Rants about Ontario’s electricity system

Canada Day came and went without parades or fireworks to celebrate the 153rd year of Canada’s birth as the Covid-19 pandemic lock-down kept many of us confined to small social bubbles.  The exceptions were those who chose to defy regulations and participated in anti-racism protests, both indigenous and anti-black ones across the country.  To most it seemed a strange way to celebrate our country’s successes. At least the weather was sunny and very warm in Ontario on July 1st!

Industrial Wind Turbines on Canada Day In Ontario

As is often the custom in Ontario on hot humid summer days, most of the IWT (industrial wind turbines) took the day off so the 4,800 MW of capacity they have was virtually silent.  Had they operated at 100% of capacity they would have delivered 115,000 MWh but instead they only managed to puff out 7,440 MWh and had 400 MWh curtailed (at 11 PM) meaning they operated at a level of capacity of 6.8% including the curtailed MWh.  As the morning broke at hour 9 AM they generated 8 MWh or 0.017% of capacity.  Fortunately, we didn’t need their power as nuclear, hydro and gas easily supplied our needs throughout the day even though total market demand reached 22,641 MWh and Ontario demand peaked at 19,342 MWh or 402,000 MWh for the full day.  Our net exports were north of 45,000 MWh which earned us ratepayers only about $750,000 while costing us close to $7 million.

Hydro One’s 1st Quarter Distribution Results raises unanswered questions

Hydro One announced their 1st Quarter 2020 results on May 8, 2020 and they were pretty unexciting with adjusted earnings of .38 cents per share compared to .52 cents in the comparable 2019 quarter. Examining this further; revenue related to Hydro One’s distribution customers increased $118 million (+ 8.9%) but they reported a decline of $82 million (- 16%), net of purchased power.  The latter reputedly climbed from a cost of $807 million in 2019 to $1,007 million in 2020 or $200 million (+ 24.8%).  Now the odd thing one notes is consumption fell by 254,000 MWh* or 3.3% yet costs increased meaning the average cost per MWh shot up $29.31/MWh from $104.29/MWh to $134.60/MWh or 28.1% and well above the increase reported by IESO!  Interestingly if one looks at Note “23. Related Party Transactions” it states in one line; “Amounts related to electricity rebates” which for 2020 totaled $433 million and in 2019 was $138 million for an increase of $295 million. That suggests in just one quarter (compared to the 2019 quarter) the Ford led government raised the taxpayer support to reduce electricity prices year over year by 213.8% if Hydro One is atypical of all distribution companies.  The foregoing is scary for taxpayers and due to the inferred net revenue decline for Hydro One it possibly signals they will apply for a rate increase which will hit ratepayers.  Additionally, it also raises the question; where did the $295 million extra received for those “electricity rebates” go as it should have kept the cost of purchased power lower than Hydro One claim?

IESO’s limited transparency

On a monthly basis the IESO, responsible for managing the Ontario electricity grid, put out data disclosing Class A and Class B Global Adjustment (GA) rates along with consumption by each Class. IESO also provide what they label as a Monthly Market Summary (MMS) and in it you will find consumption, the HOEP (market price) rate for the month and the Class B, GA. They also provide other data covering exports and imports, market demand, lots of charts showing unavailable capacity, operating reserve prices, etc. etc. and even temperature data.  The big difference in the two reports is in respect to “consumption”, ie “market demand” as for some reason the MMS fails to include DX (distributor connected) generation which are the myriad of smaller solar capacity contracts (2,200 MW), wind generation contracts (600 MW), biofuel, etc. etc. IESO is responsible for settling with the LDC (local distribution companies) for the generation for each of the contracts. Those details are presumably provided by the LDC where those contracts reside.  What that tells us is; if IESO was truly transparent they would include the monthly generation created by those DX connected generators so those of us watching the system wouldn’t have to either make assumptions or wait until IESO publish their Year-End Data.

Wind is wimpy during peak demand hours

So far in 2020 five of the top ten peak hours have occurred in the first week of July and collectively IWT contributed 0.9% of their overall capacity during those five hours and only 1,9% of total demand.  What that implies is IWT without 99.9% back-up from reliable generation sources would leave us all sweating in the dark without air conditioning!

