Howard Wetston,
Chair, OEB
 
Toronto, ON, Canada — (METERING.COM) — March 11, 2009 – The framework for a comprehensive new assistance program for low-income energy consumers in Ontario, proposing a number of measures, including financial assistance and customer service practices, has been outlined by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB).

The Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), as it has been named, has three components: temporary financial assistance for consumers in need, the benefit of access to more flexible customer service rules on matters such as bill payment and disconnection notice periods, and targeted conservation and demand management programs.

LEAP builds upon several existing programs in which a number of gas and electricity utilities in Ontario currently participate. The new program is expected to be delivered year round by all utilities across the province providing one consistent standard for low-income energy consumer assistance.

In terms of emergency financial assistance the Board has determined that the greater of 0.12 percent of a distributor’s Board-approved distribution revenue requirement, or $2,000, is a reasonable commitment of distributors to LEAP. A funding level of 0.12 percent is approximately twice the average currently being provided by electricity distributors, and would make available approximately $3 million to low-income electricity consumers and approximately $2 million for low-income natural gas consumers.

The Board favors funding the program through distribution rates, specifically by allowing distributors to incorporate amounts in their operating, maintenance and administration (OM&A) expenses. However, there is also merit to augment these funds with voluntary charitable donations.

Specific customer service measures that the Board believes low-income energy consumers would benefit from include longer bill payment periods, a standard disconnection notice, security deposit waivers, and extended arrears payment.

The Board also believes that distributors should create electricity conservation and demand management (CDM) and natural gas demand side management (DSM) programs targeted to low-income energy consumers. Such consumers are more likely to reside in homes that are in need of energy efficiency upgrades, for example.

Commenting on the program, Howard Wetston, Chair of the OEB, said: “We believe it’s important to have a comprehensive province-wide approach to assist low-income energy consumers – an approach that not only provides financial assistance for those in need, but the tools to help low-income consumers better manage their energy bills on an ongoing basis.”

The Board is also issuing proposed amendments to the Distribution System Code, the Retail Settlement Code, and the Standard Supply Service Code to standardize and provide uniformity on a number of customer service policies for all electricity consumers across the Province, including bill payments, disconnection for non-payment and opening and closing accounts. The proposed amendments also include measures like arrears management, specifically tailored to the needs of low-income electricity consumers.
        
The Board expects LEAP to be available across the province by November 2009.