Energy retailers are privately owned companies that buy electricity or natural gas and resell it to homeowners at a profit. Unlike public utilities where the price is regulated and based on the cost to produce the energy, these companies can charge whatever they want.
The Fall Auditor General’s report found that consumers with private contracts pay on average 35-65 per cent more for electricity than they would have if they paid through their local public utility. While it is possible to save money with a natural gas contract, these companies are in the business of making money and the people who have approached me are paying two-to-three times the market rate to heat their homes. It is painful to see many people paying 40 cents/cubic metre, when the going rate is about 11 cents/cubic metre.
So why do people sign up? Largely because the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) allows the sale of these contracts on the doorstep. Door-to-door sales account for the majority of these companies’ sales because their pitch- which usually includes the promise “guaranteed big savings”- cannot be monitored. High pressure tactics often go hand-in-hand with the lucrative sales pitch. Many people are signed up this way, where there isn’t time to fully understand the fine print. Of the hundreds of contracts I’ve worked on, I have yet to meet a single person who fully understands their contract.
We’ve all heard that hydro bills are going up, which is why these contracts sound so good. But by the time people find out that the promised savings won’t happen it’s too late to cancel the contract without paying very, very expensive early termination fees. This is why awareness is so important.
If a sales representative comes to your door, never provide them with a copy of your bill. Ask them to leave behind information for you to look over, and if they refuse to ease up on the high pressure tactics, tell them ‘No thanks.’ Never sign anything under pressure.
If you have signed a contract and feel misled, call my community office for help.
In the past I have had success negotiating lower rates, shorter contracts, or even, in some cases, canceling the contracts altogether. Each case depends on the situation and the company involved, but my staff and I work hard to obtain the best results possible.
Sarah Campbell MPP