Sudbury

Province-wide winter hydro disconnection moratorium leave utilities in 'cash flow pickle'

For the next five and a half months, not paying your hydro bill won't result in your electricity getting cut off.

This is the second winter utilities are banned from cutting off electricity to customers who don't pay

From Nov. 15 to April 30, Ontario hydro utilities are forbidden from disconnecting customers who don't pay their bills. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

As of today, it's illegal for an electricity company to cut off your power if you don't pay your bill. 

This is the second year of the province's winter hydro disconnection moratorium, which goes from Nov. 15 to April 30.

Wendy Watson, director of communications for Greater Sudbury Utilities says when the moratorium ended last spring unpaid bills totalled $400,000.

But as people paid their bills over the summer to get their electricity turned back on, that number has now dropped to $150,000 as the moratorium takes effect again.

"And with the moratorium we know that is going to go up again, possibly triple. The only leverage that we have in order to collect bills is the threat of disconnection," says Watson.

Wendy Watson is the director of communications for Sudbury Hydro. (Sophie Houle-Drapeau/Radio-Canada)

She says that only about 16 per cent of each hydro bill stays with the local utility and that during the winter months it's sometimes tough for hydro distributors to pay the remaining 84 per cent to the companies that generate the power in the first place.

"We are not the only distribution company that ends up in a cash flow pickle because of this," says Watson.

Unpaid bills could lead to rate hikes

After the first year of the moratorium, a similar pattern has been noticed at PUC services in Sault Ste. Marie.

"There are a growing number of people that have trouble paying their bills, so the amount of bad debt we carry grows throughout the winter and there's kind of a catch-up in the spring," says Giordan Zin, PUC's manager of customer engagement and corporate communications.

Zin says that bad debt from years of unpaid hydro bills will eventually have to be covered by people who do pay their bills, which could force utilities to raise electricity rates, and ironically make it even harder for people with low income to pay for power. 

Watson says Greater Sudbury Utilities currently is owed $100,000 from accounts that are now closed, meaning those cases are being turned over to a collection agency, but other customers may have to eventually cover that debt. 

Both Watson and Zin point out that there are lots of places to turn if you do need help paying your electricity bill including the Ontario Electricity Support Program and the Affordability Fund.

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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