

The customer service centre at the utility’s Ashburnham Road site is closed, Whitehouse says, but employees are working from home. Anyone who needs to call customer service can reach Peterborough Utilities at 1-888-841-3372.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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