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@example.com, or call them at 310-4822 (780-644-5130 outside of Alberta).
What Happens When I Don’t Pay My Electricity or Gas Bill?
Utilities disconnection doesn’t occur immediately if your electricity or gas bills are unpaid. Initially, when you don’t pay your bills, a late fee will be added to the following month’s bill as well as the unpaid amount from the former month.
If at this point your bills remain unpaid, your electricity or natural gas provider will send written notice or call you usually within 20-30 days in order to notify you of non-payment and request that your bills be paid within a certain time period. If there’s no response to the provided written notice and/or call, your service provider may call again or send another written notice notifying you of the disconnection of the utilities you have not paid for. If payment is still not given or if you don’t contact your service provider at this point, your utilities may be disconnected without further notice to you. In order to use the disconnected services again, you’ll have to pay the utility bills you owe as well as a reconnection fee.
If your service provider used a collections agency to recover costs from you, you will likely be charged the collections costs as well as the resulting accumulated late fees.
If you paid a security deposit to your service provider, your service may use your security deposit to pay off your unpaid bills if you continue to not pay your bills.
Although unlikely, your utility provider can pursue legal action if you do not pay your electricity or gas bills.
Can your power be shut off in the winter in Alberta?
According to the Distribution Tariff Regulation, electricity services cannot be fully disconnected between October 15 and April 15. If your electricity services are not paid for within this time frame, your electricity provider may install a limiter on your meter. Natural gas services cannot be fully disconnected between November 15 and April 15. In addition to this, your natural gas or electricity provider cannot disconnect your services at any point where the temperature is predicted to be below 0 degrees Celsius within the immediate 24-hour period after the disconnection is set to occur.
What is a limiter?
A limiter is a device that can be installed on your meter to limit the amount of electricity that you can use. If you haven’t paid your electricity bills during the winter, your electricity services won’t be fully cut off, but a limiter will be installed on your meter by an electricity distribution company. Limiters will allow enough electricity for your furnace and a few lights to run. Trying to use too much electricity will turn off your limiter and result in your electricity temporarily being cut off. You can restart your electricity service by reducing your electricity usage and resetting the limiter on your meter. Some limiters reset automatically after 15 minutes.
There are two types of limiters: manual and remote-capability meters. Manual meters come as manual limiters (the reset button is at bottom of the device), and breaker type limiters. The manual limiters provide 120 volts and 15 amps of service, which is fairly limited. Keep that in mind if trying to turn on appliances that require 240 volts of power such as electric stove, clothing dryer, and air conditioner.
Of course, tampering with a limiter is not only unsafe, but also illegal. You can be facing additional fees and disconnection of electricity service. That is why if you need to restore limited electricity read the included instructions on the tag that is usually placed on the limiter. Another factor to keep in mind is reducing your electrical usage before turning on the limiter. That will prevent power shutting off again and wait time for it to be restored. You can also unplug non-essential items that use electricity such as alarm clocks, phone chargers, hair styling tools and others.
(However, the limiter does not guarantee a consistent electricity supply, that is why we recommend to have a back-up power supply if you have a special need electrical medical equipment to run.)
The second type, remote-capability limiters are virtual meters that electricity distributor resets remotely after activation (typically 15-30 minutes). There are two types of limiters: manual and remote-capability meters.
Manual meters come as manual limiters (the reset button is at the bottom of the device), and breaker-type limiters. The manual limiters provide 120 volts and 15 amps of service, which is fairly limited. Keep that in mind when trying to turn on appliances that require 240 volts of power, such as an electric stove, clothing dryer, and air conditioner.
Of course, tampering with a limiter is not only unsafe, but also is illegal. You can be facing additional fees and disconnection of electricity service. That is why if you need to restore limited electricity, read the included instructions on the tag that is usually placed on the limiter. Another factor to keep in mind is reducing your electrical usage before turning on the limiter. That will prevent power shutting off again and wait time for it to be restored. You can also unplug non-essential items that use electricity, such as alarm clocks, phone chargers, hair styling tools and others.
(However, the limiter does not guarantee a consistent electricity flow. That is why we recommend having a back-up power supply if you need to run an electrical medical equipment.)
The second type, remote-capability limiters are virtual meters that the electricity distributor resets remotely after activation (typically 15-30 minutes). Their load is higher than manual limiters, and provides 240 volts and 15 amps of service.
The main difference between the two types of limiters is that you can not reset the virtual meter by yourself. During the disconnection cycle, you would have to turn off all appliances that exceed 15 amps. (The load that exceeds 15 amps would have only 59 seconds of power before disconnecting.) Then, you would have to wait for a virtual automatic reset of the power that would happen within 15-30 minutes.
What happens when your gas is cut off?
When your natural gas services are shut off, anything requiring the use of natural gas in your home will no longer work. If your natural gas service has been off for at least six months, you may need to pay for an inspection and gas permit before you’re able to reconnect your natural gas service. A bonded and licensed contractor needs to assess your gas line and a municipal inspector needs to do an inspection before reconnection is possible. It’s also important to note that reconnection of your natural gas services is often not immediate — same day reconnection may require a higher fee.
Other examples of financial assistance. What can I do if I can’t pay my bills?
If you need help with your energy bills, financial assistance for energy bills in Alberta is available. For example, the Direct Energy Emergency Fund is available to provide emergency grants for Albertans experiencing utility-related financial crisis who live within the service areas of the United Way of Calgary and Area and the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region. You can dial 211 to speak with a case worker in order to determine your eligibility. You can learn more about the Direct Energy Emergency Fund on the Direct Energy website.
If you need billing assistance because your natural gas or electricity services have been cut off, the Utilities Consumer Advocate can help you arrange payment plans with your service provider. You can contact the Utilities Consumer Advocate at 310-4822, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alberta Supports can also be contacted if you are struggling to pay your utility bills. You can contact Alberta Supports at 780-644-9992, visit their website, or visit a nearby Alberta Human Services office to get in touch.
Another option is to have a family member or friend make payments to settle your account.
What is a power cut off for non-payment?
This is also known as “De-energize for Non-Payment.” This is the disconnection of metering or electrical equipment from the Electric Distribution System to prevent electricity from flowing to your home. This disconnection occurs as a result of not paying your electricity bill.