As the NWT Power Corporation prepares to resume using power limiters on homes with unpaid bills, the MLA for Nunakput said the devices should be illegal during the winter months.
In March, the corporation promised to disable power-limiting equipment for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic following calls to do so from Jackie Jacobson.
Last week, however, the corporation announced it would restart collection services – including the use of power limiters – on November 9.
In the legislature on Thursday, Nunakput MLA Jacobson questioned whether the corporation’s March commitment was merely a “public relations stunt.”
He noted northerners tend to use less power during the summer, and the corporation will begin using limiters again as cold weather sets in.
“Did I miss something? Has the pandemic ended?” he questioned.
The corporation – also known as NTPC – uses limiters to restrict the flow of electricity to residences, and cut it off completely every 10 minutes, when payment is more than 28 days late.
NTPC argues that’s a standard practice among Canadian utility companies.
But Jacobson said in the North, where the temperature can drop below -40C in the winter, it means people can’t properly heat their homes or cook for their families.
“This is the North, a harsh reality, a different climate, and other parts of Canada are a lot warmer,” he said.
Jacobson added that during the pandemic, some people in the NWT are living on income assistance and have to decide between buying food or paying their bills.
The corporation said limiting power will help customers avoid racking up even larger bills over the winter and make sure unpaid bills aren’t subsidized by other customers through higher rates.
Diane Archie, the minister responsible for the power corporation, said customers currently owe more than $2 million to NTPC in overdue bills, an increase of more than 450 percent since March.
“I don’t like the use of limiters. But just allowing a debt to increase – to a point where customers have no chance at all for repayment – ends up getting their power cut off for good,” Archie said.
“Limiters protect the person’s house and provide just enough power to run the furnace and rotate use of other appliances.”
Jackson urged the minister to find $2 million to help residents struggling to pay their power bills, rather than throttling power.
“The GNWT has to step up and stop this inhumane practice of using power limiters,” he said.
If the power corporation’s policy does not change, the MLA said, he plans to introduce a motion in the legislature to make the use of limiters illegal in the territory between the months of November and April.
Archie said the power corporation is encouraging customers with overdue bills to enter into repayment plans. If the terms of those plans are met, the corporation has said customers will not be charged interest nor have limiters installed on their residences.
The minister said there are other territorial programs to help residents struggling to meet financial obligations, including the income assistance program and the homelessness assistance fund.