Hydro Quebec has collected $1.4 billion more than it needed since 2008, amounting to roughly $350 per client.
Hydro Quebec admitted to that fact Wednesday, maintaining however that Quebecers have paid fair rates and haven’t been overbilled.
“It's important to say that it's not overbilling out customers. It's some expenses that we didn't make,” said Hydro Quebec spokesperson Louis-Olivier Batty.
The energy company said it presents an annual projected budget to Quebec's energy board, and the extra money collected represents a small difference on a budget of $12 billion.
“It's one per cent on average each year,” said Batty.
In 2014, Hydro Quebec asked Quebec's energy board if it could share the overcharges with clients, but the government had passed a decree ordering Hydro Quebec to pass the extra earnings to the government until it achieved a balanced budget. That happened in 2015.
Energy Minister Pierre Arcand said Wednesday that for the past two years Hydro Quebec increases have been lower than the inflation rate, and he expected that practice would continue for several years.
But when Hydro Quebec asked for another rate increase of 0.7 per cent for this April 1, Coalition Avenir Quebec cried foul.
The opposition party calculated that between 2008 and 2015, Hydro Quebec overcharged Quebecers by $1.4 billion.
“I think right now they must reimburse the $1.4 billion, which represents $350 per client,” said CAQ Leader Francois Legault.
“When a provider overbills, it should reimburse,” added Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee.
In 2015 and 2016, the residential rate for Hydro Quebec increased by 0.7 per cent, which is one-third of what the utility was asking for, but in 2014, the increase was 2.9 per cent, and the year prior it was 4.3 per cent, despite a record profit in 2014 of $3.8 billion.
Option consommateurs, a group representing Quebec consumers said the real problem is how the government stopped the energy board from reimbursing Quebecers in the first place.
“The government shouldn’t be able to have its say on these mechanisms,” said Olivier Bourgeois, the energy and corporate social responsibility coordinator for Option consommateurs. “That's the problem and that's what we're dealing with today.”
The government said it returned much of the money to Quebecers through the financing of schools, hospitals and other public services.
But on Wednesday, Arcand said Quebecers will also see Hydro Quebec rebates.
“Now that we have balanced the budget, the amount of money that Hydro Quebec got will be reimbursed to Quebecers. It will probably be done through pricing in the next few months,” he said.