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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

OEB Bans Winter Power Disconnects

Regional | by Matt Hermiz  

Decision met with praise by United Way of Bruce Grey

A move by the Ontario Energy Board to ban electricity distributors from turning off the power at homes during the winter months because of unpaid bills is being praised by the United Way of Bruce Grey.

Francesca Dobbyn tells Bayshore Broadcasting News this decision ensures vulnerable, low income homes will no longer have to worry about losing basic needs such as heat during Canada's cold winters.

"This is incredibly important to us," Dobbyn says. "It's a decision we've been working towards for 10 years."

The OEB issued a decision Nov. 2 announcing the ban on electricity distributors from disconnecting, or even threatening to disconnect, homes for non-payment between Nov. 15-April 30 every year.

The ruling also requires home currently disconnected for not paying bills to be reconnected without charge.

Dobbyn says this will have an immediate local impact for those in low income situations. Dobbyn says some companies, such as Hydro One, have had policies in place to not disconnect customers during winter since the Protecting Vulnerable Energy Consumers Act was first enacted in February 2017.

But, Westario Power had no such policies in place and continued disconnections. Dobbyn says the company had a $25,000 fund each year to assist customers with low income. However, that would usually only last until about March.

"Now, when the funding that Westario provides for their customers, when it runs out, it doesn't mean that customers will then get disconnected," Dobbyn says.

The OEB decision also banned the use of load control devices on homes during winter and also forced distributors to remove existing ones free of charge. Further, distributors are no longer allowed to ask residential customers to pay additional account collection fees during the disconnection ban -- although late payment fees can continue to be charged.

"The reduction in fees over the winter so if people do get behind, they don't get charged interest," Dobbyn explains. "That's really important ... because they're low income. If they could have paid it, they would have paid it. Why pile on more?"

Dobbyn adds, this OEB decision does not mean hydro customers can stop paying their bills.

"You absolutely, positively still need to pay your bill. As much as you can, " she says. "But, it means you won't have to worry and no one of going to threaten to cut you off in winter."

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