Ontario utility Hydro One looks into asking customers to pre-pay for electricity
Drivers pre-paying at the pump has certainly become the norm, but the Ontario utility's possible use of pre-paid electricity meters is raising eyebrows
TORONTO—Hydro One is considering allowing its customers to use pre-paid meters for their electricity use.
The proposal is contained within a massive Ontario Energy Board application, which also asks for a rate increase of 0.5 per cent this year and 4.8 per cent next year.
The application says the pre-paid meters would minimize Hydro One’s financial risk by requiring customers to pay for energy before using it—in particular for customers who are deemed to be a high collection risk.
But Hydro One’s executive vice-president of customer care and corporate affairs said it would not be used as a collection tool, adding that the language in the application to the OEB is very generic and “somewhat out of context.”
If the OEB allows Hydro One to move forward with pre-paid meters, they would be offered to customers as a choice and wouldn’t be forced upon anyone, Ferio Pugliese said.
The NDP believes the move would allow Hydro One to circumvent a winter disconnection ban.
“They’re going to move forward with this and they’re going to go after anyone who has a bad credit score, anyone who’s in arrears—anyone who they think is vulnerable,” said energy critic Peter Tabuns.
Hydro One’s application says once the pre-paid amount on a meter is used up, “power is cut off until the customer is able to load the meter with more credits.”
But Pugliese said that would “absolutely not” be the case, noting Hydro One was the first utility to voluntarily stop winter disconnections.
“We are not about to go about the business of disconnecting people, especially remotely once something like this runs out,” he said.
Energy Minister Glen Thibeault stressed that pre-paid smart metres are in very preliminary stages and their inclusion in the approximately 2,000 page application is a small detail. They would be opt-in for customers, he said.
“This is about giving people choice,” he said. “This isn’t … a Trojan horse. It’s two paragraphs in a rate application that may not even get through.”
If the OEB gives its approval, Hydro One would study the pre-paid meters idea, then find vendors, then test the technology, then field test it, Pugliese said, stressing the idea is in a very preliminary stage.