The province will take steps to reduce hydro rates, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault pledged Wednesday in North Bay.

“We are looking at other options and what we can do help, especially Hydro One customers who are designated R1 or R2 customers and Northerners who have electric heat in their homes that is costing them a little more,” Thibeault, the Sudbury MPP, said.

“I’m a Northerner. I get it. I understand this and I recognize that many other families don’t have any other choices.”

Thibeault was at the Holiday Inn Express to recognize SuperSHELL Homes, but he came under fire from local media about rising energy bills.

“There are some families in this province that are struggling to meet their energy bills. It’s why I’ve recognized and the premier has recognized that we need to do more,” Thibeault said.

“That is why we’re making sure we can find ways to reduce bills. Everything is on the table within reason.”

Thibeault attributed rising costs to closing the province’s two coal plants and investing in the delivery grid to reduce the number of blackouts and brownouts.

“We couldn’t rely on it. We now have a system that we can rely on, it’s clean and green. I have many states and provinces calling us asking us how we did what we’ve done.

“We have the system of the future paid with yesterday’s dollars.”

However, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli said Northern industries are struggling under the weight of the increased cost. The PC finance critic just returned from pre-budget consultations in several Ontario communities.

“We heard it loud and clear,” Fedeli said. “Six different forestry companies presented their hydro bills. They told us the forestry industry is just beginning to recover and these hydro bills are sending them spiralling.”

Fedeli said other industries expressed frustration with unpredictable hydro bills.

“The monthly global adjustment fee depends on whether the wind blows or the sun shines,” he said. “For one company, it was up 18 per cent or $20 million in 2016, and they told us they would save 65 per cent in hydro costs if they operated in Manitoba.

“Over the past few weeks, I have toured several manufacturing companies in our riding and hydro is the No. 1 issue. It’s a very big concern.”

Fedeli expects the Liberals will remove the distribution fee from hydro bills as the provincial election draws near.

“People may think it’s great because it immediately lowers their hydro bill, but the bill isn’t going away,” he warned. “Distribution will still have to be paid.”

Fedeli said it will be similar to when the Wynne government borrowed $1 billion to take the HST off hydro bills.

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald said he had a 90-minute discussion with Thibeault, with the now idled Atlantic Power Corporation generation plant topping the agenda.

North Bay lost 11 jobs two weeks ago when Atlantic Power agreed to terminate its power purchase agreement with the Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation. The agreement was scheduled to expire in December.

McDonald said he and Thibeault also discussed recent developments at the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

“I told the minister about the 90 people the ONTC hired and the opportunities for more jobs in the future. I stressed to him the importance and need to continue to grow that sector,” he said.

“The minister told me about an agriculture opportunity for the ONTC in the Tri-Towns and how that might assist freight and open up the agriculture business up in the north of our region.”