Alberta Utility Bill Deferral
We live in unprecedented times. Within a month, 2020 has unleashed a global health crisis, overwhelming many other countries’ medical systems and threatening the global economy. It’s a good reason for anyone to fret, but all over Canada, governments are implementing programs to ensure that residents won’t have to worry about losing access to their utility services. In Alberta, energy consumers who need help paying bills are able to defer their utility payments for 90 days through the Alberta Utility Deferral program.
Albertans in need will be able to defer their utility bill payments for up to 90 days
The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), in agreement with the provincial government, has put in place a 90-day deferral on their natural gas and electricity bills. But who’s eligible? According to a recent governmental fact-sheet, the program is open to any Albertan who consumes less than 250,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity per year, and less than 2,500 GJ (gigajoules) of natural gas per year.
Initially, the provincial government announced that this would apply to all residential plans, farms, and small businesses in Alberta with any retailer that supplies them. The annual consumption threshold, however, sets a clearer mark for Albertans to figure out if they qualify for the deferral.
The AUC will let Albertans know if the deferral needs to be extended. In the meantime, residents shouldn’t be worried about their utilities cutting off, if they are unable to work and gain income during this time.
The decision is part of a series of relief measures presented by the provincial government on March 18, including a six-month, interest-free moratorium on Alberta student loan payments and emergency isolation support. For more benefits and support available to families, read the Financial supports for Albertans document.
How do I apply for the utility deferral?
As published on the official Support for Albertans page, energy consumers will have to call their utility provider directly to arrange for a 90-day deferral on all payments. In case you don’t know who is your energy provider, here’s a full guide on how to find out: Who’s my energy provider in Alberta?
How long is the deferral going to last?
90 days. The program came into effect on March 18 and it will run through June 18, 2020.
When will I start paying utility bills again?
It’s important to note that this is a payment deferral, not a cancellation. The program was created to provide consumers with temporary financial relief. In case you choose to defer your utility payments, you will still have to pay for your deferred energy bills after June 18, 2020.
According to the Government, the AUC is working with utility companies to develop a payment system to help consumers pay back their deferred bills within a reasonable time period. However, some rules will apply to everyone:
- Payments will be required at the end of the deferral period, but consumers will not be required to pay for the entirety of the deferral after June 18.
- Repayment can occur through equal, monthly installments – starting when the program ends on June 18 – or through a repayment plan agreed to by the retailer and customer. All deferred payments must be paid back by June 18, 2021.
For more information, consumers must contact their energy providers to negotiate repayment options.
How is the repayment system going to work for each major retailer in Alberta?
Utility retailers are free to come up with their own repayment setups as long as they follow the guidelines set by the Government of Alberta. EnergyRates.ca contacted some of the major energy retailers in Alberta via email to understand how the repayment is going to work for their customers. Read on for more details:
EPCOR: EPCOR is not going to have a standard repayment system, and customers will have to call to set up flexible payment arrangements: “Throughout and after the deferral period, EPCOR is willing to assist customers with their accounts and to make payment arrangements that will work for them. We encourage any customer who is experiencing financial hardship to contact us at 310-4300 to discuss their account with us.”
ENMAX: ENMAX is not going to have a standard repayment system, and customers will have to call to set up flexible payment arrangements: “We encourage our customers to connect with us directly so we can support each unique situation. We offer a variety of payment options and we’re here to help.”
Spot Power: The total amount of the deferred invoices and the repayment of the full amount will be spread out over the 12-month period from July 2020 to June 2021.
Direct Energy: Direct Energy is also planning to have a standard system: “We are currently planning to set up customers on equal repayment installments to be paid back by June 2021, not on individual plans.”
ATCO: We haven’t heard from ATCO yet, but, as posted on its website, “at the end of the temporary deferral period, you’ll have a few options to help handle the large balance. We’ll work with you to help spread that balance out over time to make your bills more manageable.”
We’ll update this section once we receive updates from any of these and other retailers.
Are large commercial consumers eligible for the deferral plan?
No. As of April 1, 2020, only consumers who use up to 250,000 kWh of electricity and up to 2,500 GJ of natural gas (both per year) were eligible to participate in the Alberta utility bill deferral program. Although there have been a few exceptions for some large commercial customers, most energy retailers are currently following the provincial government’s decision.
However, it’s important to note that medium and large businesses in the city of Medicine Hat can participate in the plan and set up deferred payment arrangements by contacting the local utility at [email protected] or 403.529.8113.
Will I pay late payment fees if I choose to defer my utility bills?
No, you will not have to pay late payment fees for not paying your bills between March 18th and June 18th, 2020.
Can renters participate in the utility deferral plan?
Yes, they only need to contact their utility provider. However, in cases where rent and utilities are combined, renters need to contact their landlord directly to discuss their options.
Can my utilities get disconnected for non-payment?
From March 18 to June 18, 2020, no one in Alberta will have their electricity and natural gas services cut off or limited.
Should I defer my utility payments?
It all depends on how your financial life looks like now. However, the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) suggests that if you’re still able to pay your utility bills, you should do so to avoid a large energy bill after June 19th. According to the UCA, the program has a focus on people who can’t make payments on time due to the COVID-19 pandemic — for example, Albertans who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, have lost their jobs or are taking care of a family member.
Over the next few days, Albertans expect the Government of Alberta and the AUC to provide energy consumers with more information on how this program is going to work. This story will be updated as soon as the province releases new details.