Cottage owners in Ontario, who are classified as seasonal customers with Hydro One, will be seeing a change in their billing since the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) decided to do away with their special status.
Tony Lepine has owned a cottage on Kennisis Lake in Haliburton Highlands, Ont., for the last 18 years.
He says it costs him about $100 during the winter for his hydro bill while he’s not there — most of that is the delivery charge, which is the charge by a distribution company for getting the power to homes and cottages.
“That’s three months of usage. I have a bill from last December — it’s $191 for the three months before that,” he said. “In March 2020, it was $129. Again for the three winter months. Most of it is delivery with only 4 cents of usage.”
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Lepine and 154,000 or so cottagers in Ontario are classified as seasonal hydro customers with Hydro One.
But that classification is going away.
The OEB has upheld its 2015 directive to Hydro One to eliminate the seasonal classification and move those customers to either low-density or medium-density billing.
“Absolutely we’re disappointed with the decision of the OEB to eliminate the seasonal rate class of our customers. We’ve been advocating for five years for a different solution, but we’re certainly disappointed,” said Imran Merali, vice-president of customer service at Hydro One.
The Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Association (FOCA) estimates 84,000 of the seasonal customers will see an increase of upwards of $1,000/year for hydro, while 70,000 will be classed as medium-density and may actually see a minor decrease in bills.
“Our concerns remain, this will impact a lot of people in a significant way. We objected to the decision in the first place and made our concerns known to the OEB. They came back that they want to be consistent rather than fair to their customers,” said Terry Rees, FOCA executive director. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”
“Internally we’re looking at how to implement the recommendations of the OEB, while ensuring we continue to advocate for our customers and minimize any rate impacts for our customers,” Merali said. “Nothing is going to happen immediately. There are no changes to bills immediately. There is a process that’s ongoing. Any increases will be spread out over time.”
“I’m not happy, obviously. I’m not sure the rationale by the OEB to tell Hydro One to get rid of seasonal rates,” Lepine said. “By the reading I’ve done, my bill will go up by $60-70/month, every month, regardless if I’m there or not. In a year, that’s $720/year — that’s a lot of money.”
Lepine says he will still use his cottage, but he’s considering going ‘off-grid’, but notes that’s costly as well.
“Sadly I’m retired and there’s no way my pension will increase that much. I’m lucky to get 2 per cent/year. This is a significant increase.”
In July 2019, Hydro One confirmed the OEB directive in an email to Global News.
“By eliminating the seasonal rate class, approximately 54% of our seasonal customers could see a significant increase to their bills,” the email stated.
The email went on to say an updated report would be submitted to pitch another option for seasonal customers that will reflect the 2018-22 distribution rates and consider the transition to an all-fixed distribution rate.
“We haven’t re-run the numbers, but yes it would be in the same proportions as last year,” added Merali. “There has been a process underway to move to a fixed distribution rate for all rate classes. That process will continue irrespective to the elimination of the seasonal rate class.”
Hydro One will update that report in October.
“It’s a difficult time for everybody. People are going to be asked to pay more for the same service. That’s going to be hard for people’s budgets,” Rees said.
Rees said Hydro One pitched the fixed distribution rate to the OEB, but the board decided to remove the seasonal class to be consistent with other jurisdictions.
“Hydro One has been very sympathetic. They’ve tried to manage the changes with the OEB and recommend things, but it didn’t catch the OEB’s ear and here we are,” he said.
Global News Peterborough has emailed the OEB for comment on this story.