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The HVAC Coalition has registered in a proceeding before the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) concerning the continuation of the Enbridge Open Bill Agreement (OBA). Initially Enbridge applied for a two-year extension of the current arrangements, which would provide sufficient time to determine whether the program should be expanded to include Union Gas territory (which will now be within scope as a result of the Union Gas/Enbridge merger).

The HVAC Coalition Board of Directors, however, expressed an interest in opening up the review to consider whether or not the program should be continued at all – i.e. whether it continues to provide value to the industry in “levelling the playing field” for competitors. Other intervenors agreed, as did the OEB, that this review would be useful.

Though the HVAC Coalition has always maintained that a “naked bill” (utility services only) is the surest way to ensure a level playing field for all competitors, there was also support at the time for the open bill arrangement, provided that the rules for access were fair and equitable. Indeed, readers will recall that, when the initial compromise agreement was reached almost a decade ago, the Coalition applauded the Open Bill Agreement solution and agreed to assist Enbridge in the promotion of the service to members (as did HRAI), with a view to getting as many participants on board as possible and making it a convenient and widely used service for industry participants and their customers.

In the current view of the HVAC Coalition, however, enough time has passed to warrant a review of the service, to assess whether it has actually helped to put contractors on a more equal footing with the larger rental companies. Some in the industry have expressed concern that access to the utility bill has made it possible for a few companies to engage in questionable sales tactics with homeowners (door to door sales) by validating claims or suggestions of a special utility connection. Making this connection will require evidence on complaints from sources like Consumer Protection Ontario at the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.

There are a variety of diverging views on these questions, depending in part on the extent to which parties benefit from the service. Because the service has been running for about almost 10 years, and because there are strong views, the Coalition has positioned the matter as one that deserves a proper evidence-based review.

The hearing will commence in May unless some form of settlement is reached in advance.