Hydro Quebec Refund – Will we ever see a refund?
Hydro Quebec refund – On Wednesday April 5th it was all over the news and social media. Hydro Quebec finally admitted to over billing their customers for years – something many people had suspected for a long while, including the CAQ opposition party. They claimed that since 2008 the over billing amounted to over $1.4 billion. It was followed by Hydro attempting to justify the charges, saying ‘the amounts overcharged were handed over to the provincial government and therefore went into paying for services to the population’ – but that excuse is not going over well with customers and critics.
The CAQ, politically motivated of course, immediately launched an online petition demanding refunds. Then on Tuesday April 18th the CPA – Coalition Peuple Allumé (‘Switched On Coalition’) held a citizen event in Montreal where a formal notice was drafted, demanding reimbursement on behalf of Hydro’s customers. The notice was read out loud then handed over to a bailiff to be officially delivered to Premier Philippe Couillard’s office – asking for a clear commitment from the government as to how and when the payments will be made and demanding the province produce a plan within the next 10 days on how they will reimburse taxpayers or they will be ‘required to undertake other actions’. To date there has been close to 38,000 ‘participations’ in the proposed actions which include the notice, a petition and if needed, a class action suit. The actions can be found online at weroes.com, a civic action website. (You can also see the notice with this article on our website).
Proponents of the actions estimate it would amount to about $350 per customer or a rate reduction of around 12% – but it is not as clear as that. Several well-informed and astute Montreal Times readers weighed in on the actions, questioning the amounts estimated or if Hydro will ever even pay back their customers. As well, one reader questioned if this is not simply a ‘smoke and no fire’ tactic by the CAQ for political gain – knowing well the money will never really be seen.
The $350 average amount is not realistic, given that some people were not overcharged as much as others. Foremost, there is consumption to consider. Some people use more electricity than others – and the difference in their payments could amount to hundreds if not thousands of dollars overpaid. As well, what is the exact percentage overcharged? Can Hydro even be trusted with those figures?
Hydro-Québec has been over billing for years and the government was aware of it. In 2015, Natural Resources Minister Pierre Arcand said money would be reimbursed to customers – once the government balanced its budget. Well, the government recently announced not only another balanced budget, but also an estimated surplus of $2.5 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
As well, with this knowledge Hydro still increased their rates by 0.7% on April 1st for residential clients as well many of their business customers – after requesting a 1.6% increase.
Hydro said the reasoning behind this is because of ‘higher costs of power purchases and lower-than-anticipated demand’. Even with the increase, Hydro-Québec maintains its rates are still the lowest in North America and ‘less than half of what people pay in Toronto and a quarter of what they pay in New York’. This does not sit well with Quebecers. And it shouldn’t. Why should we not benefit from our natural resources as other provinces or countries do?
According to the Coalition Peuple Allumé, the corporation’s executives continue to receive performance bonuses, including a record amount of $23 million in 2015. And for a fourth consecutive year, Hydro-Québec’s contribution to the Québec government, its sole shareholder, exceeded $4 billion. CPA members also argue that ‘Hydro-Québec is a state corporation whose benefits are supposed to be passed directly to citizens, preferably in the guise of lower rates. Shifting the profits to deficit reduction is akin to a hidden tax, and Hydro-Québec is running more like a profit-driven private corporation’. Members also complained that ‘the provincial energy board sets rate hikes as well as profit margins the utility company is supposed to follow, but nothing is done when Hydro-Québec repeatedly surpasses those margins’.
“Paying down the deficit is a good thing, but not on the backs of consumers paying for an essential service,” Pascal Zamprelli of the CPA maintained.
All said, the question remains – will Hydro-QC customers ever see a refund? Time will tell. In the meantime, the meters are still running.