Ontarians see higher hydro bills as consumption comes down

It's only the beginning of summer and Toronto Hydro is already urging customers to reduce their electricity consumption, but some Ontarians say they're doing everything they can to lower their bill and are still feeling the pinch.

'Everybody is feeling it,' says Toronto restaurant owner

Electricity bills are going up for Torontonians, even though many in the city are making their best efforts to conserve power. (CBC)

It's only the beginning of summer and Toronto Hydro is already urging customers to reduce their electricity consumption.

But some Ontarians are adamant that they're doing everything they can to lower their electricity bill and are still feeling the pinch. 

"Everybody is feeling it," said Johnny Karas, co-owner of Saturday Dinnette restaurant. "The hydro price has gone up literally overnight."

There's no air conditioning or fancy electronics in Karas's small diner, only a refrigerator and a rarely-used oven.

"All these little things you've had to adjust," Karas said as a ceiling fan spins overhead. 

The restaurant owner told CBC News he just paid his hydro bill and it's $100 higher than it was last time. 

"We can't pass on those prices," he added. "So we have to wear that cost."

Toronto restaurant owners Suzanne Barr and Johnny Karas say they're trying their best to reduce their hydro bills but costs continue to increase. (CBC)
Toronto Hydro spokesperson Tori Gass acknowledged customers are becoming very good at conserving energy and are serious about reducing consumption. 

"We're leading the pack in conservation," Gass said. 

Toronto Hydro said the mild winter meant the city's energy usage was way down, and over the past 10 years, consumption has dropped by nearly 25 per cent. 

But if we're using less energy, then why are hydro bills increasing?

"We don't set the commodity price," said Gass. 

Electricity rates are set by the province and they've been increasing steadily as the Ontario government invests in cleaner energy.

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) said hydro rates rose in May by 2.5 per cent for households that consume 750 kilowatt hours per month. Last November, they jumped again by about 3.4 per cent on average.

The Clean Energy Benefit came to an end at the end of 2015 and that meant electricity rates went up another 10 per cent. 

Costs of clean energy

In response, the government introduced the Ontario Electricity Support Program to help low-income customers reduce their bill. According to the OEB, a house with four people and an annual income of $37,000 will receive a $34 credit on each bill.

The majority of Ontarians, however, don't qualify for this benefit. 

The investments in the electricity sector have resulted in both cleaner and more reliable energy, eliminating blackouts and brownouts, a spokesman for the provincial energy ministry said.

Dan Moulton acknowledged that the increased electricity costs can be difficult for families to shoulder. But he said that Ontario utility bills are, on average, lower than those in U.S. cities like Boston and New York.

Higher bills, but less greenhouse gas

Bryan Purcell of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund said every kilowatt hour saved will translate into lower bills. But will those bills be as cheap as they were 10, or even five years ago?

"No," he admitted.

Purcell said efforts made by the province to create a more environmentally-friendly energy network will help Ontarians in the long term. 

"As a result of the energy conservation we've been doing over the past 10 years, we've been able to phase out coal," he said, calling it "the largest greenhouse gas reduction project in North America."

While these green solutions are creating a cleaner Ontario, consumers are realizing there's a price to be paid for the government's efforts.

"It does affect you a lot," Karas said. 

With files from Ali Chiasson


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