Calgary

ATCO offer jolts competition into action, but time to save is running out

Atco Energy sent a jolt to its competitors by offering free energy for the month of January 2017. Enmax has been inundated with calls from customers either threatening to leave or demanding a similar deal.

'We've definitely had calls from thousands of people,' says Enmax spokespeson

The deal gives customers a credit for actual electricity and natural gas used based on previous consumption patterns, but customers will still have to pay the monthly fees on their bills. (CBC)

Time is running out for Albertans to take advantage of a "free energy" deal offered by Atco Energy.

For the month of January, the deal will give customers a credit for actual electricity and natural gas used based on previous consumption patterns.

Customers will still have to pay the administration, distribution, transmission and municipal franchise fees that appear on their monthly bills. 

'Thousands of calls'

Enmax spokesperson Doris Kaufmann-Woodcock says the company has been inundated with calls from customers asking about the ATCO deal, and whether the City of Calgary-owned utility will match it.

"As a goodwill gesture, we'd like to be able to match that," said Kaufmann-Woodcock.

Doris Kaufmann-Woodcock, spokesperson for Enmax, says the company is doing its best to match the ATCO deal. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

While ATCO has been heavily promoting its offer, Enmax hasn't said a word to its customers. 

"Quite frankly, because we operate in a competitive market in the province as do all retailers, we also have promotions at play at different times of the year, as do the others," says Kaufmann-Woodcock.

"This is more an opportunity to be responsive to what another retailer is doing and really using it as an opportunity to connect with our customers and retain them."

Customers have said they've received credits worth in excess of $100 for next month, while others are being given credits to match ATCO's lower administration fees. 

But customers have expressed frustration about being able to get through to Enmax — their toll-free line results in a failed call message or a busy tone. It's taking some people between 30-40 minutes to reach a customer service representative.

The pop-up message on the company's chat feature indicates no one is available. 

Enmax's online chat feature is often unavailable because it's 'full' (Exmax.com)

"We have had higher call volumes than usual, we definitely appreciate peoples' patience," says Kaufmann-Woodcock.

In response, Enmax set up a dedicated line for other customers who are moving and need to get through quickly to set up utility connections at their new address.  

No extra staff to handle extra calls 

Enmax has no plans to bring in more employees to handle the extra calls.  

"We have tried our best to manage customer inquiries, while at the same time respecting employees' wishes who have booked additional time off during the holidays," says Kaufmann-Woodcock.

Edmonton-based Epcor, which has 600,000 customers in Alberta, is not matching the ATCO offer. Instead, it's giving customers what it calls an "Energy Saver Starter" kit, which includes three LED light bulbs, an LED night light and a 17-foot roll of weather stripping.  

It's not known what Direct Energy is offering its customers, as the company did not respond to calls or emails. 

Enmax says rebates or credits are not being offered to customers who haven't entered into a contract with an electricity retail supplier and are on the regulated retail option, something that's also called the default rate.

December 31st deadline looms 

ATCO started the promotion last month, but it will end Dec. 31. Enmax says its customer call centre will close at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

The deal will certainly soften the blow for Albertans, who face higher home heating charges starting Jan. 1, when the province's carbon tax kicks in. The levy will add an extra $1.011 per gigajoule to the cost of natural gas.