SAULT STE. MARIE -- Sault Ste. Marie’s power company is being fined $20,000 by the Ontario Energy Board for violating disconnection rules -- specifically those pertaining to the amount of notice given prior to disconnection.

It was a complaint from a PUC customer in late 2019 that touched off the investigation by the OEB. The customer said they were being threatened with disconnection. A subsequent investigation found a large number of customers were given disconnection notices in violation of OEB rules.

“Thirty-six-hundred-and-some customers had received non-compliant disconnection notices,” said Brian Hewson, a vice-president at the OEB. “What the main concern was that they had not given the customer sufficient time as required under our rules to allow the customer to make arrangements to pay their bill.”

Hewson added that PUC is cooperating fully with the OEB.

Took ownership right away

“The company took ownership of the issue right away and said, ‘Can we work out an appropriate way to deal with this?’ And that’s what really led to the assurance of voluntary compliance,” says Hewson.

PUC, meantime, is on damage control, reaching out to all affected customers.

“We’re apologizing to our customers,” said spokesperson Jairus Patterson. “We’re in the middle of sending out letters to every customer that did receive a disconnection letter.”

Patterson said it was a clerical error that led to the disconnection notices being sent out prematurely. He said disconnecting customers is not something PUC takes lightly.

“Disconnections are the absolute last thing we want to do,” he said. “We send out emails, we send out letters, we make phone calls. And sometimes we have to disconnect our customers, and this is a case where we made a mistake.”

Patterson said steps are being taken to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. On top of the OEB fine of $20,000, PUC is donating $25,000 to the Low-income Energy Assistance Program - or LEAP.