Perhaps we’ve just grown accustomed to accepting what we’re told. I’m amazed that all the fuss and furor over the post-Christmas light bills has died down, though some of us are still less than satisfied with the public explanations.
The radio talk shows were flooded with calls after the bills hit mailboxes in mid-January. Most of us saw significant hikes. I’ll admit I was already shell-shocked from the effects of the blackout, so initially I grumbled privately and just paid the power company. After hearing the litany of complaints, I joined the chorus.
This isn’t about rolling blackouts or the reliability of the energy system. It isn’t even about the price of electricity. It’s about the bills we received and whether consumers are being treated fairly.
Frustrated with system
I know we were overly sensitive because of the January outage and our disappointment and frustration with the electrical system. Well, some people went into total shock when they saw their December-January light bills. We don’t want the Public Utilities Board to get sidetracked from its investigation, but the consumer issue shouldn’t be buried, either.
Is it possible something happened with power meters with the electrical surges and rolling blackouts of early January? Could there have been an equipment malfunction that affected some homes and not others?
Suggestions that power usage was up because of Christmas lights and colder temperatures just don’t cut it. Not everyone saw the massive increases on their bills, but many did — including some who don’t use electricity to heat their homes.
We’ve all heard the stories. People who were out of the province — not even in their houses for part of the period — saw their bills increase by more than 30 per cent. We were without power for hours and, in some cases, days, and most of us were conserving like never before. Still, we used more electricity?
Several years ago, I was away for the better part of a month. I had a house-sitter, but even she couldn’t have used the more than 4,000 kilowatts of electricity I was billed for. I have never used that amount before or since.
My complaint to the power company at the time was met by a shoulder shrug and “the meter doesn’t lie.”
We don’t need an inquiry into this one, but we do need transparency and more down-to-earth explanations from Newfoundland Power.
It was interesting to see Ontario’s ombudsman recently launch an investigation into Hydro One, the Crown company that delivers electricity in that province. The probe will look at whether Hydro One’s billing practices are transparent and whether their process for responding to customer billing concerns is timely and effective.
The ombudsman said they’ve seen an increase in the number of complaints in recent years. A news release quotes the ombudsman as saying they’ve heard “stories of huge unexplained catch-up bills, multiple bills or estimated bills with no rhyme or reason. When customers try to get answers from Hydro One, they’re stymied, just as my office has often been stymied when we intervened.”
The utility has admitted there are problems.
Can you imagine the ombudsman’s office or some agency here getting involved in such an inquiry? Perhaps they should.
I know the situation in Ontario is different, with things like time-of-use smart meters in play. Still, complaints deserve answers. At the risk something did go wrong with equipment in January, wouldn’t it have made sense for some independent body — the Public Utilities Board or even the “new,” nicer, caring government — have someone look into the matter?
Perhaps they’ve done that and just haven’t told us — another case of a lack of communication.
All I know is my bill went up — a lot. I didn’t get rebated for the company failing to deliver during part of the billing period and my complaints have amounted to whistling in the wind.
At least my lights have stayed on for the past month. I’m thankful for that.
Now, let’s see what February costs me.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org