Energy minister asks for no winter electricity disconnections
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TORONTO — Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault is asking all Ontario electricity distribution companies to stop disconnecting customers' power during the winter months.
"At no point, under any circumstances, should a customer be put at risk over their electricity bill," he wrote in a letter sent Thursday to the companies.
It's especially pressing for people in rural and northern communities who are on a pump system rather than municipal water, Thibeault said.
"So when their power goes off, so does their water pump, so that becomes a serious issue," he said.
About 60,000 disconnections occur in Ontario each year, though the Ontario Energy Board doesn't have seasonal data. The government notes that most customers are re-connected within 48 hours.
Hydro One has already stopped the winter disconnection practice and has said it would re-connect 1,400 customers whose electricity was cut off for not paying their bills.
The opposition parties have been calling for the government to break out part of an omnibus bill that deals with electricity disconnections and pass it as a separate piece of legislation, but the Liberals say that would take longer.
Instead, Thibeault has written to the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP to ask them to help the Liberals pass the omnibus bill quickly.
"Until that happens I realized you know what, maybe I don't put my faith in the opposition in getting this passed quickly, but ask the (local distribution companies) to follow Hydro One's lead and many other LDCs' lead and voluntarily adopt the policy of what's coming in Bill 27 to ensure that we don't see the winter disconnects," Thibeault said in an interview.
The bill would give the OEB expanded oversight over disconnections, but the Progressive Conservatives also say the minister has the power to issue a directive to the OEB to immediately halt the practice.
"One is one too many in the dead of winter, and that's what (Premier) Kathleen Wynne and Glenn Thibeault are allowing to happen by not proceeding with directing the OEB to put a moratorium on any cutoffs during the winter months," said Progressive Conservative John Yakabuski.
Thibeault said that's incorrect and he does not have the power to issue such a directive.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Thibeault's letter to distribution companies "changes nothing."
"It falls far short of the action Ontarians expect and deserve," she said in a statement. "Both the premier and the minister need to stop playing political games with people's lives."