Don't cut power over unpaid bills in winter, Ontario energy minister asks utilities

Sudbury's local power distribution company says it's complying with a request by Ontario's energy minister to not cut off the power during the winter months to customers who don't pay their bills.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault sent letter to power utilities asking them to adopt the practice

Customers of Greater Sudbury Utilities won't get their power disconnected during the winter months for unpaid bills, the company said. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

Ontario's energy minister has asked hydro utility companies in the province to voluntarily stop disconnecting customers who haven't paid their bills.

There is currently no provincial legislation in place to prevent companies from doing winter disconnections.

Sudbury's local power distribution company, which previously cut-off power to delinquent accounts unless it was –20 C, announced it's complying with Glenn Thibeault's request.

Thibeault, who is also Sudbury's MPP, said he sent the letter to all power distribution companies in Ontario asking them to adopt the practice.

"For those of us in the north, or those of us in rural parts of the province, we recognize there's a bit more to it than just losing our electricity," Thibeault told reporters in Sudbury on Thursday.

"Some of us lose heat, and for others who aren't in the city on a municipal water supply, they lose their water because they're on a pump."

In his letter, Thibeault wrote that a customer should not be put at risk over an unpaid electricity bill, ever.

Across Ontario, Thibeault said about 60,000 homes are faced with disconnection every year, adding that under current rules, utilities have to give 10 days notice before cutting the power.
Ontario Energy Minister, Glenn Thibeault says he's asking local hydro utilities to adopt the practice of not disconnecting customers in the winter months due to unpaid bills. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

In the northeast, officials with Greater Sudbury Utilities received the letter Thursday morning, and said the company has decided to comply with the request.

That means the utility is counting on customers to be honest, said communications director Wendy Watson.

"We hope that we don't have customers who take advantage of this because that could potentially affect the rates that all the other customers pay," she said.

"We hope we get through this and that whatever policy they develop going forward actually is fair."

There are currently 20 homes with disconnected power served by Greater Sudbury Utilities, Watson said and those accounts are being reviewed.

"Some of them are tenants that have skipped and the landlord has not requested that we reconnect power," she said, adding that a fire was responsible for the lack of electricity at one address.

Voluntary program to become law: Thibeault

While Thibeault said the letter sent to local power companies is a voluntary request, a bill before Queen's Park could soon make the practice law.

"We're going to push it hard and we're hoping that the opposition will join in on this and make sure they can support this bill, get it voted on, and have it in place by Feb. 28," he said. Thursday.

The energy minister said he's looking for all parties to come together on the issue.

"What we're saying is rather than playing games, we know people are affected by this, let's all work together as parties in the House to get this back into committee and back into the legislature," he said.

"So we can have the laws where we no longer will see winter disconnections."

With files from Samantha Samson and Marina von Stackelberg


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