[This story originally appeared on The North Coast Review, a blog based in Prince Rupert that contains “items of interest to those living on the North Coast of BC.”]
A move by BC Hydro to end customer crisis funding for residents has raised a few alarms with Ecotrust Canada. The national organization, which has offices in Prince Rupert, is calling the BC Hydro plans in the midst of a pandemic a “cynical move”.
Ecotrust said the decision will cancel an important lifeline program with the potential to put the most vulnerable customers at risk just when help is needed most.
In a correspondence to the North Coast Review, Ecotrust Canada outlined some of the key elements of the current program and how it has served the province to date, as well as to relay their concerns over its future:
“BC Hydro’s Customer Crisis Fund (CCF) is designed to protect customers facing unexpected economic hardship, by providing a one-time grant for bill payment. The BC NDP government directed BC Hydro to implement this program in 2018, after failing to deliver on a promise to create a permanent ‘lifeline rate’ for qualifying households,” the group wrote.
“Now, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, BC Hydro is proposing to terminate the CCF at the end of March 2021, leaving BC with no utility bill support programs at all. This would leave the over 270,000 BC households that face energy poverty with nowhere to turn for assistance, and at risk of having their power shut off if they fall behind on their bills,” it added.
Ecotrust Canada is a national charity that works with communities to ensure that everyone can affordably access clean energy to meet their basic needs, including heating, lighting, cooking, and communication.
BC Hydro introduced their Customer Crisis Fund in 2018, offering customers the option to defer payments, or arrange for flexible payment plans with no penalty.
The fund was designed as a three-year pilot program, with BC Hydro collecting $5 million per year from residential customers to fund the program.
“We recognize the financial impact COVID-19 may have on our customers due to changes in employment from workplaces closing, or reducing staffing levels and want to provide some relief during this challenging time. In addition, some customers may experience higher electricity bills due to increased consumption from spending more time at home,” BC Hydro President and Chief Executive Officer Chris O’Riley has said.
The utility’s final report on the Customer Relief program was submitted to the BC Utilities Commission in October of this year, you can read it here. A more comprehensive overview of the program from the provincial hydro provider was delivered to the BCUC in July.
BC Hydro had also put in place a COVID-19 Relief Fund which closed for applications in June of this year. The BC Utilities Commission is set to evaluate the BC Hydro program further and you can review the scope of the documentation provided so far from the BCUC website.
In May, Ecotrust Canada conducted a survey which showed that one-in-five British Columbians were having a harder time paying their utility bills since the COVID-19 crisis began.