Natural Gas: Enbridge fined for overcharging customers
The decision comes as rates have more than doubled in Ontario in the last year.
Enbridge has failed to read gas meters for four or more consecutive months.
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In an unnoticed decision last month, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) ordered Enbridge to pay $250,000 in fines for overcharging certain customers for services in 2021.
Following an increase in complaints, the OEB found that Enbridge had not met the minimum standards of service required by its agreement with the province , in particular with regard to delays in the reimbursement of overpayments.
In particular, Enbridge failed to read the gas meters of nearly 200,000 customers for four or more consecutive months, the maximum allowable limit, resulting in higher charges, such as for Jen Joly, who lives in Greater Sudbury.
Last month my bill was $178 when it should have been $60! And they told me that the problem will probably not be solved next month, she laments.
The situation comes as the tariffs approved by the regulator have more than doubled in the past year. In Ontario, nearly 70% of households heat primarily with natural gas.
The latest increase, in effect since October 1, added between $74 and $164 per year to household bills. Meanwhile the mercury is dropping, and many customers of Enbridge, which holds a virtual monopoly in the province, are caught off guard.
Like many Ontarians, Patricia Morin Poirier and her family have always lived paycheque to paycheque. His natural gas bill shot up from about $160 to $170 a month, to over $325 a month in September and October. And it's not like I running the dryer all day long, she says.
Patricia Morin Poirier works for a transport company in North Cobalt, in Temiskaming, Ontario. She takes care of the unloading of trucks and the reception.
A hard blow, because ten years ago, the mother of the family and her husband decided to renovate their house accordingly. We went into debt to the end to get the gas hooked up, install a fireplace, a water heater and a natural gas washing machine. And there, all the expenses we have made are of no use to us anymore, she says.
Some, like Cindy Gauvin, resign themselves to heating their homes with wood. We're fixing up our old wood fireplace instead of installing a gas fireplace as planned, says the Whitefish resident, whose natural gas bill has skyrocketed from $110 to $208 lately. /p>Start of the widget. Skip widget?End of widget. Back to top of widget?
The OEB's assessment also found other shortcomings, including in customer service. In several cases, customers had to call for several consecutive days before getting a response.
Enbridge says it is committed to improving its services in 2022, including hiring more staff. Its spokeswoman Krista Luxton recalls that international demand for natural gas has increased and that the war in Ukraine is exacerbating the situation.
Options are available for less well-off households, writes- it, including the Energy Delinquency Assistance Program, which pays up to $1,000 to Ontarians who are late in paying their electricity or natural gas bills.
Centraide Muskoka Simcoe, one of the administrators of the program, confirms that requests for help have jumped. Between January and October 2021, 3,848 grants were awarded, compared to more than 8,900 for the same period this year, in particular due to the pandemic.
The real impact of the increase in rates will be felt later, since it is only the arrears that are reimbursed, specifies its spokesperson Leah Wells.
Ukrainian army soldiers walk past a burning natural gas terminal last May north of Kharkiv, Ukraine.
At the end of September, with the approach of the new tariff increase, the interim leader of the NDP, Peter Tabuns, asked the government to improve the assistance offered to households who will have great difficulty in being able to eat both and warm up this winter.
Energy Minister's spokesman Palmer Lockridge countered that under an NDP government, which supports the carbon tax, Ontarians would pay even higher rates.
For his part, the director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University, Warren Mabee, points out that governments have recourse. Germany, for example, has just capped gas prices.
“Companies like Enbridge are benefiting from higher natural gas prices. Many of them buy a lot of gas in advance and store it, then sell it when prices rise and make a lot of money. ”
— Warren Mabee, Director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University
He says he understands that in the context of pandemic and labor shortages Enbridge is struggling with its customer service, but says the situation illustrates the challenges of near-monopolies in the energy industry.
< p class="e-p">This is not the first time Enbridge has been fined.
In 2021, the company was reprimanded by the CEO for #x27;thousands of non-compliant disconnection notices sent.