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A senior's struggle to root out elusive cap-and-trade charge

By Antonella Artuso, Toronto Sun

Ontario residents shouldn’t have to work their way through a “rat’s maze” to figure out the cap-and-trade charge on their natural gas bills, Mississauga senior Muriel Chudiak says.

Since the fee kicked in on Jan. 1, Chudiak has been on a mission to get the Ontario Energy Board and Ontario Liberal government to stop “hiding” it in the delivery charge.

The tenacious 75-year-old wrote to Premier Kathleen Wynne twice, her local MPP Charles Sousa, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault and the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) demanding to know why consumers can’t be told up front how much they’re paying.

The OEB directed her to a website where she could calculate her bill that turned out not to work, she said.

With the help of her local natural gas utility, she and her husband, Bill, eventually tracked down the online calculator where she found out her monthly cap-and-trade cost was twice the $5 the Wynne government originally suggested it would be, she said.

They then found an online shortcut to the calculator, added Chudiak.

“My husband and I are quite active and fairly knowledgeable seniors. We couldn’t have made it through this exercise without help from Enbridge’s customer service,” she said. “What about other seniors, people who don’t have a computer, busy families? Are they going to have the time and patience and, particularly, the computer savvy to go through this exercise to find out how much we’re being charged?

“It seems obvious to me and my husband, but I don’t think Ms. Wynne or the Ontario Energy Board really want us to know how much we’re paying for the cap-and-trade charge each month and they’re just making it as difficult as possible for us to get this knowing very well that most people won’t even bother,” she said.

According to the OEB, an Enbridge customer will see an average monthly bill impact of $6.70 while a Union Gas customer in the southern zone can expect to get hit up for an average monthly increase of $6.16. The actual cap-and-trade fee varies based on usage.

Because the fee does change, Chudiak said it’s important that customers know what they’re paying. But she can’t convince anyone in government or the OEB that transparency is important when it comes to the cap-and-trade charge.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk and — according to a survey she commissioned — 89% of natural gas customers want to see that fee clearly on the bill.

“I got a reply from Kathleen Wynne’s office and it was a form letter that didn’t even respond to anything I said in my e-mail. So, I wrote back again requesting a proper response and a few weeks later got back the very same form letter,” Chudiak said. “I never did hear from Glenn Thibeault’s office.”

A staff member in Sousa’s office did provide a lengthy explanation in writing.

“It’s a full page of, in my opinion, nonsense,” Chudiak said. “He’s a nice young fellow ... I believe he’s just spitting out what he was told.”

A spokesman from Thibeault’s office told the Toronto Sun that decisions on consumer bills are made by the OEB, which is an independent regulator for the province’s energy sector, and that the cap-and-trade charge was included in the delivery portion of the natural gas bill after extensive consultations with consumers and stakeholders.

The Toronto Sun asked the Ontario Energy Board whether there is a reason why carbon fees are not a separate item on natural gas and electricity bills? And if so, what is it?

•“Administering the cap-and-trade program for natural gas consumers has become a regular part of utility business. All of the natural gas utility business costs are within the delivery line so it just makes sense to include it there.”

•“OEB research shows that the most important driver of consumer behaviour is total price. This has been borne out by research that the OEB has undertaken in the past in relation to consumers’ response to electricity bills. This research showed that residential and small business customers are much more focused on the total amount owing on their bill than on individual line items.”

•“Finally, customers have been well informed about cap and trade. The utilities provide customers with ongoing information about the cap-and-trade program in accordance with guidance provided by the OEB. This includes providing customers with bill messages and bill inserts, website information and online cap-and-trade calculators that customers can use directly to determine the cap-and-trade portion of their individual bill.”

 

 



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