Electricity bills in Ontario: promise made, promise missed?

More work to be done to get Ontario electricity bills down

In the campaign before last year’s election in Ontario, Doug Ford promised to cut hydro bills by 12 per cent if his party won. He said it would be on top of a rate reduction (25% under the Fair Hydro Plan/FHP) from the governing Liberals, whose plan he had repeatedly criticized.

He also said he would cut rates through a variety of measures that would save the average ratepayer $173 a year. When asked about their plans in respect to the FHP he said, “We’re going to be reviewing that. That was, as far as I’m concerned, the wrong thing to do, borrowing down the future and the only people who are going to pay for it is our children, our great-grandchildren.”

He also said he would give ratepayers the dividends from the government’s share of the partially privatized Hydro One.

Since being elected with a majority, the Ontario PC Party has often issued press releases suggesting “promises made, promises kept” but so far, we haven’t heard those words uttered in respect to the electricity file.

IESO reports are now available for the first three months of 2019, so we can compare the quarter with 2018 under the previous government to see if any progress has occurred.

To begin, if you look at the IESO report reflecting the “Variance Account under Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan” you can discern the dollars being deferred went from $410.5 to $496.6 million, a jump of $86.1 million or 21%. That is money Ontario ratepayers will have to pay back in future years! The second quarter could be just as bad: Scott Luft has estimated April 2019’s combined HOEP (Hourly Ontario Energy Price) and GA (Global Adjustment) will set a new record high.

So, let’s look at Hydro One’s dividends to determine how far they would go to achieving the 12% reduction. The December 31, 2018 annual report for Hydro One shows dividends paid of $518 million to shareholders, so the 47% ownership of Hydro One by the province would represent $243 million!  If one than does the math for the promised annual average residential ratepayer saving of $173 the amount needed is about $807 million ($173 X 4,665,055 ratepayers = $807 million) for a shortfall of $564 million. Adding the additional FHP $86.1 million for the 2019 first quarter puts the shortfall at $650.1 million — so far.

For the first quarter of 2019, Ontario total electricity demand including net exports (exports minus imports) increased by 392 GWh (gigawatt hours) with Class A ratepayers increasing consumption by 486 GWh and Class B by 217 GWh while net exports declined by over 300 GWh. The weighted average of the GA and HOEP as reported by IESO on April 30th of each year climbed from $103.80/MWh in 2018 to $110.67 in 2019 a gain of $6.87/MWh or 6.6%. Multiplying the $6.87/MWh by Class B consumption of 25,628,600 MWh in the first three months of 2019 comes to approximately $44 million. That is about $42 million shy of the $86.1 million increased transfer to the FHP over the 2018 transfer. (We must assume, as frequently happens, IESO made an adjustment to the prior month’s transfer and that is the reason for the difference.)

In specifically examining wind generation and curtailment from Scott Luft’s post it appears year over year grid-accepted wind declined by 40,000 MWh and curtailed wind dropped 66,000 MWh. What that suggests is that the increase in costs is a reflection of the rate increases granted by the OEB to OPG for their nuclear generation at Darlington and Pickering.   This marks the first time over a long period when increased costs cannot be blamed on either wind or solar generation or both!

The foregoing 2019 first quarter results may present a major road block for Premier Ford in achieving his “promise made, promise kept” catchphrase in respect to the energy file.

Last December, former Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault, was testifying at a committee hearing and responded to a question on the portfolio as follows: “There was lots that was happening on the file, and I was still learning it, right? As I said earlier, I was drinking from a thousand firehoses. Not that I’m trying to minimize the complexity of the file, but there was lots for me to learn and, at the same time, trying to find ways to reduce rates was, I think, the most important thing.”

Perhaps that point should be borne in mind by the current Minister, under Premier Ford. There are ways and means of reducing upward pressure on electricity costs, but so far Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines seems to have missed them or is still trying to digest the complexities of his portfolio.

My advice: Start with the cancellation of the Nation Rise 100-MW wind power generation project which will eliminate over $400 million from future electricity bills. And for those living with industrial wind turbines in rural Ontario, ensure they are in compliance with audible and inaudible noise regulations! Consultation with the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to ensure the regulations are followed would go a long way to reducing costs.

Minister Rickford could also consult with some external experts and find out what can be done to reduce costs, beyond getting rid of the “$6 million dollar man” from Hydro One!

PARKER GALLANT

 

 

Author: parkergallantenergyperspectivesblog

Retired international banker.

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