A bill aiming to end winter disconnections by electricity utilities could also block natural gas distributors from doing the same to customers behind on their heating bills.
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault tabled Bill 95, the Protecting Vulnerable Energy Consumers Act, on Wednesday morning. With all the parties supporting it, the legislation received royal assent Wednesday afternoon.
While all the talk about the bill had been in ending winter hydro disconnections, the text of the legislation addresses gas companies too, allowing the Ontario Energy Board to amend their licences to not allow for disconnections during the coldest months of the year. Bill 95 had also been inspired by a Liberal omnibus bill that contained a passage about hydro disconnections, but made no mention of natural gas distributors.
Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. and Union Gas Ltd., which supply approximately 99 per cent of the gas consumed in Ontario, say they try not to do winter disconnections.
“Home heating is our main business and we understand how important it is to our customers, especially in the winter,” said Enbridge spokeswoman Tanya Bruckmueller in an email. “For that reason, it is Enbridge Gas Distribution’s practice to avoid residential disconnections for non-payment during the winter months. The only time we would disconnect residential service during the heating season/winter months would be due to safety concerns.
Union Gas said it prefers to try to put customers behind on their bills on some kind of a “fair” repayment plan.
“Union Gas has a voluntary policy of not disconnecting customers in the winter,” said Union Gas spokesperson David Primorac in an email. “Disconnecting customers is not a common practice for Union Gas and there are only a few reasons why we would disconnect service – ongoing non-payment, theft of gas or emergency situations where we need to temporarily disconnect service for safety concerns.”