British Columbia

BC Hydro's COVID-19 relief fund should benefit all residents, says homeowner who doesn't meet criteria

The utility says it is considering changing to criteria for the fund, which is currently restricted to customers who use on average less than 2,500 kWh per month.

Pemberton woman says single-family homeowners are at a disadvantage because of kWh limit

File photo: Houses after a snowfall in Coquitlam, B.C., on Jan. 13, 2020. A Pemberton woman says BC Hydro's COVID-19 relief program is unfair to single-family home owners, particularly during winter in a place where natural gas isn't an option. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Clare Riley was hoping the BC Hydro COVID-19 residential relief fund could help ease some of the money pain she's been feeling since the pandemic forced her to shutter her home-staging business. 

The Pemberton, B.C., woman says the sudden drop in income means her family of four is now struggling to make ends meet.

"We are treading water," she said. "A little bit of help in this time would help a lot."

So it came as a bit of a shock when her application to the utility's program was denied because her household uses more than 2,500 kilowatt hours per month of electricity.

The limit, Riley feels, is unfair.

"The frustrating part for us is why are the people with apartments and condos being given this subsidy and the rest of us who have families are not?" she said.

Riley's last hydro bill amounted to $1,040 for 7,400 kWh used over the two-month billing period. That's what it takes, she says, to heat and run a large three-storey home during winter in a place where natural gas isn't an option.

BC Hydro considering changes

BC Hydro's relief program offers three months of credit if you or your spouse have been forced to stop working because of the COVID-19 pandemic and if your average monthly electricity consumption does not exceed 2,500 kWh. The money distributed does not need to be repaid.

Hydro spokesperson Tanya Fish said the utility is discussing changing the criteria.

"We are looking at options and whether we need to adjust that 2,500 threshold to meet these customers' needs, to ensure those who need the help can get it," she said.

Fish says residential customers in B.C. use on average 900 kWh per month and only two per cent of customers exceed 2,500 kWh per month.

"It's those who live in large homes, multi-generational homes, homes that are largely electrically heated or homes with high consuming appliances or some extras like a hot tub, pool, heated driveway — those sorts of things," she said.

Riley says she doesn't know of any single-family homeowner in Pemberton who has been approved for the subsidy and believes BC Hydro should offer a break to every residential customer. 

"What we're asking is that everyone be equal," she said. "Maybe have a cap, a maximum amount that each family can be gifted."

BC Hydro has received more than 110,000 applications for the program but Fish couldn't say how many have been rejected.

The program is taking applications until June 30. Fish says if BC Hydro does decide to change the eligibility criteria, people will still have time to re-apply.

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