Nova Scotia

Charities swamped with power bill requests

Nova Scotians behind on their power payments are flocking to charities for help.
Mel Boutilier, with the Parker Street Food Bank, helps clients negotiate payment plans with Nova Scotia Power. (CBC)

Nova Scotians behind on their power payments are flocking to charities for help.

Adrienne Anthony, a student and mother of two, owes Nova Scotia Power $2,800. She turned to the Parker Street Food Bank to help negotiate a payment.

"My boyfriend, he lost his job for a little while. That's when we got really backed up and had to choose between power or rent," Anthony told CBC News.

Mel Boutilier, executive director of Parker Street, has heard from many people like Anthony since power rates went up  nearly six per cent in January. In fact, he's had to turn people away.

Mohammed Karbasi, an unemployed engineer, said he used up his savings since his family moved to Canada. His six-month bill to heat his three-bedroom house is $2,300.

"I need more time, but I can't afford to pay my bills. What should I do?" Karbasi said.

Anthony said there aren't many options. She tried to get money through the Salvation Army's Good Neighbour Energy Fund, but that program ends at the end of April. She didn't qualify for help from the Department of Community Services because she's a student.

The Brunswick Street Mission is also reporting a rise in the number of low-income people asking for donations to pay off their arrears.

"This spring we're getting so many requests we can't even see each person looking for people anymore," said Sandra Nicholas, with the Halifax charity. "The far majority of them seem to be already at the stage where their power is cut off."

Boutilier said if electricity rates go up again, Nova Scotia Power will have to react.

"They should come up with a policy to help because if they don't, there are going to be people on the street," he said.

Nova Scotia Power says it does everything it can to avoid disconnecting customers in the winter. A spokesman would not say how many people are behind on their power bills, though he says there are no more than this time last year.

Anthony is thankful for Boutilier's help. She now has a deal with Nova Scotia Power to pay $1,000 right away and work out a payment plan for the rest.