February 6, 2017
In April 2015 Brad Duguid, then Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure issued a press release stating: “Increased natural gas access, through the $200 million Natural Gas Access Loan and $30 million Natural Gas Economic Development Grant, will attract new industry, make commercial transportation and agriculture more affordable, help to create jobs, provide more energy choices and will lower electricity prices for businesses and consumers across Ontario.”
The focus was expansion in rural communities and the money offered would do wonderful things including lowering “electricity prices.” The Duguid statement appears to have flowed from the 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) released by Bob Chiarelli when he held the Energy Minister’s portfolio as noted in the OEB’s 2014-2017 Business Plan.
Just days ago, another press release was issued on the same issue by Bob Chiarelli, Minister of Infrastructure: “Ontario is expanding access to natural gas for communities that do not currently have service, including those in rural and Northern Ontario and First Nations communities.” It gave a “Quick Fact”: “Natural gas is the dominant heating source in Ontario and continues to be consistently less expensive than alternative sources such as electricity, heating oil and propane.” The Chiarelli announcement increased the “grant” amount to $100 million.
The recent announcement indicates the Duguid offer fell flat so perhaps Chiarelli’s announcement is an effort to see the claim he endorsed in the 2013 LTEP as one he is determined to follow through on, even if it raises Ontario’s debt by $100 million!
It is also ironic that Chiarelli is pushing expansion of natural gas consumption while our current Energy Minister, Glenn Thibeault is heading in the opposite direction. He recently instructed IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) to basically shut several of the NUG (non-utility generators) gas plants down. Minister Thibeault’s recent directive to IESO notes: “Ontario has put in place legislation for its new cap and trade program to limit greenhouse gas pollution while moving to a low-carbon economy.” Most NUG contracts are gas generation units whose original contracts (executed in the Peterson Liberal government days) are close to expiry, and are “take or pay” contracts. With the surplus of power today, Minister Thibeault considers them expendable. As a result the directive instructed IESO to renew contracts but only: “if the IESO is able to negotiate replacement contracts (IESO Contracts) with OEFC NUGs that incentivize them to operate in a manner that is better aligned with the integrated power system’s needs.”
As noted by Scott Luft some of those NUG contracts have been renegotiated, others ended, (the plants will be closed or mothballed) while some are in the process of renegotiation. One of those cancelled contracts offered to produce and sell power for 5.9 cents/kWh, but that offer was rejected even though it was way under prices paid for generation from industrial wind turbines and solar panels. Both those forms of power generation are unable to generate power when needed.
Is the objective of the Energy Minister to reduce emissions from gas plants so Premier Wynne can claim the “cap and trade” tax is working?
Meanwhile, if Minister Chiarelli is successful at handing out the $100 million tax dollars as grants to expand natural gas use, emissions will increase! Any increase will generate additional cap and trade revenue to help pay for the grants and the early shutdown of those gas plants.
Here’s the game: reduce emissions in the (already clean) electricity sector while pushing them up elsewhere and capture additional taxes along the way.
The topsy-turvy world of power policy in Ontario continues.