Island residents raise concerns with major hydro bill increase

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MINDEMOYA – As seasonal residents start to see the effects of big hikes in their hydro bills, an official with the Federation of Ontario Cottagers Association (FOCA) says it unfortunately should not be a surprise, as his group has been putting out the message that this was going to take place for the past few years. 

“It gives me no solace to say I told you so, but we have been saying the same thing for the past five years,” stated Terry Rees of FOCA, responding to reports and concerns that seasonal residents could be or are seeing big hikes in their hydro bills. “It seems the crap has now hit the fan.”

Mr. Rees was asked to comment after the Municipality of Central Manitoulin finance and economic development committee had reviewed a letter from two of its seasonal residents on this same issue, the soaring cost of hydro bills for seasonal property owners.

The committee reviewed a letter from Robert and Kathleen Kirk. “You are probably familiar with the OEB (Ontario Energy Board) proposal to eliminate the ‘seasonal rate structure’ for power users, which of course affects seasonal residents on Manitoulin.”

“We have a seasonal property (on Dominion Bay Road), and we are told that if the subject proposal is implemented as intended, our rate per kWh will approximately double. As you will understand, we are strenuously opposed to this,” wrote the Kirks. “We have written to the OEB with our objections and attached a copy of our letter for your information, since we think that you may be interested in the points of view of Central Manitoulin seasonal residents.”

“We would particularly draw your attention to points five and six, which we believe have implications for the life of this community as a whole, and could influence the direction of the governance of this municipality. We would be happy to provide you with any other information we may get and would be grateful for your advice and support in this matter, as you see fit.”

Point five in the Kirks’ letter to the OEB states, “it would appear that you intend to penalize residents for using less power. Is this the direction that you believe we as a province should be heading? We think not.” And point six states, “the cost increases you are proposing for seasonal users are a significant deterrent to the appeal and hence the future of cottage life in developing rural areas such as Manitoulin. The consequences of this is a reduction in employment, health and quality of life in Ontario. The public needs confirmation that your proposals take into account comments from the relevant local authorities, including regional planning, environmental and tourism interests.”

“I think they are looking for our support,” said Councillor Angela Johnston, chair of the committee.  

Councillor Derek Stephens said, “this will be affecting a lot of camp owners in the municipality. And they will be charged even when they are not here. I question this.” 

“Yes, it does seem like a money grab,” said Councillor Johnston.

“I’m no expert on OEB rates, but if this is the way they are going it will have a large impact on rural people and visitors. I wonder if any other municipalities have passed motions on this issue,” asked Councillor Steve Shaffer.

While it doesn’t appear that any local municipalities have passed motions on this issue, it was suggested by Mayor Richard Stephens that maybe staff could check on  other areas like the Kawarthas and Collingwood.

“They reference an OEB hearing taking place,” said Councillor Johnston. “Should we send a similar letter to the OEB?”
“This is what I would like to see; this is going to affect our municipality and the Island in general,” said Councillor Stephens.
The committee recommended that office staff gather more information for the committee to consider, before looking at passing a motion on the issue. 

“It’s late in the game,” said Mr. Rees, noting about 1,800 letters have been forwarded from FOCA members to MPPs like Norm Miller and Dave Smith and that input on the proposal had to be in by March 15. “These letters have also come from farmers and business groups, saying the increases are not fair. People are going to be mad, these rates are not going to be affordable.”

The OEB has determined that the seasonal rate class of Hydro One will be eliminated, meaning seasonal customers are being forced into one of three other residential classes. “This change relates to charges for the distribution services that Hydro One Networks provides,” the utility said in a letter to customers.

Cottagers consuming 50 kWh per month, for example, would see their bill more than double and increase 112 percent if they are moved into the residential low density class, according to a table provided Hydro One.

The FOCA said the OEB move will impact some 150,000 seasonal class customers. Of those, more than half—80,000—will experience a monthly increase of $50 or more to their bills, the association said.

“FOCA has been an intervenor at the OEB for many years, and has been advocating against this significant bill impact,” the cottagers group said in a statement.

The OEB has yet to decide whether this change will take effect on January 1, 2020 or at a later date.

During an upcoming hearing, the OEB will review and question the report and proposed plan, according to the letter sent out to affected customers. It will also hear questions and arguments from individuals and groups that have registered to participate (called intervenors).

FOCA will participate as an intervenor and will once again be reminding the regulator about the hardship these changes will deliver to so many rural and Northern families.

“However, the OEB has stated that it will not reconsider the decision to eliminate the seasonal rate class in this hearing,” Mr. Rees told the Recorder.

In their letter to the OEB, the Kirks noted, “our average monthly usage is in the order of 30 kWh, and we are advised by Hydro One that we would be in the T2 lower density class, with the result that our total bill would increase approximately 100 percent.”