KENORA – Politics – Editorial – On Nov. 19, I introduced Bill 132, an amendment to the Energy Consumer Protection Act, which would ban private fixed-rate electricity contracts for residential customers. This bill, which has now passed second reading, was the culmination of years of work, both as a constituency assistant and as your MPP.
We all know that regular hydro rates are out of control in Ontario, but imagine that you are one of the vulnerable consumers who are paying, on average, 35 to 65 per cent more than the going rates, with essentially no way to cancel!
Energy Consumer Protection Act
According to the Ontario Auditor General’s 2011 report, approximately 15 per cent of the province’s electricity customers are signed up with a private retailer, usually someone who came to their door, misrepresenting the facts as to who they were, what they were selling, and how consumers would be impacted if they signed the contract.
I have tried to help constituents who were inadvertently signed up by family members, coworkers and even house guests. Often, it is the most vulnerable or financially desperate individuals who fall victim to the retailer’s high-pressure and unscrupulous sales tactics, but I have also worked with doctors who honestly believed these contracts would help protect them from long-term price increases.
The bill I have introduced to protect consumers has four parts. Firstly, it disallows new private fixed-rate contracts for residential customers, meaning that any contracts signed after a specified date would be deemed void. Next, this bill would phase out existing contracts by allowing them to expire. The retailers would not be allowed to seek renewals with customers. The bill would still allow private electricity retailing in circumstances where business customers decide it is in their best financial interest because these customers generally retain lawyers to protect their interests.
Finally, the Act provides further protections to consumers who find themselves bound by a contract that should be considered void under the new regulations. These protections would include the right to a refund and/or freedom from contractual obligations.
It was interesting for me to listen during the debate on this bill as several of my colleagues described situations where their own parents were swindled into signing contracts at the door and, indeed, many of the constituents I have helped to cancel contracts for have been pensioners.
It is estimated that phasing out the role of residential electricity retailers will save the electricity system $260 million annually as a result of reduced regulatory oversight and costs for non-compliant retailers, as well as reduced distribution costs and customer complaints.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these savings helped to bring regular hydro rates back to where all households in NWO could afford them?
At this time, the bill to help protect consumers from predatory electricity sales tactics and free Ontarians from future exploitive contracts has now been sent to committee for in-depth review. While we wait for it to move on to third reading, please feel free to call or visit one of my offices if you have questions or concerns about any energy retailer who comes to your door. You have rights.
Sarah Campbell MPP