By Mike Williscraft
Two things are known to Rex Ge today.
One: his hydro bill to Niagara Peninsula Energy was overdue, and he paid it immediately once it was realized.
Two: NPE’s cutting off his hydro service resulted in the entire nursery stock at his greenhouse being frozen, his boiler ruined and pipes for his watering and heating system burst at many points throughout the structure.
The saga includes a series of circumstances going back to December when Ge made the trek back to China to visit his ailing parents, both in their late 80s.
The bottom line for NPE, said vice-president customer service Margaret Battista, is the customer did not “reach out:” and let they company know he was going to be away.
“If the customer had reached out…it would have stopped any further action,” said Battista.
Paid to current and being an NPE customer for 13 years with no issue, he headed off on his trip home. Upon his return in mid-February, he was home to West Lincoln briefly, but went to stay with family in Toronto for a few days as he was feeling ill.
When he finally returned to his home, located right at the intersection of Hwy. 20 at the end of Mountain Road, all was in working order. Having been away for many weeks, the yard was full of deep snow, as was the laneway.
From that point, Ge said is where things went off the rails.
“I went out to the greenhouse and everything was frozen. I thought a fuse blew and everything shut off, so I went to the store and got two fuses,” Ge recalled.
“When I changed them, it still did not work, so I thought the boiler blew. I went and got parts to repair it. When I was talking to the parts salesman, he said something was wrong and there was no way all three parts of the boiler blew out at the same time. He asked me if there was power.”
That was when the light bulb went on, so to speak.
He immediately got a certified cheque for nearly $1,000 – NPE now wanted an additional $400 security since the account had been disconnected – and stressed the importance of getting the power back on immediately.
“Everything is dead, only maybe a couple of saplings may survive but I cannot tell yet. All my garden plants are gone,” said Ge.
Same for the boiler, with one component being damaged beyond repair, two others are salvagable.
All around the perimeter of the greenhouse are ballooned pipes both in the heating system and watering system. Throughout the watering system are special units which inject fertilizer into the system. All those units have been destroyed as well.
There are several issues which complicate the matter from Ge’s perspective:
1) If there was to be a disconnection, he says NPE should have taken steps to make sure it was known to him.
Battista, said, while she cannot comment on a specific customer’s case, that NPE has a protocol to follow and reiterated several times that if Ge contacted the company, measures would have been taken to stop a disconnection.
2) He confirmed a notice was delivered to the property, but it went into his roadside mailbox and he did not see it in time.
When asked if disconnection notices were not normally affixed to doors, Battista said there would be a note on an account if a notice was not given as per normal protocol.
3) The power at his home was on throughout, so an NPE representative would have had to walk right by his house to access the meter on the greenhouse. Again, Ge noted, “All he had to do was knock on my door.” He noted both bills have the same address.
4) As a 13-year customer, would NPE not have considered some leeway in shutting off power for such a small amount?
Battista said account balances and details are reviewed and considered before a disconnection is executed. “There is a threshold we look at,” Battista said.
She did not say why a review of Ge’s account would have resulted in the disconnection
Ge estimates the total damage at about $150,000 all in.
“Unless they can do something for me, this will kill me. I have no money for lawyers. I need help or I am done,” said Ge.
That help will not be coming from NPE, said Battista. She noted NPE’s Conditions of Service stipulates the company is “not accountable for any damage due to non-payment”.
Section 2.2.2 of the same document says, “Niagara Peninsula Energy will make reasonable efforts to establish direct contact with the Consumer.”
Ge maintains, in the circumstance, NPE’s actions were not reasonable.
“One phone call, one knock on the door, that is all I needed,” said Ge.
A trip to China to attend to ailing parents proved costly for West Lincoln’s Rex Ge of G&L Nursery 7294 Reg. Rd. 20 as a fluke set of circumstances lead to his hydro being cut off. The net effect of that was frozen plants, a damaged boiler and burst pipes.
Williscraft – Photo