Deadbeat NPC customers won’t see electricity cut off

“It’s very bad timing to do this during Christmas”


The more than 400 residents and businesses in Iqaluit who received disconnection notices from the Nunavut Power Corp. last week will not see their electrical power cut off.

“It is against the law to cut off the power when you get into the months of November, December, January and February,” said Ed Picco, Nunavut’s energy minister

Instead, power corporation employees will install load-limiters on units occupied by non-paying power customers. A load-limiter is a regulating device that reduces the amount of electricity coming in.

“The load-limiter would allow the hot-water heater to work, the furnace to work, but it wouldn’t allow the stereo to be on or three televisions to be working, and so on,” Picco said. “So, the power is not disconnected, but people are put on a load-limiter until their accounts are brought up to date.”

Picco said the disconnection notices should have been clear about that.

“That should have been clarified,” Picco said. “The corporation apologizes for that.”

The pre-holiday timing couldn’t have been worse for Picco, the MLA for Iqaluit East.

“There’s a policy in place to collect,” Picco said. “All I’m saying is that it’s very bad timing to do this during Christmas.”

Picco, who didn’t realize that the disconnection notices had been sent, stepped off a plane from Ottawa last Friday into a barrage of complaints from disgruntled constituents and power customers.

“Disconnection notices shouldn’t be in place two weeks before, or two weeks after Christmas. That’s usually the norm. It’s unprecedented that these disconnect notices would be issued less than two weeks before Christmas,” Picco said.

This isn’t the first time Picco has had to account for NPC’s actions. During this month’s final sitting of the legislative assembly, Picco explained that an NPC disconnection notice doesn’t always mean that a disconnection is imminent.

“I’ve spoken to people in the corporation about treating people respectfully and the fact we have to collect our accounts receivable, but, at the same time, we’re in Nunavut and we trying to do things a little differently. Not to be heartless. You can’t do that.”

But some who don’t pay their bills will eventually lose their electrical power.

A couple of Iqaluit Housing Authority tenants have been without power since July, because they haven’t paid their arrears — even after a load-limiter was installed.

Last week, 106 social housing tenants received overdue notices from NPC. The Iqaluit Housing Authority pays 20 cents of the 26 cents per kilowatt hour NPC charges, so the average monthly power bill is only about $10 a month.

Many tenants can also ask Income Support to cover the remaining amount — but they must make those arrangements on their own.

“We have been on the radio in English and Inuktitut, talking to them to get in and pay your bills,” said IHA manager Susan Spring. “Everyone knows you have to pay your electricity.”

If they don’t pay, they could face disconnection later on, as well as additional bills for housing damage, eviction and even homelessness, because every social housing tenant must be eligible to receive electricity in their unit.

Simon Merkosak, the chairman of NPC’s board, said NPC workers in Iqaluit were simply following procedures when the notices were sent.

“We just follow our policies. If people don’t like it, it’s up to the politicians,” Merkosak said from Pond Inlet.

The NPC has been under increasing pressure to reduce expenses and collect money. The power corporation lost $7.978 million during the 2002-03 fiscal year, its second full year of operation.

That’s $2.828 million more than it lost in 2001-02, its first full year, excluding expenses incurred when the NPC separated from the Northwest Territories Power Corp.

By the beginning of this week, 326 of the 401 who received disconnect notices had already paid all or part of their bills or made arrangements to pay their debt.

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