The lights go out on Ontario's provincewide energy rebate Dec. 31 — and fewer than seven per cent of the eligible low-income households have applied for the discount program intended to replace it, CBC News has learned.

About 500,000 homes qualify for the incoming Ontario Electricity Support Program, all of which could see a monthly credit of between $30 and $75 depending on the size of the family and the household income, according to figures from the Ministry of Energy.

Homes that rely on electric heat or where someone uses power for a medical device would also see a larger rebate.

Families of seven, for example, making between $48,000 to $52,000 a year could qualify for a $540 annual credit if they use electric heat. A family in the same situation making less than $28,000, would get back $900 under the program.

The cost of a customer's previous electricity bills is not part of the qualifying criteria, an Energy Ministry spokeswoman said.

Expect 6 to 8 weeks for processing

The province started accepting applications for the new rebate in early November. But as of Dec. 1 only about 34,000 forms have come in, Jordan Owens said in an email.

It takes roughly six to eight weeks to process an application, Owens said. That means that those who have waited to apply could miss out on the first month — or more — of the rebate.

For those relying on electric heat, January and February are among the most expensive months of the year.

The benefit will not be retroactive, Owens told CBC News

"Most people receive their January bills in February, and the OEB will be making their best efforts to ensure that as many eligible people as possible receive the benefit in a timely fashion," she said.

Most homes to see higher bills

The province has enlisted social service groups and constituency offices to help those wanting to file applications. Owens said the board has also advertised the rebate on public transit and other billboards.

Meanwhile, energy customers with an annual household income of more than $52,000 will see their power bills rise following Jan. 1.

The outgoing clean energy benefit saved households an average of $17 a month, the Canadian Press reported in March. It knocked off 10 per cent of every residential power bill.

The silver lining? The cost of paying off the old nuclear programs will no longer be added to power bills, saving consumers about $5.60 a month, according to the Canadian Press.