By Mike Williscraft
It appears the two sides in the case of Rex Ge and his G&L Nursery will have to agree to disagree, leaving the future of his West Lincoln nursery hanging in the balance.
Last week, Niagara West Glanbrook MPP Tim Hudak was unquivocal in with his comments that Niagara Peninsula Energy was overzealous in cutting power to Ge’s greenhouse during the coldest February on record when his $360 bill was at only 48 days overdue.
“Without a doubt this is a massive screw up with no common sense or good judgment or good business conduct used,” said Hudak.
NPE’s vice-president customer service Margaret Battista maintains the company did nothing wrong and was simply following its procedures.
Battista noted in an email Tuesday the process was followed and that as part of a first step, after a letter had been mailed out, “In this time span, another touch point is done with a 48-hour Notice which in this case was hand delivered to the property, whereby a knock on the door was done first then sealed envelope with this notice was left in the mailbox. Again, no contact from the customer, then 48 hours later, on the next business day, a knock on the greenhouse and house is done, disconnection and the disconnection Card is left in the mailbox.”
On the question of why mailbox delivery and not something more visible?
“We follow the postal practice that we leave notices sealed in an envelope in a mailbox not in front of a door that the correspondence can blow away, or be misplaced, or someone’s privacy invaded,” wrote Battista.
The bottom line for Battista is Ge should have contacted NPE about his account.
“I would like to stress if we were advised that the customer was out of town or leaving for a long period of time or having difficulty paying a bill, our Customer Service department would have been more than happy to work with the customer as they do with many of our customers.”
This is a key point in which Ge and NPE differ.
Ge said circumstances were virtually identical in 2014 when he went on another trip, this one 45 days, to China. He said his account was paid up before he left and he paid his bill soon after his return. Since he was gone 45 days, he said the bill would have gone beyond 48 days at which his power was cut this time around – which resulted in his greenhouse’s contents being frozen, including his irrigation and heating system. Damage has been estimated at about $150,000.
He also disputes that anyone came to his door since snow was undisturbed upon his return from his recent trip to China to deal with ailing parents.
Hudak, who said he would be pursuing the issue with provincial energy officials, acknowledged the Ontario Energy Board him informed him NPE can set its own guidelines for bill payments, however, he believes NPE got it wrong in the case of Ge.
“They crossed the line of any kind of good judgment. It is never too late to do the right thing. They have to make it right,” said Hudak.
Battista disagrees. Noting that if their processes are followed, “But if all the utility gets is silence, what are we to do? The last thing a Utility wants to do is disconnect a customer,” Battista said.
“NPEI doesn’t discriminate between amounts owing. We work with our customers in accommodating their extenuating circumstances, provided of course the owner or someone representing the owner contacts us. Many Social Agencies and Charities do this all the time for struggling families and other customers that require assistance. Let me ask you this? If you are not aware of a problem, how is one to help?”