This West Is OUR West

Hydro One makes pitch for pre-paid electricity meters

By James Wallace

November 22, 2017

If it’s possible to rub something more painful, infuriating and insulting than salt into the collective wound represented by the mess the Liberal government has made of energy policy in this province, surely it is this.

Hydro One is seeking permission to install “pre-paid” meters across Ontario to force consumers – especially those struggling to cover electricity bills – to pay up front before the utility switches on the juice for heat and lights.

A London Hydro smart meter made by Sensus hangs on the outside wall of a house on Maitland Street in London on Wednesday July 24, 2013. (Craig Glover/London Free Press)

Instead of a coin slot, Hydro One’s pre-paid electricity meters would replace some existing smart meters and could be “topped up” at a corner shop, via a smartphone application or online,” according to the utility’s distribution rate application before the Ontario Energy Board.

Those who can’t pay up front – logically pensioners struggling on fixed incomes; low-income families or new Canadians trying to make ends meet; those scraping by on social assistance – would effectively be cut off and are inevitably among the potential targets of a new “Collection Enhancements” plan revealed Wednesday by New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns.

Single mom Kathy Katula, 54, from Buckhorn, Ont. with her placards at her home on Saturday January 14, 2017 near Peterborough, Ont. Katula blasted both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne Friday for driving up the costs of electricity and driving her into poverty at Trudeau’s town hall event in Peterborough Friday. “I feel like you’ve failed me,” Katula, 54, told Trudeau at a town hall question-and-answer meeting that was broadcast live across the country by several news networks. Katula told the crowd of 350 she’d lived a tough life, had a disability, and yet had scrimped and saved to be able to buy her own home and raise four children. (Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner)

“Everywhere that pre-payment meters have been used, they have hurt struggling families,” Tabuns said in the legislature, and urged the government to “prohibit pre-payment meters.”

Meanwhile, on page 2,038 of a distribution rate application before the Ontario Energy Board, Hydro One makes the case that a rising number of “overdue accounts present a financial risk” to the provincial electricity transmission and distribution utility Kathleen Wynne sold to private interests.

“For customers who are high collection risk, the financial risk will be minimized by rolling out this type of meter,” Hydro One argues. “With a pre-paid meter, electricity is paid up-front. Once the pre-paid amount is used up, power is cut-off until the customer is able to load the meter with more credits.”

Tabuns points out pre-paid meters potentially circumvent the Liberal government’s Protecting Vulnerable Energy Consumers Act, legislation that prevented utilities from cutting off power in winter and passed after some 60,000 households across Ontario were left in the cold in 2015.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault had little meaningful to say in response, other than to note the OEB was reviewing and had to approve the application.

However, Hydro One insisted “No residential customer will be without power during the winter months, regardless of the type of meter they may choose to have in the future,” said spokesperson Nancy Clark.

Minister of Energy and Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault arrives at court in Sudbury, Ont. on Tuesday September 19, 2017 for an Election Act bribery trial involving Greater Sudbury businessman and Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed Jr. and Patricia Sorbara, former deputy chief of staff for Premier Kathleen Wynne. Thibeault is testifying at the trial. (John Lappa/Postmedia Network)

“As a leading electricity service provider, we look at best practices across many different jurisdictions and countries,” Clark said in a statement to the Sun. “This is just one of the many options we are exploring to offer our customers more choice on how they manage their electricity accounts.”

Meanwhile, it ought to be painfully obvious when you waste billions on phony rate cuts, overpay for unneeded “clean” energy and mismanage energy infrastructure to a point that Ontarians enjoy the highest electricity rates in the country that paying sky-high electricity bills is a growing burden for many.

It ought to be equally clear pay for play hydro meters are no answer to that problem.