Fallout of Hydro One privatization

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The recently privatized utility company Hydro One has a plan. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the company, 40 per cent of their customers had difficulty understanding their bills. The fix: a bill redesign project ringing up to a total of $15 million.

In 2017, the company spent $9 million to redesign their bills, and they are proposing to spend a further $6 million in 2018 for more work. Approximately 25 per cent of the money spent has gone towards changes in the appearance of a residential bill, while the remaining money has been directed to updating information systems and improvements for digital billing. With the further $6 million, Hydro One hopes to make changes to commercial and industrial, as well as large distribution account customers.

The new bill as it appears now is simpler than it used to be. It has clearly labeled boxes with the most important information to customers, including the amount of money they owe, how much energy they used, and when their payment is due. It also has small icons and graphs to aid in a more simplistic, visual decoding of the information. Hydro One’s website also has a section to help explain bills, with graphics to ensure maximum clarity.

“With Ontarians wanting clearer bills that are easier to understand, Hydro One’s bill redesign project is a necessary improvement that will help customers,” says Glenn Thibeault, Ontario’s Energy Minister.

Peter Tabuns, NDP Energy Critic, has different opinions on the bill changes. “If you look at the problem people have with hydro in this province, the problem is not so much the look of their bill. The problem is the size of the payment they have to make,” he says.

“If Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals were really serious about making the interests of Ontarians come first, they’d be focused on the size of the bill, not the look of the bill. My sense, frankly … is that this is a diversion. The Liberals would prefer to talk about anything but the cost of hydro. I don’t think most people would care what the bill looked like or how it was set up if, in fact, our hydro bills were substantially lower.”

In 2015, Kathleen Wynne announced plans for the Liberal party to sell part of the company. Her choice was unpopular, but she went through with the plan, selling shares in three stages. The final sale took place in May of last year, with 50.1 per cent of Hydro One now being privately owned.

According to Tabuns, this privatization is a major culprit in the rising energy costs.

“Green energy is not the heart of the problem that we’ve got. It’s a system that is increasingly serving the interest of international investors and not the interests of people in Ontario … I think it’s primarily the selling off of the system to private companies and those companies making the best of what is really a gold mine for them. I think that the big issue is that we’ve lost control of the system, and every year as more and more of the system is privatized, it’s been driving up our bills. That’s the heart of it.”

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