Some northerners feel 'held hostage' by electric heat

Many northerners are struggling with the rising price of electricity, but perhaps no one more than those who heat with hydro. But changing furnaces is often not as easy as flipping a switch.

Sudbury Hydro estimates that about 16,000 of its customers heat with electricity

With rising electricity rates, many northerners try to avoid heating with hydro or supplement with another type of heat. (CBC)

Jayne Griffith feels like her hydro bill is holding her hostage.

She keeps her home in Wawa at 14 degrees at night, 18 during the day. She only washes clothes or cooks in the evenings. She looks forward to long weekends because she gets a low rate for three days in a row.

The retired librarian says her monthly hydro bill still runs over $300 on equal billing, which is more than when her three kids were at home.

"This hydro thing, it drives me out of my mind. It's on my mind all day long," says Griffith.

They don't have natural gas in Wawa and Griffith says she can't save for a new propane or oil furnace because her hydro bills are becoming too much.

Lisa Barnett of Lively turned down her electric baseboards and installed a pellet stove a few years ago.

"We were just watching the cost slowly rise over time and we started to look for alternatives," she says.

Greater Sudbury Hydro wants to help customers who heat with electric baseboards find ways to keep their bill down and the temperature in their homes up. (Erik White/CBC )

Greater Sudbury Hydro wants to hear from people who heat with hydro.

Communications director Wendy Watson says under a new pilot program, Sudbury Hydro will come and do an energy assessment of your home, provide new thermostats and suggest ways to keep more of that electric heat from leaking out doors and windows.

Watson says while most Sudburians have access to natural gas, buying a furnace and installing new duct work is not in everyone's budget, especially with the cost of fossil fuels on the rise with cap and trade.

"The whole system has to be put in and that can be expensive for people in the up front. So they have to do an analysis really: 'What's my return on investment?'" says Watson.

Watson says based on usage rates, Greater Sudbury Hydro estimates that about 38 per cent or 16,000 of its customers heat their homes with electricity.

Energy conservation coordinator Weston Sagle says despite its reputation, electric heat isn't all bad.

"I believe electric heat has some advantages. It can be 100 per cent renewal. And you can never achieve that using fossil fuels," says Sagle.

Sagle says after decades of no technological improvements, some companies are starting to manufacture more efficient electric baseboards.

And he says carbon pricing might prompt engineers to find new ways to make hydro a better and cheaper way to heat your home.


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