The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all. At NOTL Hydro we have seen a reduction in demand and revenue as a good number of our business customers have had to reduce operations. We know that compared to many we are fortunate as the drop in business has been less than 10%. We also know that, as an essential service, as customers are relying on us.
As your local electricity distributor, there are some things NOTL Hydro can do to help our customers during this pandemic…and much we cannot. The following is a summary of some of the actions that have been taken over the past year.
Big Reductions in the Cost of Electricity
We cannot take any credit for this. The reductions in the cost of the electricity commodity have been paid for by the Provincial Government. These have substantially reduced the cost of electricity for residential and small business customers as can be seen with the purple line in the graph on the left. This is the discount as of February 12, 2021 when the price per kwh is 8.5 cents. The cost of electricity has varied over the pandemic as the government has changed the price many times and this was the biggest discount. NOTE – As of February 23, 2021 the discounted rate is no longer in use.
Delay in NOTL Hydro rate increase
NOTL Hydro had a previously approved rate increase that was due to take effect May 1, 2020. At our option, we delayed this rate increase until November 1, 2020. This delay cost NOTL Hydro over $40k in lost revenues. While the impact of this is small compared to the provincially subsidized reductions in the electricity commodity, every little bit helps.
Moratorium on Late Payment Charges and Interest
During the period from April 1 – November 1, 2020, NOTL Hydro chose not to charge interest or any late payment charges to customers who did not pay their bills on time. This has cost NOTL Hydro over $25k.
Commitment not to try to recover lost income
There is a process through which electricity distributors can try to recover lost revenues or get reimbursement for additional expenses incurred during the pandemic. This would be achieved through higher future rates. The details of this process are still being worked out but Hydro One has already been approved to recover the revenues it lost from its delayed transmission rate increase. NOTL Hydro commits that it will not seek to recover any of this lost revenue or income. The only possible exception would be if we had a sudden huge increase in write-offs and that has not been an issue yet.
With so many customers stuck at home, the reliability of electricity is more important than ever. NOTL Hydro has been taking the necessary steps to ensure we maintain a reliable a service as possible. These actions have included rotating key staff to avoid cross-infection should one of our staff be exposed, increasing our inventory to ensure not shortages due to supply chain issues and, while maintaining our capital programs, adjusting the timing to not coincide with the major waves. The pandemic has shown the value of our continued investments in our system to improve reliability. We are also fortunate that we have not (touch wood) had any major weather events.
During much of the pandemic, our doors have been open so that customers could still come in a talk to a NOTL Hydro representative in person if needed. While that is not the current case with the lockdown, and was also not the case during the first wave, we are always available by e-mail or phone (we will return all calls ASAP) and we will be reopening our doors as soon as we can.
Financial Assistance Programs
The Government of Ontario has funded programs to help residential and small business customers (CEAP and CEAP-SB) who are having difficulty paying their bills. NOTL Hydro as expended over $8k to residential customers and is in the process of expending over $14k to small business customers. Ongoing programs such as the OESP and LEAP (funded by NOTL Hydro) remain available.
Food and Toy Drive and Donation
No Christmas Parade this year but, thanks to the generosity of our customers, we were still able to run a successful Food and Toy Drive to help those in need at Christmas. NOTL Hydro does not normally make charitable donations but this year we made an exception. With some money saved due to some activities curtailed due to the pandemic, we made a $4k donation to Newark Neighbours.
Ongoing Investments in our System
The pandemic has not slowed our ongoing investments made to continually improve the performance of our electrical system. Whether it is our new 83 MVa transformer installed in June 2020, our ongoing voltage and underground conversion program in the Old Town, our ongoing replacement of old or poor condition materials or our ongoing installation of smart grid devices, we continued to invest. We may have altered our timing but not the scale.
We believe we have a responsibility to use our detailed knowledge of the electricity system in Ontario to represent our customers interests with the relevant authorities. We have continued these communications during the pandemic though much of this has become digital or written. A recent example was our press release in December 2020 commending the move to remove the impacts of the Green Energy Act from hydro rates.