Anyone who lives in Alberta knows that going without electricity or natural gas during the winter months would be a matter of life and death. That’s why the Alberta Utilities Commission and Utilities Consumer Advocate take such situations extremely seriously, and have responded by enforcing strict rules about energy disconnection during winter, as well with the creation of assistance programs designed to help those in need.
Winter Rules for Electricity Disconnection
Under the Electric Utilities Act, Alberta electricity providers and utilities cannot fully disconnect a customer’s electricity service between the dates of October 15th and April 15th. In addition, disconnection is not allowed if weather forecasts indicate temperatures below 0 degrees in the 24 hour period after the date of proposed disconnection.
Obviously, the intention here is not to provide non-paying customers an excuse to use electricity without restriction just because it is winter. To balance the needs of customers and electricity companies, the law allows for service providers to install an electricity limiter on a home’s electricity meter.
Electricity limiters set a hard limit on the total amount of electricity that can be used as once. Limiters are usually set at a level that allows an electric furnace and a small number of lights or other low-energy devices to run simultaneously. If this limit is exceeded, the limiter will trip like a circuit breaker, shutting off the supply of electricity to the home. In this case, the resident will have to go out and reset the limiter by either pressing a reset button or flipping a breaker switch back and forth. Some remotely-controlled limiters are reset remotely by electricity distributors after a period of 15 minutes.
Winter Rules for Natural Gas Disconnection
Natural gas providers in Alberta are compelled to include in their terms and conditions agreements the condition that they may not disconnect natural gas service between the dates of November 1st and April 14th, or at any time when the forecast for the next 24 hours indicates temperatures below 0 degrees.
After April 14th, natural gas providers may disconnect gas service at their own discretion. If service is discontinued for more than six months, it may be necessary for a licensed contractor to check the line, and a municipal inspector will have to inspect it as well, before a gas permit will be issued allowing for the resumption of gas services.
Assistance for Energy Services Disconnection
UCA provides mediation services which help customers in danger of being disconnected negotiate a repayment contract with their energy suppliers. In addition, in November of every year, UCA reaches out to customers who have been disconnected earlier in the year to help connect them with social services and resources that assist with paying off old energy bills.
While UCA is not allowed to directly provide financial assistance, they can refer customers to a number of organizations and government programs designed to help customers in need.
Those wishing to contact the UCA can email them at [email protected], or call them at 310-4822 (780-644-5130 outside of Alberta).