Small businesses and residential electricity and natural gas customers in Alberta may be eligible for interest-free deferral of utility bills coming due over the three-month period ending June 18. The Alberta government has introduced enabling legislation for the COVID-19-related relief measure, which will provide up to $223 million, or about two-thirds of projected late payments, to stabilize provincial utilities’ cash flow and allow for the deferrals.
“Our government appreciates the cooperation and flexibility shown by utility providers to help their fellow Albertans through these challenging times. We recognize industry has also been greatly impacted by COVID-19,” announced Dale Nally, Alberta’s Associate Minister of Natural Gas and Electricity, as the Utility Bill Deferral Program Act was tabled.
Thus far, larger commercial customers have been left out of the relief measure.
“We would encourage all orders of government to work with industry towards a solution that serves our shared interests in providing relief to those who need it and positioning our economy for recovery,” urges Lloyd Suchet, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Calgary.
The program is open to account holders who consume no more than 250,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity or 2,500 gigajoules of natural gas annually, and are: unemployed; caring for an ill family member; or have been personally diagnosed with COVID-19 or ordered to self-isolate. However, even eligible participants are “strongly encouraged” to pay their bills on schedule if they have the ability to do so.
Suchet maintains some small businesses will need more than deferrals in any case.
“While deferral of utilities and property tax may work for those business that have had to delay work, there are many that have experienced financial loss that will not be recouped later,” he observes. “The local café or fitness facility that has been closed for the past two months will not be able to sell that coffee or that gym fee at a later date. So deferral likely doesn’t solve the problem for them.”
Qualifying customers must directly negotiate deferral agreements with their electricity and natural gas providers, and begin repayment on June 19, 2020. Full repayment is expected by June 18, 2021. Customers who were in arrears prior to the March 18 start-date of the deferral program can still qualify.