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Consumers say they can’t keep up with natural gas prices as Enbridge applies for another increase

Sitting on the back patio of her house, Lynda McCarthy carefully sifts through her neatly organized Enbridge Gas bills.

Living on a fixed income with her husband in Newcastle, Ont., a small community in Durham Region east of Toronto, the 73-year-old keeps a close eye on expenses and sticks to a strict budget. 

“This was a total shock to get my Enbridge bill,” she said. 

That bill is up by $55 a month after Enbridge got the Ontario Energy Board’s approval for an 18 to 23 per cent price increase that went into effect July 1. 

“I thought there must be some mistake here. I called Enbridge. No, there was no mistake,” said McCarthy, who moved with her husband into a smaller home to cut costs.

“You feel secure, you have a good budget and you are managing, and suddenly there are all these extra expenses.”

‘It’s not a small amount’

Enbridge Gas says the war in Ukraine paired with increased global demand is pushing natural gas prices to historic highs. which the company says it’s expecting to continue for some time to come. That’s why, Enbridge says, it’s asking for another increase, which if approved would start Oct. 1. 

“Even if it’s a small increase at this point, a few per cent could translate into another $100 in the course of the year for an average consumer, so it’s not a small amount,” said Warren Mabee, an assistant professor of geography and the director of Queen’s University’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy.

“It’s not something I think people will just shrug off.”

McCarthy says she was shocked to receive the bill and thought it was a mistake until Enbridge told her otherwise. (Submitted by Lynda McCarthy)

He said although Russia invading Ukraine caused unpredictability in the markets, volatility in the industry is predictable as Canada moves toward the elimination of fossil fuels in a bid to cut greenhouse gasses. 

“I think governments do need to pay more attention to that, we need to make this as smooth as possible for people as they go through the transition,” Mabee said. 

Peter Tabuns, the Ontario NDP’s interim leader and its energy critic, said he’s been hearing from constituents about the price of natural gas going up on top of other increases in the cost of living. He said the Ontario government should compel Enbridge to do more to help consumers. 

“The government can direct Enbridge to put a lot more money into conservation energy programs to help customers,” Tabuns said.

“They should also be looking very seriously right now at a program for relief for particularly low income consumers who are going to have the hardest time making sure they can eat and heat through this winter.”

Enbridge’s rate mitigation plan

In a statement to CBC Toronto, Ontario’s Ministry of Energy said the government asked both the Ontario Energy Board and Enbridge Gas last winter to “employ all of the tools at their disposal to mitigate the impact of rising global energy prices for Ontarians.”

When the Ontario Energy Board approved natural gas prices in July, it also included a rate mitigation plan proposed by Enbridge that protects customers from the full impact of global price increases, the ministry’s statement says.

Enbridge offers incentives to make homes more energy efficient, like an upgrade to insulation, air sealing, new water heaters and windows.

Low-income households can also apply for some relief through the low-income energy assistance program.

In a statement to CBC News, Enbridge said it moderated the market price impacts for customers by deferring a portion of the natural gas market price increases for the October 2021, January 2022, April 2022 and July 2022 quarterly rate adjustments.

But that doesn’t ease the worry for McCarthy, who will pay an extra $600 this year on her natural gas bill..

“I think we may be in trouble in the future, there is just two of us little old gray haired people” she said.

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