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Reality Check

RC-27: Can Your Heat be Turned Off in Winter?

Date Posted: November 26, 2011

Manitobans’ believe their heat cannot be shut-off for non-payment between October 1 and May of the following year, because s. 104.1(2) of Manitoba’s Public Utilities Board Act establishes a prohibited period for disconnections that “will affect the supply of heat to occupied residential premises” during the winter heating season.

However this is not the case for electricity, because s 2(5) of the Pubic Utilities Board Act states that “...this Act, [with limited exceptions like Manitoba Hydro rates]... does not apply to Manitoba Hydro and the board has no jurisdiction or authority over Manitoba Hydro.”

Manitoba Hydro, a publicly owned utility, purchased Centra Gas in July 1999, and it operates as a wholly owned subsidiary. Restrictions on disconnecting natural gas in winter months continued. In 2004 Manitoba Hydro amalgamated billing to customers, to reflect the costs of receiving natural gas and electricity on a single bill. An updated PUB disconnection and reconnection policy, is contained in Manitoba Public Utilities Board (PUB) Order No. 14/08. Electric heat was not included.

Natural gas customers still cannot be disconnected between October 1 and May 14 of the following year, and if disconnected outside the winter heating season, natural gas heat must be reconnected by October 1, even if outstanding balances remain.

Those customers who obtain heat from a dual natural gas/electric system and who have payments in arrears, may be subject to installation of electricity limiters, which allow only enough electricity to keep a furnace fan, fridge, and a light bulb or two running.

According to Manitoba Hydro’s 2010-11 Annual Report Manitoba Hydro has approximately 470, 000 residential electricity customers, and 240, 0000 natural gas customers. So nearly one-half of Manitoba homes could have their electric heat disconnected during Manitoba’s frigid winters.

Many Manitoba Hydro customers with electric power for both light and heat are located in northern, rural, remote, and/or First Nation communities, as natural gas hook-ups are only available in southern Manitoba where there is a pipeline.

Policy and regulatory changes to make sure all Manitobans are treated the same with respect to disconnection of power to heat their homes are overdue. Consideration is also needed to increase Public Utilities Board authority respecting Manitoba Hydro.

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