TRURO, N.S. – Shelley Green installed a small heat pump in her home this year.
Usually she heats her home with a wood furnace during the winter, but this year she decided to go a different route, as she heard they were more efficient.
When she opened her Nova Scotia Power bill for November to January though, she got an unexpected surprise – a $1069.99 bill for power usage over the two months.
“I nearly had a heart attack when I read the amount,” said Green.
“The last few months it’s just been me in the house. I’ve got all the same stuff I had last year, so when I got the thousand-dollar bill, I thought, ‘Holy Jesus, it’s got to be the heat pump.’”
Compared to the same time last year, Green’s power bill had doubled in cost and power usage from November and January, jumping from her usual $500 bill to just over $1,000.
The thing is, she isn’t the only one experiencing a large cost increase lately.
On a Truro Facebook group, a large group of residents have made their complaints of bill increases public, some sharing a similar $1,000 bill to Green’s, with the highest reaching just under $1,500 for two months.
“In general, higher-than-expected bills could be the result of increased heating/lighting during winter months resulting in more electricity usage,” said Tiffany Chase, senior communications adviser for NS Power about the complaints.
“For example, if a customer formerly using oil-based heating switches to an electric heat pump for heating/cooling, their electricity bill will go up but that amount is offset by no longer paying for oil.”
Chase also said the cold weather could result in a bill increase, as it can affect how much energy is being used to regulate a home’s indoor temperature.
“The perception is that this year has been a milder winter versus last year,” said Chase.
“However, based on Environment Canada heating degree days it has in fact been colder. Those customers receiving a power bill in February would likely have a billing cycle between December and January, which has been on average 4.8 per cent colder than the previous year.”
For customers dealing with billing issues such as higher bills, Chase recommended speaking with NS Power’s customer care department, but for Green and many others, that hasn’t helped either.
“They’re not helpful there. They are ignorant, and just say it’s all my fault,” said Green.
“During my last chat with them, they told me I have to get an electrician and Efficiency Nova Scotia out here to look over my house. That is another $150 I’d have to pay out of pocket though, and I’m not doing that.”
Cheryl Murphy had a similar experience after calling NS Power’s customer care department about her bill.
“I only spoke to them once, but they responded with ‘extra power usage during the holidays, possibly from the usage of Christmas lights, etc.,’” said Murphy.
“Basically, people use more power, then are mad the cost goes up is what I gathered.”
Although Murphy’s bill isn’t quite as high as Green’s, her bill still doubled its normal amount between November and March, and tripled the amount they paid at the same time last year.
“We had two mini sets of Christmas lights on around the windows this year, and turned them on twice for an hour, so they must use a pack of power,” she said.
“Recently we turned the power off to the garage as well, which had a 24-hour outside light on, so we’ll keep an eye on the bill to see if it helps at all.”
After receiving her $1,000 bill, Green shut off her heat pump and returned to wood heating, but when her March bill came, she again was surprised to see a charge of $800 for energy usage.
Following previous instruction from NS Power, she called an electrician to check over the house to see if he could find anything that would draw significant amounts of power.
“He told me I had nothing in the house that would pull that much power, not even the heat pump,” said Green.
“He told me there is no way I should be getting these power bills. The upstairs is blocked off so none of the heat escapes upstairs, and we are back to being strictly wood heated, so I don’t know what it could be.”
When she went back to NS Power about her second bill, Green was informed her meter had been changed at some point to a newer digital meter, something she had not received notice of.
“The customer care person told me that if I were over-charged, the meter would automatically pick that up and it would be reflected on my bill,” she said.
“They said these meters are made to give the correct amount, and that my old meter was from 1972, so it couldn’t have been charging me the right amount. My bills have always been kind of high though.
“The only change lately is this new meter. I’ve asked them to change the meter and they won’t. Basically they say it isn’t their fault.”