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Hard hit businesses unhappy about Hydro Ottawa fees, disconnection threats

Oct 2, 2020

Author of the article: Oct 02, 2020  •   •  4 minute read OTTAWA - Andre Schad, owner of Jasper's restaurant, poses for a photo in Ottawa Wednesday Sept 30, 2020. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia Article Sidebar Article content When businessman André Schad reopened his retooled and reimagined restaurant, Jasper Ottawa, on Beechwood Avenue last month, he was in for a shock: A $6,300 Hydro Ottawa bill. Schad was able to pay up immediately, but the late fees and interest Hydro charged for the four months the restaurant was closed because of the pandemic emergency order doesn’t sit well with him. We apologize, but this video has failed to load. Try refreshing your browser, or Hard hit businesses unhappy about Hydro Ottawa fees, disconnection threats Back to video “Hydro gave no business owners a deal,” said Schad, who conceded he had “no love for Hydro” even before the pandemic. “We paid our full bill, but they would have disconnected us had we not paid … and they’ll charge you interest and penalties on every month you were closed. We’re not looking for free. We’d just like them to waive the interest and penalties — and maybe a little discount would be appropriate. They will not do that.” The province ordered restaurants closed on March 14 and didn’t allow them to open again until July 17. Though Jasper’s was closed, Schad still needed to power refrigerators and freezers as well as security lighting. He was also forced to lay off all his staff, including the comptroller who was receiving the Hydro Ottawa bills. Even so, Schad says he made a $1,000 Hydro payment over the summer, despite not knowing what the actual bill was. Advertisement Article content continued Schad delayed the restaurant’s opening until September while he installed a pizza oven and shifted its focus to a sports bar oriented to takeout food — the future of restaurants during the pandemic, he said. Unlike Hydro, Bell offered businesses like Schad’s a discount during the shut down and Moneris, which owns the point-of-sale terminals, did not charge fees for its equipment while the restaurant was closed, he said. “The service and restaurant industry is getting decimated. And now we’re in the middle of a second wave,” Schad said. “How many restaurants on Elgin Street have had to close for 14 days because of COVID? People are terrified. No one wants to go inside, yet Hydro wants full payment, interest and penalty.” Schad isn’t alone in his Hydro complaints, but is one of the few willing to speak publicly, said Mike Wood, marketing director for Ottawa Special Events, which provides sound and lighting services for major outdoor events like Bluesfest. “They don’t want to go on the record because they don’t want people to think they’re in trouble. But everyone is in trouble,” said Wood, who has become a spokesman for small businesses and has written op-eds for this newspaper on the subject. “Nobody wants to go public and say, ‘Hey, they’re going to cut off the hydro for my business.’ It’s embarrassing.” Wood said his revenue is down by more than 90 per cent as Bluesfest, weddings and other events were cancelled by the pandemic. He, too, has a hydro bill to pay, which he’s doing on a payment plan, though at credit-card level interest rates. Advertisement Article content continued “Somehow Hydro wants us to pay 100 per cent of our bills even though we’ve lost almost all our revenue. It’s nobody’s fault, but there has to be some sort of sliding scale: ‘If you’re down ‘x’ amount, then this is what we’ll bill you.” The province suspended electricity shut offs earlier this year, but that grace period ended July 31st. And though Hydro Ottawa does have a subsidy plan for businesses that have missed at least two months payments, Wood said many business owners have been paying their bills with their own credit cards, so they don’t qualify. “They got nervous and paid it anyway and now they’re being penalized for that,” he said. Hydro Ottawa said it’s doing its best to accommodate businesses facing hardship and that disconnection remains “a last resort” for the utility company. “We understand that the past few months have been more difficult for some than others, and we want our customers to know that we are here to work with them and support them in these uncertain times,” Hydro Ottawa’s chief customer service officer, Julie Lupinacci, said in an emailed statement. “As such, we started reaching out to customers through automated phone calls starting at the end of June that flexible payment arrangement and financial assistance programs continue to be available and to call us to discuss their circumstances.” Hydro Ottawa offers flexible payment plans for customers and offers financial assistance and emergency relief for customers who are struggling financially, Lupinacci said. “Disconnection is the last resort for Hydro Ottawa. Any customer receiving a notice would have received a minimum of three notifications and only when there is no effort made by customers to make a payment or call us to discuss their situation, do we consider disconnection.” The utility has disconnected fewer than 10 businesses since the disconnection moratorium ended, which is just 0.02 per cent of its small business customers, she said. bcrawford@postmedia.com Share this Story: Hard hit businesses unhappy about Hydro Ottawa fees, disconnection threats

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