For immediate release March 10, 2009
TORONTO - The Low-Income Energy Network today commended the Ontario Energy Board for establishing the new Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) and recognizing the needs of low-income energy consumers in Ontario. LIEN was responding to an OEB report released today following consultations held last fall.
The OEB instituted its consultation on low-income energy issues after LIEN secured a ruling from Divisional Court which found that the OEB has the jurisdiction to take affordability into account as part of its statutory mandate to set just and reasonable rates. This sets an important context for future proceedings before the OEB and for the successful operation of LEAP.
"LIEN is pleased that the OEB has recognized that energy poverty is an important issue requiring urgent action," said Sarah Blackstock, Research and Policy Analyst with the Income Security Advocacy Centre, a founding LIEN member. "And that the OEB will target significant funds to improve energy security in the province for the most financially vulnerable households."
"We have been advocating for a comprehensive energy poverty strategy for Ontario since LIEN's inception in 2004," noted Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, another founding member of LIEN. "The OEB's report recognizes that a comprehensive approach is required and puts several necessary building blocks in place."
The LEAP emergency energy fund totalling about $5 million annually will be available year round on a consistent basis across the province, and will be provided by both electricity and gas energy providers together with social service agencies in each community. This will ensure that the program is available to low-income energy consumers in need all across Ontario.
Despite these improvements, the OEB declined to provide the permanent energy rate assistance program for low-income consumers that LIEN had recommended. The Board did recognize that LEAP will not in itself address broader problems of energy poverty. "We still have a long way to go to ensure that that all Ontarians have access to green, affordable energy, and we will continue to engage in broader discussions with the Ontario government, the Board and others in this respect going forward," said Blackstock.
Low-income consumers have difficulty accessing energy conservation and demand management programs, and the OEB report noted that there is a need for those programs to be targeted to low-income consumers. "LIEN looks forward to providing input as these new programs are designed," said McClenaghan. "Conservation programs are important to ensure low-income consumers can both reduce energy use and participate in the culture of conservation in the province."
An area of special concern to low-income consumers is that of terms of service imposed by energy providers on their customers. "The impacts of security deposits, disconnection and reconnection fees, late payment charges, imposition of smart meters and much else can be very devastating for individual families in need", stated Mary Todorow, Research/Policy Analyst with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, another LIEN founding member. "The Board has signalled significant improvements to these terms which would result in alleviating some real hardship."
"We are also pleased that the Board is putting a strong emphasis on improving outreach and education, especially around the LEAP program. This has been a real deficiency in the available programs to date," noted Todorow, "with uneven access to programs and to information about programs."
Equitable access to basic energy needs is fundamental to families' and individuals' well being. LIEN is, therefore, very happy to note that the Board report indicates that the new LEAP program should be fully in place by November 2009, the next heating season in Ontario.
For more information:
Theresa McClenaghan, Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA)
416-960-2284 ext. 219
Sarah Blackstock, Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)\
Click on the following links to view the various OEB reports laying out the groundwork for a comprehensive assistance program for low-income energy consumers:
Report of the Board: http://www.oeb.gov.on.ca/OEB/_Documents/EB-2008-0150/Board_Report_LEAP_20090310.pdf
Appendix A - Staff Report to the Board: http://www.oeb.gov.on.ca/OEB/_Documents/EB-2008-0150/AppendixA_StaffReport_20090310.pdf