If you’ve been seeing a brand new logo around town but haven’t experienced any changes to your electricity service, that’s because Hydro One Brampton–the utility company Brampton customers are distinctly familiar with–is now part of a brand new company that’s working to provide the same reliable service to a huge number of Southern Ontario customers.
Earlier this year, four successful electricity distribution companies came together to form the newly minted Alectra Utilities–a company that now serves close to one million customers. Back in January, Horizon Utilities, Enersource and PowerStream merged to form Alectra and, in February, Hydro One Brampton was acquired and joined the fold.
“We’re a new company that’s in possession of 100 years of expertise,” says Eileen Campbell,
VP of Customer Services with Alectra Utilities.
Based on the number of customers served, Alectra is actually the second largest municipally-owned electric utility company in North America and it’s working to use the experience and resources to invest in new technology and bring customers even more innovative, reliable and cost-effective service.
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The news about the merger is particularly timely, especially when considering concerns around energy costs and changing customer expectations. In terms of rates, electricity distribution companies in Ontario are accountable for about 20 per cent of the charges on customers’ bills. A utility with more resources can keep costs low by leveraging scale and expertise.
“By coming together, we’re able to reduce or eliminate redundant processes,” says Campbell. “For customers, this means bottom line savings. Also, as a larger entity we are in a better position to invest in innovative solutions.”
As for what prompted the merger, the four electricity distribution companies were looking for opportunities to grow their businesses and leverage what they had for the benefit of their customers and the communities they served. When Hydro One Brampton came into the fold, Alectra officials knew they could further achieve their objectives by adding another successful organization.
“The electricity industry is changing around us and in order to keep pace with changing customer expectations, we have to make investments for reliability through upgrading our systems and using emerging technologies. We’re looking at our environmental landscape and what’s important to customers, so the changes are about being prepared for the future,” says Campbell.
So, what changes are Brampton customers noticing right now?
“In Brampton, the customers won’t see a lot of change of right now,” says Campbell. “It’s the same people, the same great service and the same bill payment methods. What they’re seeing is the new name of the organization coming forward.”
Alectra is easing Brampton customers into the change by utilizing what it calls a co-branded approach. If anyone follows Hydro One Brampton on Twitter for important updates on service, they might notice that the same Hydro One Brampton name exists, but is attached to the handle @alectra_bramp.
“The sign on the building has changed and the Alectra name is in the media,” says Campbell.
As far as costs go, Brampton residents might have noticed that, thanks to the Ontario government’s Fair Hydro Plan (which came into effect on July 1), rates have decreased, and the average customer should see reductions of approximately 25% over the coming months.
In the immediate future, customers will continue to pay their bills the same way they always have.
“On invoices, communications and on bank statements, they’ll see the name Alectra,” Campbell says. “They’ll also likely see Brampton Hydro as well. For now, people will continue to pay Hydro One Brampton, and eventually they’ll pay Alectra, but they don’t have to take any action. For now, Customers paying online will have to choose from a payee list that saysBrampton Hydro/Alectra. The telephone numbers that they call today will be the same.”
So, what changes will customers see going forward?
“More reliability, more investment in innovation, more products and services, more self-serve functions and easier ways for customers to do business with us,” says Campbell.
The company’s mandate is actually quite simple: Alectra will be an energy ally.
“We’re essentially striving to be the energy ally that customers expect us to be, not just the provider of a service,” says Campbell. “We’ve positioned ourselves as being there for our customers. If they are considering the purchase of an electric vehicle a year down the road, we might be the company that is providing the charging stations”
Alectra will also help customers better manage their electricity usage and reduce their own costs accordingly.
We’re bringing our systems together to include a whole series of additional self-serve options people don’t yet have access to,” says Campbell. “One thing we’re getting feedback on is the telephone interactive voice response system. If someone calls in with a question about a service issue, they’ll get that info through an automated message.”
Customers can also access online tools to better understand peak usage times so that they can better control costs.
Through web portals, customers can view their usage online. Since off-peak times are more affordable, customers can go online to discover the cheapest times to do laundry.
Customers can also use the web portals to view their usage patterns and even access coupons for goods and services related to conservation.
“Customers can also learn about conservation and the benefits of changing over to LED lighting,” says Campbell. “More access to conservation programs helps people reduce their consumption.”
There will be mobile applications as well, which makes sense at a time where most people use smartphones for everything from banking to inquiring about services.
“More customers choose to do everything on mobile, so that access to information anytime, anywhere, through any device will be available,” says Campbell.
This is something that Brampton customers in particular appear to appreciate.
“Brampton had one of largest uptakes of customers on e-billing systems, so adoption of new technology has already started,” says Campbell. “We’re doing everything we can to be ready when customers want additional services.”
While services may not seem different immediately, customers will start to see changes as time goes on.
“As we invest in infrastructure over next 10-25 years, customers will see service reliability maintained or, in some instances, even improving. They’ll also see new products and services being introduced that are not available today.”
In the meantime, customers can continue to enjoy the services they’ve always appreciated, including electronic payments, retrieving information online, paperless billing and more. Alectra can also offer customers payment plans and connect them with other resources should they need to seek financial assistance.
“Vulnerable and lower-income customers can get credits from the Ontario Electricity Support Program and we can help them through that process,” says Campbell.