OEB Decision Addresses Slow Uptake of COVID-19 Energy Assistance Funding
The Ontario government’s COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program has made $9 million in funding available to residential consumers who are struggling to pay their energy bills as a result of the COVID-19 emergency, and the COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program – Small Business has made $8 million in funding available to small business and registered charity customers. On June 16, 2020 and August 7, 2020, the Ontario Energy Board issued decisions amending the licences of all licensed electricity distributors and unit sub-meter providers (referred to by the OEB as “Utilities”) to support the implementation of these programs. On September 30, 2020, the OEB issued a further decision “to address issues that have arisen in terms of the level of participation by customers in the programs and facilitate achievement of the government’s goal for the programs.”
The September 30th decision indicates that uptake for the programs has been significantly less than anticipated. Based on IESO reporting of requests for reimbursement of CEAP funding by Utilities, the OEB said that, as of the end of August, less than 5% of the money allocated to the Utilities had been credited to customer bills. The OEB also indicated its understanding that uptake of CEAP-SB funding has been slower than expected (although there is less than a month of data available for CEAP-SB).
As a result of the slower than expected uptake of funding, the OEB decided to make further amendments to the licences of the Utilities to revise the eligibility conditions for both programs. Previously, only customers in good standing as of March 17, 2020 were eligible for funding. Under the revised eligibility criteria, customers who made at least a partial payment with respect to amounts owing from bills prior to March 17, 2020 will be eligible for funding. The OEB expressed the view that this revision is consistent with the goal of the programs, as well as the suggested criterion that funding be available to customers whose accounts are in good standing, given that eligibility is extended to customers who were making good faith efforts to manage their arrears prior to the COVID-19 emergency.
The OEB also revised the requirement that the account holder, or the account holder’s spouse or common-law partner residing in the same residence, be unemployed on the date when a CEAP application is filed. The revised criterion is that the account holder, or the account holder’s spouse or common-law partner residing in the same residence, received Employment Insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit after March 17, 2020. According to the OEB, this revised criterion recognizes that many customers may have returned to work as the economy has reopened, but were still impacted by the COVID-19 emergency and need assistance in resuming regular bill payments.
The September 30th decision deals with other related matters, including a requirement that the Utilities reprocess all rejected applications in their possession as of September 30, 2020, applying the revised criteria and the guidance provided in the decision.