Cottagers brace for 'disastrous' jump in electricity costs

Cottagers brace for 'disastrous' jump in electricity costs

Ontario cottage owners are in for a shock this fall as electricity rates for seasonal customers are set to rise by as much as 129 per cent.

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) tasked Hydro One with developing a billing model that would eliminate the class under which most seasonal customers have their hydro fees assessed.

In a letter to customers last week, the electricity provider warned that if the OEB eliminates the seasonal rate class, hydro bills would rise for more than half of them.

A spokesperson for the OEB said Hydro One customers would then be moved to one of the utility's other three residential classes, based on the population density of the area, and the infrastructure and equipment costs that come with delivering electricity.

Hydro One sent its official analysis of the proposal to the OEB on July 19. The OEB is issuing public notice of hearings into the proposed elimination of the seasonal class.

Billing changes fair, board says

The OEB has found some cottages are just as easy to supply with power as many year-round homes. Removing all seasonal users from the equation would make the billing structure fairer for everyone, the board says.

"This will ensure that seasonal customers pay the appropriate cost for their service they receive," wrote OEB spokesperson Mary Ellen Beninger.

But Hydro One says the new scheme, if implemented, would shift the burden of paying for power to those customers in rural and hard-to-reach areas, and some cottage owners would see their bills skyrocket by as much as 129 per cent.

"An increase like that is disastrous," said cottager David Rogers, 78, whose family has maintained a wood-sided seasonal retreat southwest of Ottawa on Christie Lake since 1946.

Stu Mills/CBC

Such a plan, if put in place, would add an average of $68 per month to the bills of about 78,000 seasonal customers.

"Some people, that would put them out of their cottage," said Rogers, whose annual electricity bill for the cottage is now about $1,500.

'How much is too much?'

Rogers said his father, an electrical worker from Buffalo, N.Y., worked through the heat of 1940s summers and strung electrical lines to the family cottage.

Ontario Hydro eventually purchased those poles and lines to extend electrical service to the new cottages that went up nearby in the 1950s.

In the intervening years, Rogers said, the family has updated the cottage's electrical panel and added LED fixtures in hopes of keeping utility costs manageable.

"We understand there is a cost to serve people that are rural," said Terry Rees, executive director of the Federation of Ontario Cottagers' Associations (FOCA). "It's just, how much is too much?"

FOCA has been an intervener at the OEB and, as far back as 2015, argued for the preservation of the seasonal class to ensure cottagers, who typically use less electricity, aren't "unfairly penalized."

'Another nail in the coffin'

Krystyna Williamson, president of the Christie Lake Association, called the threat of steep power bill increases "another nail in the coffin" for cottage owners already struggling to pay high fuel prices and rising property taxes.

She said cottagers typically pay double what urban customers pay for power delivery, offering the example of one neighbour who was charged a $120 delivery fee on an $8.32 power bill.

Stu Mills/CBC

"It all adds into making it harder for children to take on the cost of a property that their parents and grandparents maintained," Williamson said.