Complaints about electricity bills are still coming into the offices of Thunder Bay-area politicians.
Some residents, frustrated with the response they've received from Hydro One over the telephone, are now getting a chance to meet face-to-face with representatives from the utility company.
Cathy Lewis, who lives in a rural home outside the city, said she was shocked to find her electricity rate more than doubled over the past 3½ years. She said a meeting yesterday with a Hydro One representative at Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle's constituency office was welcome, but didn't provide much satisfaction.
“When you [phone] them to complain ... you can't even get a call back. All you get is rudeness and the threat that your [electricity] will be cut off if you don't pay your bill. I've just met with the woman here from Hydro one, who tried to tell me that it’s my own fault basically,” Lewis said.
"I wanted to find out how an organization can just keep raising our rates with no accountability, because if anybody else was in business, they wouldn't have any customers left. But Hydro, they don't have to worry about that, because we have nowhere to go"
Gravelle said the volume of complaints to his office led him to set up the meetings for his constituents and Hydro One at his office. He said he’s spoken with the company about the possibility of holding meetings in some rural communities as well.
“They are willing to come back and, if the volume is enough, I may be asking them to go out to the communities themselves,” he said.
Cold winter, billing issues
Hydro One reports this year’s extremely cold winter is largely to blame for higher electricity bills right across Ontario.
According to Nancy Shaddick, a communications officer with Hydro One, "It's been one of the coldest winters in 20 years and, as a result, a lot of our customers are feeling that on their electricity bills. We're seeing some bills that are 20 to 30 per cent higher than they were the previous winter."
Shaddick noted Hydro sent a customer relations specialist to Thunder Bay on Wednesday to provide information about "how customers can understand their bill and how they can understand their electricity usage, and tools they can use to arm themselves to decrease that amount ... Baseboard heating in particular can have a significant impact on the electricity bill" in a cold winter.
Further exacerbating the situation is the fall-out from Hydro One’s transition to a new customer information system that has resulted in billing issues for about five per cent of customers, she said.
"We're also talking about how customers can get information from us when they have issues, where to give us a call in order to talk about their issues or any questions that they have about their bills.”
Lewis said she went into the meeting without much hope, and some of her questions remained unanswered.
“[I wanted to know] when is the debt retirement charge gonna be over, because we've been paying it for years. Four years ago on my bill it was $2.85. On my last bill it was over $88. That's a huge amount of money,” she said.
"I want someone to explain to me what the regulatory charge is, because it's another big charge on my bill, which she wasn't able to do. A lot of people will not come [to these meetings] because they think it's hopeless talking to Hydro One. They think it's a waste of time.”