Vancouver Sun: New Brunswick man without electricity for 13 years in bizarre power struggle

FREDERICTON — It's a dispute that no one wants to resolve.

It's been more than a decade since Neil Lemon climbed a hydro pole outside his Lower Durham, N.B., home in a desperate attempt to draw attention to his feud with NB Power — a dispute over an unpaid bill that led to his power being disconnected.

Nearly 13 years later, Lemon's small weather-beaten bungalow still has no electricity.

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"They've just got no feelings whatsoever for what they've done and don't even try," Lemon said this week. "Over the simple thing of what happened here; it just boggles my mind how it could get this far for something as simple as that."

In 1999, Lemon's home was disconnected five times during the height of the dispute, but four of those times he reconnected the power himself.

The last time the stoppage was permanent.

At the time of the final disconnection, Lemon claimed he'd offered half of his $746 income to the utility toward the $850 he owed, but was told to pay the total amount.

"This is not the way to go through the last years of your life," Lemon said, "You've got no power and you die of old age and never had power because of something stupid — a mix-up in a bill."

Lemon said his life now consists of lugging several gallons of water for a flush, pets, washing and cooking every day. He has done that for 365 days a year since the plug was pulled.

Lemon, 57, heats his house with wood.

In the summer, having no refrigeration for his food, is another thing, he said.

"It's getting tougher each month that goes by, because my health is going downhill."

Lemon said he now has mobility problems connected to issues with his back, hips and knees.

Lemon's son, Nathan Woods, shares the home and a fixed income with his father.

He said living without basic services that other residents of the province take for granted is taking its toll on his dad.

"He's been more miserable and stuff," Woods said. "It's a shame it had to come to this over a few hundred dollars."

NB Power wants $3,000, which includes the cost of a pole, Woods said, before it will hook them back up to the grid, even though he and his father believe the amount is closer to $1,000. He said while it would be difficult to come up with that much money, they would be willing to pay it if it meant some sort of compromise could be reached.

Melissa Morton, manager of media relations for NB Power, said the corporation can't discuss individual customer information for privacy reasons.

But Morton said if Lemon wants to get in touch with NB Power, the company would be more than willing to discuss his situation.

NB Power's website states: Customers can avoid disconnection for nonpayment if all of the following are met: customers are in legitimate economic need, customers have contacted NB Power to discuss their account, and customers continue to make mutually-agreed upon payments on their outstanding balance.

Lemon, who looks frail and older than his age, said he doesn't know how much longer he can continue to live as he does.

"I haven't got much more fight left in me, really."

Lemon said he is tired and sick of being cold and not having running water.

If he had the latter, he said he would be able to wash clothes, shower and do anything whenever he wants.

"It's getting harder to get by every month out here for me. I've been trying to figure out some way to ease the stress but I haven't found one yet."

Lemon said he would like to find a way to get the issues between him and the power company resolved, even though his income is less than it was 13 years ago.
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