A group representing Hydro Quebec customers is seeking the green light to go ahead with a class-action lawsuit against the utility company they accuse of overcharging consumers.
The Switched On Coalition/Coalition Peuple Allume asked a judge on Wednesday, to approve their request to launch the class-action lawsuit. The group alleges that Hydro Quebec overbilled customers to the tune of $1.2 billion over a five-year period, from 2008 to 2013. They are seeking a refund of $50 per household for seven years amounting to $365, or a 10 per cent reduction in the cost of electricity.
The group claims that approximately 45,000 supporters have already signed up online to join the cause.
Every year, the hydro company sets out its budget and projected profits to the Regie de l'energie, the province’s energy board. Hydro Quebec must also request permission from the board to hike rates for consumers during that time.
The Switched On Coalition alleges the utility company provided the energy board with incorrect information from 2008 to 2013 and the resulting rate hikes should never have been approved.
Bryan Furlong, a lawyer for the coalition, told the hearing that Hydro Quebec’s hefty surpluses at the end of certain years indicate that consumers were being overcharged.
“If you go in front of the Regie and you state something which is inaccurate and the Regie renders a judgment, well I'm asking you, ‘Is it a proper judgment?’” Furlong said.
For its part, Hydro Quebec maintains there was no overbilling.
Serge Abergel, a spokesperson for the Crown corporation, told CTV Montreal that the company has to present their $12 billion annual budget to the energy board 20 months in advance. By the time they’re able to collect money from their customers, there can be a lot of fluctuations in the weather, he explained. Electricity has been delivered to households at a lower cost for many years, Abergel said.
“We are sometimes more efficient, sometimes less efficient,” he said.
Hydro Quebec also claimed their budget, on average, has been 99 per cent accurate, but when there is a surplus, they give it back to the government or back to Quebec residents in dividends.
Pierre Moreau, Quebec’s energy minister, said Hydro Quebec is obligated to comply with the energy board’s directives and that he would be very surprised if the coalition was able to prove in court that the company overcharged its customers.
When the accusations first came to light earlier this year, the province’s then-energy minister Pierre Arcand said consumers had already been compensated because the surplus money was used to balance the provincial government’s budget.
Hydro Quebec’s requests for rate hikes to the energy board have been rejected since 2015. The company has only been allowed to increase fees by 0.7 per cent, less than the rate of inflation, in that time.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Cindy Sherwin