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OPUC disconnections drop 33 per cent in three years

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The Oshawa Public Utilities Corporation has bucked some industry trends according to data provided to the Ontario Energy Board.

A September 2017 report to the OEB provided to The Oshawa Express indicates that electricity disconnections rose 19 per cent between 2013 to 2016 across the province.

However, in the same timeframe, OPUC disconnections fell by 33 per cent, from 1,261 in 2013 to 849 in 2016.

With that said, OPUC CEO Ivano Labricciosa explains that a significant amount of the disconnections can be attributed to Hydro One.

Hydro One disconnections increased by more than 400 per cent in the four-year span, from 2,784 in 2013 to 14,114 in 2016.

Labricciosa says it is difficult to compare themselves to a distributor as large as Hydro One, which has more than 1.1 million customers compared to OPUC’s roughly 57,000.

However, as some residents face more difficulty affording their living expenses, Labricciosa says the OPUC has focused on finding ways of helping customers avoid having their services disconnected.

“In our case, I think we do a pretty good job. Our team is pretty exceptional at finding these people help,” he explains. “I think our company does a really great job of being customer-first. At the end of the day, [customers that are] having a tough time, if they’ve been a good customer, we can make it work.”

Support programs available to the public include the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), which provides a one-time grant of $500 or $600 for electrically-heated homes, administered by the Community Council of Durham.

The Ontario Electricity Support Program provides a monthly credit to low-income residential customers to reduce their energy bill. The amount of the credit is dependant on household income and the number of residents in a home.

Labricciosa says the OPUC is “very good at squeezing its dollars”, and directing funds to these programs to help customers keep their power on.

Even with these support programs, sometimes accounts will be disconnected, eventually go into arrears and perhaps to a collection agency.

In 2016, OPUC wrote off a total of 526 accounts to the tune of $429,000.

With harsh criticism of Hydro One and the electricity industry in general, the local corporation says they faced some of the backlash.

“Not everyone can differentiate between ‘hydro’ and Oshawa OPUC,” Labricciosa says.

For him, this indicated they needed to do a better job of communicating with their customers.

“We weren’t doing a good enough job of being local,” he notes. “The electricity industry is kind of confusing and we let it get away from us. We tried to explain certain things on their bill, thinking people would read it but they don’t really.”

To remedy this, the organization is planning to hold quarterly open houses, allowing customers to receive information on their services and bills, and meet OPUC staff.

The first meeting was held in late-November at the Civic Recreation Complex and had a turnout of approximately 65 people according to Sheila Risorto, marketing and communications analyst with the OPUC.

Risorto says the next open house will be held sometime between March and May.