Islanders hit by pandemic gradually taking up power bill deferral offer

A new deferral program brought in by Maritime Electric seeks to help Islanders who are negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and struggling to pay their bills as a result.

About 120 Maritime Electric customers have signed up so far

Islanders struggling to pay their power bills can avail of a new Maritime Electric program that will allow them to defer bill payments to September, to be paid back over 12 months. (Andrey Popov/Shutterstock)

A new deferral program brought in by Maritime Electric seeks to help Islanders who are negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and struggling to pay their bills as a result.

The new COVID-19 Customer Support program allows approved customers to defer their bill payments for June, July and August, with the money owed to be paid back interest-free over a 12-month period, starting in September.

"There's so much uncertainty right now, we really don't know from one month to the next what's gonna happen ahead of us," says Jason Roberts, incoming CEO of Maritime Electric.

To date, 120 customers have signed onto the program, out of Maritime Electric's nearly 83,000 customers.

Jason Roberts has been with Maritime Electric for 20 years, and as of Aug. 1, is stepping into the role of CEO for the utility. (Submitted by Jason Roberts)

"Islanders they really take responsibility, I think, for the services that they receive and a lot of times they try and work through it themselves, and really with this program we just want them to know that we're here in case they are struggling a little bit more than sometimes they're used to," Roberts said.

Roberts said the utility expects more people to avail of the program, after a bill insert went out last month.

"If you, let's say, lost your job or had reduced hours, or if you're a small business and you've had to modify your mode of operation, or if unfortunately you've had to close for the season," he said.

"So it's really just about demonstrating on good faith that you have been impacted by the pandemic."

With more people than ever working from home, Roberts said there has been a shift in where the power supply is going; power use has remained about the same, but less is being used by commercial customers, with power use increasing between 10 and 15 per cent for residential customers.

"It's been a bit of a rebalancing, so to speak," he said.

Roberts said there is still so much uncertainty over what the next few months will look like on P.E.I., as the economy gradually reopens and health officials continue to modify recommendations around the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"If there are customers out there that haven't reached out to us yet and they are struggling, we're here for them and we certainly would love to talk to them, give them some background on the program, and if it suits them, we would be more than happy to have them join the program and help them through this uncertain time."

If in September things are still uncertain, Roberts said Maritime Electric may extend the deferral program, but with so many shifting scenarios, it's hard to say this far in advance.

"I think we'd have to look at it at that time," he said. "It really depends on the situation."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Laura Chapin


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