PORT HOPE — The co-owner of an Eastern Ontario grain-drying operation is fuming after she alerted natural-gas supplier Enbridge of billing discrepancies and was retroactively billed $254,000 in a metering mess dating back two years.
Margot Currelly says the dispute with the gas company was sparked when Enbridge “reassessed” Ganaraska’s gas usage between May 2021 and November 2022. The quarter-million-dollar demand arrived last November, a punch to the gut for the operators after months of efforts to address metering problems with Enbridge.
The back-billing sought by Enbridge is almost double Ganaraska Grain’s largest annual total gas bill, which was about $130,000 in 2017. The operation handles close to 60,000 tonnes of grain annually.
Currelly says she first noticed problems when Enbridge bought previous supplier Union Gas and employees stopped coming to read the meter at the end of 2019. Instead, bills began arriving with estimated monthly usage. In a complete flip from reality, bills in the off-season suddenly soared, she says, while bills during peak harvest and drying season plummeted. She alerted Enbridge in early 2020, and the gas company, in turn, arranged for Measurement Canada to test the meter at Ganaraska Grain. Months later, the verdict was in: The meter wasn’t functioning, so Enbridge installed a new one.
But the nonsensical bills continued. Enbridge was summoned again and “eventually” determined the new meter was incorrectly installed, she says. Again, it wasn’t until near the end of 2021 that the problem was supposedly fixed. Except it wasn’t, she says, and the inaccurate billings continued into 2022. Ironically, for all the emphasis on meters, Enbridge never billed on a metered basis anyway, supplying only estimates each month through January 2023.
Enbridge billed the company a total of $33,000 in 2019 and just $1,300 in 2020, she says. By 2021, the annual bill was back up to a more “reasonable” $89,000, although the monthly amounts were still out of whack. For example, data from Ganaraska’s own drying equipment suggests that 255,000 cubic meters of gas was consumed in November 2021, and yet Enbridge estimated only 2,300 cubic meters.
“My last contact with Enbridge about bill problems was June 2022,” Currelly says, adding she was asked to send a photo of the meter to the company at that time. “All of sudden we didn’t receive bills for July-August-September-October 2022, and then we were handed this reassessment.” After that bill came in, she estimates she now spends 10 hours a week working on the problem, pouring over spreadsheets and assembling information.
It’s no threat to Ganaraska Grain if the company has to dig deeper into its available credit to pay the full amount demanded, Currelly emphasized, though it is upsetting. 2022 was an otherwise great year for the company, until it had to book Enbridge’s $254,000 claim as an unexpected — and disappointing — liability.
She has filed complaints with Measurement Canada, the Ontario Energy Board and Enbridge’s own ombudsman office but has no idea when she might hear of any outcome. Given the potential legal costs, going to court is not on the table. “I don’t think we have many options beyond stomping our feet,” she says, adding that Ganaraska Grain has offered about $150,000 to Enbridge to settle the matter immediately.
Lack of accurate metering also means that Ganaraska still doesn’t know how much efficiency was gained by adding a second dryer unit in 2019.
Enbridge media relations manager Andrea Stass declined comment on details of the case but said in an email that Ganaraska’s billing discrepancy was “not related to a meter malfunction” but “arose from a series of estimated meter readings between November 2019 and November 2022.” If a reassessment finds that a customer used more gas than they were charged for, Enbridge bills the balance going back a maximum of two years. “As such, in this case the adjustment period billed was based on May 2021 – Nov. 2022. (i.e., did not go back to November 2019),” Stass said.
While Enbridge “strives to read each customer’s meter every two months,” with estimates provided on the alternating month, Stass acknowledged that successive estimates do occur if there are “difficulties” accessing a meter. She cited the example of a dog or locked gate but also revealed that Enbridge’s meter-reading contractors have had “ongoing challenges” keeping positions filled since the pandemic. Enbridge is advising customers that they have the option to submit their own meter reads.
Currelly pointed out that until November 2019, Ganaraska’s billings were based on actual readings conducted every month by Enbridge’s predecessor, Union Gas. Enbridge never met its own once-every-two-month standard, and Currelly is unsure if an Enbridge meter reader has ever visited her property. Ganaraska itself has been providing the readings since November 2022, she said, in addition to the reading that triggered the reassessment.
She also had “legitimate reason” to believe that meter malfunction was the cause of the billing mess because it was Enbridge that directed her to Measurement Canada in the first place. The fact that the meter was tested, replaced and then reinstalled “demonstrates that estimated readings weren’t the only problem,” she said.