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In today’s Ottawa Citizen is a story on a $25,000 bill sent by Hydro One to an Eastern Ontario family. This problem is not going away…

As if skyrocketing power rates, due in part to “renewables” like wind, wasn’t enough, billing system woes continue at Ontario’s power monopoly Hydro One, despite promises to fix the situation. Here is an update from Parker Gallant.

A year ago, on March 7, 2014, the Ontario government undertook what the Toronto Star referred to as a “shake up” following “an over-billing fiasco and a scathing Auditor General’s report.” The former referred to Hydro One’s mess after implementation of their new billing system, and the latter referred to “nepotism” along with high wages and benefits at OPG.  The government appointed Sandra Pupatello (runner-up to Kathleen Wynne in the Liberal leadership race) to right the wrongs as the new Chair of Hydro One.   She was quick off the mark stating, “We are going to fix it” (the billing problems).

It’s not fixed but hopefully, Ms. Pupatello is enjoying her $150K stipend for acting as the Chair of Hydro One while retaining her position as Chief Executive of the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation which pays her about the same amount.

The same can be said for the spokespeople* at Hydro One who appear in several short videos on their website apologizing for the billing mess.  On the same page is a letter dated October 14, 2014 from Hydro One’s CEO, Carm Marcello addressed to the Ombudsman, Andre Marin.  In the letter he tells the Ombudsman he will shortly announce he is setting up a “Customer Service Advisory Panel” that consists of perhaps only one actual Hydro One customer, former Chief of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation,  Randall Kahgee!  Marcello also informs the auditor he plans to issue a draft “Customer Commitment” document!

Eighteen months after complaints started and eight months after the Ombudsman announced he was investigating Hydro One’s billing mess, the CEO suddenly became enlightened!  The CEO of Hydro One, the provincially owned monopoly electricity distributor to 1.2 million ratepayers, with a 134-page Conditions of Service agreement, suddenly noticed they had tens of thousands of billing problems!

If you venture into their “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) page about the Ombudsman’s investigation they state: “approximately 3 per cent of our customers have received estimated bills for too long and about another 2 per cent have gone for more than 90 days without receiving a bill.”

If one does quick math on the 3% plus the 2% you will quickly surmise 5% of Hydro One’s customers have billing problems.  Five per cent (5 %) of 1.2 million ratepayers represents sixty thousand (60,000) ratepayers.  While there is no admission of screw-ups in the videos or in Marcelo’s letter; reading the answers to the FAQ sure makes one suspicious Hydro One is trying to hide something!

Here are a few examples. I invite the reader to judge Hydro One’s ability to obfuscate.

1.What are the Hydro One billing issues I’ve been hearing about?  The move to the new system was required to improve customer service while replacing outdated and unsupportable technology.

2.What is Hydro One doing to fix this issue?  We are manually reading over 11,000 two-tiered meters to correct bills that have been estimated.

3.Why do I keep receiving an estimated bill when I have a Smart Meter?  The reason you have an estimated bill is that the meter is not communicating properly with our network.

4.Why is my bill so high? Unfortunately some customers have experienced inaccurate estimates. (So why does the answer to Q. 6 state:  “billing issues you may have heard about in the media are not related to meter accuracy.”)

5.Will I get a bill for an actual reading soon? Right now Hydro One is manually reading over 11,000 two-tiered meters for customers who have been billed on estimates. If your meter is part of this program, you should receive an actual bill soon.  (So, 60,000 bills messed up and only 11,000 meters being read!)   

6. Is the accuracy of Hydro One’s meters causing the billing issues?  Secondary tests are completed by Hydro One as they arrive from the manufacturer and then again we have sample testing of meters once they are ‘in service’.

7.Why has my meter been changed twice?  There have been some cases where the meter is not communicating properly with our network.

8.I use baseboard heating in my home. What can I do to conserve energy?  For homes that are heated with electricity, those heating costs make up to 60 per cent of your bill.

None of the answers admit to the screw-up with the new Customer Information System (CIS), nor to the purchase of “uncommunicative” smart meters. There is also no indication that any employee lost their job because of  these mishaps!

A full year has gone by, and the billing mishaps continue despite the promise by Ms. Pupatello to “fix it.”  The energy portfolio continues to be mismanaged without any consequences.   If an error of this magnitude occurred at a privately owned company, shareholders would demand action— but that’s not how things work at the provincially owned monopoly that is Hydro One!

© Parker Gallant, March10

* Average annual salary of the four Hydro One spokespeople on the letter and videos from the 2013 “Sunshine List” is $315,323. Lowest is $151,405 and highest is $724,917.  Hydro bills to these four are like buying a cup of “Timmies” coffee!

Editor’s note: The billing mess continues, as Parker says. In today’s Ottawa Citizen is a story of a couple who were billed $25,000 in error. A Hydro One “customer care specialist” is reviewing their account. The Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario has received 9,800 complaints about Hydro One, the Citizen reports, the most complaints ever received about a single organization.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Wind Concerns Ontario policy.