MONTREAL -- The government’s recent Hydro-Quebec reform has “sealed the fate” of low-income households in the province, according to a new study by the Institut de recherche et d'informations socio-économiques (IRIS).

The research looked at the 2017-2019 Hydro-Quebec reforms and found that it disadvantaged nearly two-thirds of low-income households – about 390,000 homes in the province.

IRIS said it drew this conclusion by analyzing the evolution of the electricity bills of four customer profiles throughout the reform.

"The reform of residential electricity rates has resulted in particularly disadvantageous annual bill increases for customers who spend the largest proportion of their consumption on heating,” said Jean-François Blain, an associate researcher at IRIS.

He explains that before the reform, an average customer consuming 18,000 kWh per year with high consumption of heating paid $50 more than a customer who used little heating. By the end of the reform, that number increased to $115.

“Customers who cannot act on the heating consumption of their home, either because they are tenants or because their financial capacity is insufficient, are among those who experienced the strongest increases in their electricity bills,” the study finds.

"However, it allowed for higher consumption at a low cost in summer for non-essential uses [such as] for air conditioning or heating swimming pools."

Bill 34, which was passed in early December, will freeze electricity rates in 2020, and then raise them with inflation over the next four years.

Quebec Energy Minister Jonatan Julien has insisted the goal is to save Hydro customers $500 million -- about $60 per household -- down from the $1.5 billion originally promised by the government

Over the weekend, Hydro-Quebec sent an e-mail to its customers advising them of the impending changes.

“As you received at least one electricity bill in your name in 2018 or 2019, you will automatically receive this credit,” the e-mail stated. “This credit will appear only once, on one of your invoices, with the note ‘Credit note.’”

Customers should see the refund appear on their accounts sometime between January and April 1, 2020.