Toronto SunBY ANTONELLA ARTUSO, QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU CHIEF
TORONTO – Ontario hydro ratepayers will subsidize low income earners who struggle to pay their electricity bills.
The poverty-reduction program will show up as an extra $8.40 annually on average electricity bills, part of a general $120-a-year hike in electricity bills coming in 2016 as the provincial government ends the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit (OCEB) discount.
Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli confirmed Thursday that his government will proceed with a new initiative funded by electricity customers to provide qualifying low income individuals and families with a $20-$50 monthly credit to help cover their hydro expenses.
“The electricity system is rate-based so if you increase or decrease the rates for one class of payors, it reflects (on) the others,” Chiarelli acknowledged. “That’s the way the system operates.”
The Ontario Electricity Support Program would provide ongoing assistance directly on the bills of eligible low-income electricity consumers as of Jan. 1, Chiarelli said.
Theresa McClenaghan, executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and a member of the Low-Income Energy Network, welcomed the program, which she said would address “energy poverty.”
The amount of the hydro credit depends on family size and income, but a family of four living on less than $28,000 a year would receive a $38 monthly credit or about $455 per year.
Chiarelli said his government will lower all hydro consumer bills by cancelling the hated Debt Retirement Charge on Jan. 1 — a savings of about $5.60 a month.
However, any savings will be more than offset by the Jan. 1 cancellation of the OCEB, which currently discounts all residential hydro bills by 10%.
Figures supplied by the Energy Ministry last year suggest average hydro ratepayers will be paying close to $120 more in 2016 factoring in all these changes.
Progressive Conservative energy critic John Yakabuski said the government is projecting a 40% to 45% increase in electricity rates over the next few years.
People with fixed incomes, such as seniors living in homes heated with electricity, find it difficult to keep up with the prices, he said.
“Every time this government does something on electricity, it hurts people,” Yakabuski said. “This government doesn’t recognize or doesn’t seem to care what electricity prices are doing to harm people.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said that even with the Ontario Electricity Support Program, low income residents will see their electricity bill rise with the removal of the OCEB.
“The pain might be a little less for those that are low income, but they’re still going to be feeling the pain like everybody else,” she said.
Hydro rates have gone up by 325% in Ontario since 2002, Horwath added.