Ontario hydro hike could pay for meal at Downtown Mission

Ontario hydro rates are set to rise May 1, adding about $3 a month to the average household bill. That’s about the price for two medium coffees at Tim Hortons.

Even a small hike in hydro affects low-income residents, Downtown Mission executive says

Ron Dunn is the executive director of the Downtown Mission in Windsor, Ont. he says even a $3 a month makes a difference to low income residents. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Ontario hydro rates are set to rise May 1, adding about $3 a month to the average household bill. That's about the price for two medium coffees at Tim Hortons.

That's also about the same cost to feed one person a meal at the Downtown Mission in Windsor, Ont.

Every day, about 200 people come to the mission on Victoria Avenue to eat. As a 24-hour shelter, the mission also houses people who need a place to stay overnight.

For the people that need to use these services, $3 a month — or $36 per year — makes a difference, says staff at the mission.

"Somebody who is adequately financed, working a job that pays enough, they can maybe absorb a $10 or $15 increase in their electrical bill. But those who are living in poverty just can't," said Ron Dunn, the executive director of the mission. "And that's our concern."

Though he says no one will be turned away as a result of the rising costs, Dunn says he has seen how rising electricity costs affect the poor first hand.

"People have actually come in with their hydro bill in one hand and said, 'Listen. If you can help me with food, then I can pay for some of this hydro bill before it gets cut off,'" Dunn said. "Once it's cut off it's hard to get turned back on again."

The latest increase is the third rate hike since November 2015.

2.5 per cent increase

According to the Ontario Energy Board, the total monthly bill will rise 2.5 per cent for households that use 750 kilowatt hours per month.

Time of use prices from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays will go up a half cent to 18 cents per kwh. The rate for weekdays from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and weekends and holidays is going up to 8.7 cents a kwh.

The energy board says the hike is coming into effect because Ontarians used less hydro than expected heating their homes this past winter, which was milder than usual.

The energy board did not return a request for comment by Friday evening. 

Windsor's Downtown Mission says it will absorb any extra hydro costs to keep its guests comfortable. (Derek Spalding/CBC)

'This is fundamental' 

"It's disheartening to know that one of the most basic fundamentals of a modern society, the ability to have access to affordable electricity is just out of reach for so many Ontarians," said Taras Natyshak, the NDP MPP for Essex.

He says he often hears from constituents that have trouble paying their electricity bills but says there is nothing that can be done to stop the hike from happening.

"This is fundamental, you can't escape the need to turn on the lights or keep food refrigerated," he said. "This is something that's basic, it's a necessity."

At the Downtown Mission, the hike is expected to affect services in the summer, when its dining room will be air-conditioned. Dunn says the mission will absorb the extra costs in order to keep the guests comfortable.

"They have to be comfortable," Dunn said. "Many of them are already living in conditions that are less than ideal. We want our guests to be comfortable, so we'll absorb the cost."