By Buckley Smith 
THURLOW – People in Thurlow voiced their frustration with Hydro One at a standing-room only town hall meeting Wednesday night at the Gerry Masterson Township of Thurlow Community Centre.
The meeting was organized by Thurlow Coun. Paul Carr  because of public outrage over hydro rates.
Residents brought up several issues including: the formatting of their bills, recently installed Smart meters , delivery charges that are higher than usage charges, fluctuating rates, customer service and even how Hydro One  employees are using their company vehicles.
“This is not a sustainable practise,” said Kim Egan of Belleville. “If these companies (Hydro One and Veridian) had to compete with other companies, they would be bankrupt.”
Another Hydro One customer Julie Gowthorpe said when she called customer service about the amounts she had been billed that she said she was told she was right to be upset, but it couldn’t be fixed.
“They agreed that the bills were outrageous, but there was nothing they could do about it,” she said.
Coun. Paul Carr agreed that this situation cannot continue the way.
“I have taken a stand that this system and this format isn’t working,” said Carr. “I’m doing my part and I will continue to stand up for this.”
MPP Todd Smith agreed with Carr and said he is just as frustrated as everyone else.
“The thing we spend the most time on in my office is hydro,” said Smith. “It is as frustrating to me as it is to you.”
Ombudsman Fiona Crean said she is aware of how frustrated people are.
“I have been open since March and I’m at about 1,500 complaints and rising,” she said.
But despite the amount of complaints coming through her office and at the meeting, Crean said she does not have the power to fix these issues on an individual basis.
“I aim to fix things for thousands of customers at a time, not one customer at a time, ” she said. “If you have a problem with Hydro One you have got to call the company first.”
Many of the residents in attendance said they had called Hydro One to complain, but were met with rude and unhelpful customer service agents.
More than a few people even said they were given different answers to the same questions depending on who they talked to in the customer service department.
“That is just poor front line service,” said Crean. “We need them well-trained to answer the questions properly.”
While Crean attempted to reassure those in attendance that this will be fixed, it wasn’t enough for everyone.
“People here are annoyed to say the least,” said one Thurlow resident. “They’re mad.”
Gowthorpe, who is a psychotherapist in Belleville, said this issue is even beginning to take a toll on people’s mental health.
“I can tell you that over the last year one of the highest stressors people have, when I ask them what is going on, is hydro bills,” said Gowthorpe.
“Hydro is not a luxury, it’s a necessity, ” said Egan. “Everybody is working and paying these bills because we feel like we have to.”
Many residents said they thought that conserving how much energy they used would be the easy fix.
Hydro One has even begun sending customers a breakdown showing how much power residents use compared to others in their area as a way to encourage conservation.
But residents who follow the tips provided by Hydro One say that their bills still remain extremely high.
“We have all done these things and it hasn’t changed anything,” said Gowthorpe. “It’s almost like propaganda.”
Crean says the rates were raised because the company has to keep in line with revenue projections given to its board of directors.
Crean says she has heard this complaint many times, and understands how it makes no sense.
“There is a bizzareness of being charged more when you’ve used less,” said Crean.
As the night went on, and the residents continued to voice a variety of complaints with the company, it started to become clear that fixing Hydro One does not come down to one or two issues.
And while Crean says she hopes to have Hydro One turned around as a company within a year, people at the meeting said it may be too late to fix the damage to its public reputation.
One Thurlow resident, Bob Johnson, who worked in the energy industry for 35 years even, went so far to say that he is now ashamed to have worked in that field.
“I used to be proud to tell people that,” said Johnson. “I no longer have that pride.”