Many Enbridge Gas customers in the area are furious with escalating natural gas costs that in some cases have increased five-fold in recent months.
Carmen and John Novosky say the monthly bill for gas use at their Orillia home has jumped from $117 to over $580 over the past few months.
“There is definitely something afoot with them,” Carmen said. “When they raised it from $117 to $281 in the fall, I thought that was just a joke.”
For the month of January, the Novoskys were charged more than $580.
“We don’t know if that’s an error or if it's real,” Carmen said. “We haven’t used anywhere near our allotment, and we just have a tiny house.”
According to Andrea Stass, Manager, External Communications and Media Relations for Enbridge Gas, natural gas is a commodity and the market price "fluctuates with changes in the amount of readily available supply or in the level of demand" for the product.
“During 2022, we experienced increases in market prices related to the conflict in Ukraine and an increase in the demand for North American natural gas,” she explained in a written statement for this article.
Stass says natural gas prices have declined recently. On Jan. 1, Enbridge Gas implemented a reduction in the rates that customers pay for natural gas.
Stass says residential customers in Orillia and the surrounding area who buy natural gas from the utility will see a decrease in their natural gas bills of about $142 per year, or about nine percent of the total natural gas bill.
The Novoskys chose to sign up for the equal monthly payment plan which spreads a customer’s estimated yearly natural gas costs into monthly payments to help manage their energy budget. The estimation is calculated by gas use history, expected gas prices, and weather forecasts. Then, the estimate is divided into 12 installment payments which are charged on the monthly bill.
In the 12th month of a customer’s plan, Enbridge Gas compares the actual use and cost to the forecast and either collects or refunds the difference. They also then re-calculate the customer’s new plan payment amount based on updated information including the previous year’s use and an updated forecast for gas prices for the new period.
“For most customers, this happened in the fall of 2022,” Stass explains. “For many, the new equal monthly payment plan payment was an increase as current gas rates are higher than they were when the initial payment was set up last year."
As seniors on a fixed income, the Novoskys say they can’t make more money to pay their inflated gas bills.
“It’s very hard on people,” Carmen said. “Like most people, we’ve been trying to turn the thermostat down,” John added.
The Novoskys have replaced their gas-powered fireplace with an electric one to try to help keep their home warm and their gas bill more affordable. The Novosky home is only 750 square feet, with only a gas-powered boiler and water heater.
They say the situation is even more devastating for people living in larger homes equipped with natural gas stoves.
Kathie Atkinson is a local resident who was paying $72.70 for her monthly Enbridge Gas bill when she lived in London in the fall. When she moved to Orillia, she was faced with an $85 bill despite not having the heat on at all during her first two weeks in her new home, which is roughly the same size as her previous one.
“I thought there is no way,” she said. “I couldn’t have used that much gas in a couple of weeks when I don’t keep the house very warm.”
Atkinson’s bill increased to $220 the next month and has now increased to around $360 — nearly five times what she paid in London.
While Stass says she can’t speak to the difference in Atkinson’s experience between London and Orillia, she says it may be coincidental that her move aligned with a price increase.
“Also, the size of the home, number of appliances, and weather may play a role, as gas bills are both a function of the price of gas, and the amount used,” she said.
Whatever the case may be, Atkinson calls the price increases “ridiculous.”
“I don’t use a lot of heat and have a brand-new high-efficiency furnace so I would be able to keep my costs lower.”
Atkinson says there is no way she can keep up with the steep bills.
“I’m early into retirement,” she said. “I left a more expensive city to come to a small town. Since I’ve got here, I’ve found things to be much more difficult than they were in London.”
To try to combat costs, Atkinson has been reading her own meter and submitting the reading to Enbridge Gas.
“The meter hasn’t clicked up anywhere near what they have done in their estimating,” Atkinson says. “I was averaging about $3.50 a day and not the $10.95 they were charging me.”
Stass says Enbridge Gas leverages both in-house employees and contract workers for meter reading services.
“Enbridge strives to read each customer’s meter every two months and in the alternate months, a customer’s gas use is billed based on an estimate derived from the account’s history,” she explained.
Stass says Enbridge Gas is experiencing some localized challenges with the staffing of meter reading positions. She says the company is working to resolve the situation, and customers who prefer an actual meter read have the option to submit their own.
“This option has always been available to customers, and it is not an expectation that they do so,” she said.
To learn more about submitting a meter read, click here.