Ontario's Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli says residents should be prepared for higher-than-normal electricity bills after February's deep freeze.

Last month, parts of southern Ontario were seven to nine degrees colder than the historic average, according to Environment Canada. In Toronto, it was the first time in 75 years when the mercury did not climb above the freezing mark.

Many people cranked up the heat in their homes to combat the cold. It's estimated that Ontarians used two to three per cent more electricity last month than the previous February -- that's equivalent to powering an additional 20,000 homes.

"We had a really bad winter last year, and this year is equally as bad," Chiarelli told CTV Toronto on Thursday. He said the higher bills will likely put more financial pressure on families and those on fixed incomes.

"We're particularly concerned about families, low-income families and the pressures that puts on them," Chiarelli said. "And it's a double-whammy if they have electric heat."

He says seniors and low-income families can take advantage of government tax credits and grants to help them pay their higher electricity bill.

But according to the opposition, that is not enough.

"Folks can't make ends meet; they can't pay the bills," Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath said. She says her MPPs are seeing an increase number of calls from residents who are having difficulty paying their winter hydro bills.

"My MPPs have been reporting regularly now that their volumes of people coming to their constituency offices are increasing and it's almost like people are at the end of the rope," she said.

Horwath says the minister should consider removing the Harmonized Sales Tax from the hydro bills and give consumers a break.

CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss reports the Ontario government did, in fact, look into eliminating the HST from hydro bills, but didn't get approval from Ottawa.

With files from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss and The Canadian Press