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Ontario plans to give low-income residents discount on electricity

Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli promises relief for low-income residents when the Clean Energy Benefit ends.

Matthew Sherwood/The Canadian Press

Ontario is planning to give low-income residents discounted electricity to help ease the sting of the end of the controversial Clean Energy Benefit.

The Ontario Electricity Support Program, announced Wednesday, is planned to start at the beginning of 2016.

"The program will provide ongoing support to eligible consumers directly on their electricity bills," Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said at an east-end Toronto recreation centre. "This is real relief for those who need it most."

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The details of the program – such as exactly who will qualify and how big the discount will be – still have to be worked out by the Ontario Energy Board. But Mr. Chiarelli estimated that the average low-income family will save $15 a month.

Mr. Chiarelli also confirmed that the government will take the debt retirement charge off residential hydro bills, also starting in January, 2016. The current charge costs the average household $5.60 a month.

The Clean Energy Benefit, which expires at the end of 2015, is a 10 per cent discount to all residential hydro users and some businesses, up to 3,000 kilowatt hours a month. It has been criticized for disproportionately rewarding rich people who use a lot of power.

The end of the benefit will mean higher power costs for many middle- and upper-income Ontarians. The goal of the new support program, Mr. Chiarelli said, is to make sure lower-income people are not dinged with these higher prices when the benefit expires.

NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said the announcement was not detailed enough.

"Low-income families want an announcement of concrete programs, knowing what they're going to save, how much it's going to be off what they're paying now and who it applies to," he said. "What the minister's come forward with today is very vague and very general."

Mr. Chiarelli is expected to announce other measures to help businesses and factories save on electricity in a Thursday event at a Giant Tiger in Ottawa.

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These measures are set to include the expansion of programs that give businesses discounts for moving their power use to off-peak times.

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