What went wrong with Hydro One’s customer billing?

By MPP Toby Barrett
“Getting to the root of the problem with Hydro One was akin to trying to pin a kangaroo to a trampoline.” – André Marin
Those were the words of Ontario Ombudsman André Marin as he delivered a scathing report on Hydro One. In The Dark is the title of the Ombudsman’s investigation into over 10,000 complaints he received between April 2013 and April 2015 after a new billing system was installed.
Over the years I have penned newspaper columns about Ontario’s electricity fiasco — including the outrageous bills and treatment people here in Haldimand-Norfolk have received. Some of the facts were so bizarre that it was hard for some to believe.
Complaints to the Ombudsman’s office were substantive. People were sent huge bills or had money removed from their accounts, when they hadn’t even been billed by Hydro One for several months.
In one case, a corporate client was billed $15 million instead of the actual $4,000. After receiving a $37,000 bill, a ski club questioned the amount only to be asked for $37 million on their next bill. Canadian Forces Base Petawawa received an incorrect bill for $50.7 million.
Marin’s report highlighted homeowner horror stories as well. For example, Hydro One using automated billing to take $10,000 from the bank account of a senior citizen and then took months to resolve what should have been an $800 bill. Another ratepayer was billed $11,000 for electricity he already paid for after a meter change. After going through the tragedy of having her house burn down, one lady continued to receive bills for electricity she obviously couldn’t have used. In another case, a man sold his property and wanted to straighten out his final bill, which he pegged at less than $100 — then he received a call from a collection company for $18,000. After being assured by a manager there was an error, he was called by a different collection company. In the end, his bill was only $56.35.

Marin alleges the corruption goes even deeper. He claims his investigators, the Energy Minister, and the Ontario Energy Board were all misled by Hydro One employees in regards to the severity of the issues related to the new billing system.
Hydro One has now spent over $88 million to attempt to dig its way out of controversy and to restore customer trust.
Sadly, the problems are more than typographical errors, and are reflective of Hydro One’s failure to appreciate the impact on customers.
The Wynne government is proposing to sell off a portion of Hydro One – this may not accomplish the necessary change and in fact may make things worse if independent oversight is not put in place. Unfortunately, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli refuses to accept Marin’s recommendation to make the necessary oversight a reality. Another fear is the price of electricity will climb even higher – people already cannot afford their bills.
Ratepayers want transparency and accountability for the way their hydro dollars are spent. Where would affected Hydro One customers be today without the office of the Ombudsman? Mr. Marin is much different than a corporate ombudsman whose loyalty is ultimately to the employer it serves.
From this report, Hydro One has apparently not lived up to the principles of good public administration — the culture at Hydro One must be changed.