Hydro makes wind and solar look expensive and pretty useless

My friend Scott Luft recently posted an excellent chart on his Facebook page showing: generation by source, costs and curtailment for the first six months of each year starting with 2008.  Looking only at the 2020 data by itself is an interesting exercise in that hydro contributed 19,396 GWh (gigawatt hours), wind 7,140 GWh and solar 2,037 GWh.  It is worth noting hydro provided Ontario’s electricity system with 111.4% more power than both wind and solar combined and the average cost of hydro’s power was $59.24/MWh whereas the average cost of wind and solar was $213.69/MWh or 360% more costly. The total cost of the combined wind and solar generation was $1.961 billion versus $1.149 billion for hydro.  If one goes further Scott notes exports were 11,598 GWh so the combined generation of wind and solar represents 79.1% of those exports.  Those exports generated revenue of $17.87/MWh and if all the wind and solar (9,177 GWh) were a part of those exports the net costs to Ontario’s ratepayers and taxpayers would be approximately $1.8 billion (wind and solar related only) and that is just for the first six months of 2020.

With that cost of $1.8 billion highlighted in the foregoing paragraph I personally hope those of you who read this will forgive my rants and start ranting with me and the others who do the same!

Time for Premier Ford to fix this mess if he wants our economy to recover!

*What 102,000 average households would use over 3 months.

Ontario’s Bureaucrats and Liberal appointed justices have full control of the Ontario Energy Ministry

On May 1, 2020 an article penned by yours truly, outlined the OEB’s (Ontario Energy Board) concerns about how the Covid-19 pandemic will reduce revenue for OPG and Hydro One. The OEB instructed both to keep track of revenue losses for future rate application increases and to establish “deferral accounts” to keep track of those losses.

The OEB has done it again but this time their letter is aimed at all of the LDC’s (local distribution companies) telling them to keep track of losses related to the pandemic and to set up: “Account 1509 – Impacts Arising from the COVID-19 Emergency (Account).  Collecting information on the balances in the Account will inform the OEB about the impacts of the emergency on distributors”.  Needless to say, the projected losses could be significant should the LDC’s bad debts include significant businesses who fail as a fall-out of the pandemic.  While the dollar amounts in respect to either of the two OEB letters is presently unknown one should suspect they will be significant as the lock-down continues and many businesses may not survive and consumption falls.

The question arising is; will it be ratepayers impacted in the future or will the burden fall on taxpayers?  We should suspect the latter as a review of Ministerial Directives* from the Ford led government, up to this point, have transferred a lot of costs to taxpayers.  The latter includes the renamed “Fair Hydro Plan” launched by former Premier Wynne, now called the “Ontario Electricity Rebate” which negatively impacted last year’s budget to the tune of $5.6 billion. Other costs continue to accumulate due to the Green Energy Act (GEA) initiative instituted by the former governing Ontario Liberal Party and with reduced consumption will grow as recently pointed out, costing ratepayers $2 billion annually related to just the cost of industrial wind turbines (IWT).

Another recent initiative by the Ford government will eventually come back to bite ratepayers as they have decreed due to the pandemic the April GA (Global Adjustment) will be set for all Class B ratepayers at $115/MWh (megawatt hour) or $40/MWh less than what my friend Scott Luft estimates it would have been.  Class A ratepayers will see a similar deferment.  The initiative will carry through to the end of June 2020 meaning it potentially could amount to over $800 million to be recouped from ratepayers commencing January 2021 according to IESO.

As if the foregoing wasn’t enough, the only significant IWT cancelled by the Ford government, potentially saving ratepayers $450 million over the 20 year contract, was just reinstated by a ruling of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice!

The Nation Rise wind power project is a 100-megawatt (MW) IWT project, which I have written extensively on. It is unneeded, as it will simply add to our surplus generation.  Additionally, the original contracted party, EDPR of Portugal (partially owned by state owned Chinese companies) sold off controlling interest to a Quebec based company (Axium) run by former senior executives of SNC Lavalin.

In examining the Justices hearing the appeal and overturning its cancellation it is striking to note one of them was Supernumerary Justice Harriet Sachs married to Clayton Ruby.  Clayton Ruby is a well-respected lawyer who has been quite active in promoting renewable energy and appears to be a firm believer in “climate change”.  Mr. Ruby has even signed the Leap Manifesto which makes major improbable and unproven claims such as: “The latest research shows it is feasible for Canada to get 100% of its electricity from renewable resources within two decades; by 2050 we could have a 100% clean economy.” A picture of Mr. Ruby and others who signed the Manifesto can be found on page 39 in the November/December 2015 issue of the Monitor.  The Monitor was issued by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.   Should Mr. Ruby desire, he could easily find many recent research papers that would dispel many of the Leap Manifesto claims.  Based on Mr. Ruby’s beliefs, it should be expected they would be chatted about with his spouse, Justice Sachs, over the kitchen table or a family event, so the question arises; does she share his beliefs?

Looking back to October 2013 Justice Sachs was to sit as the judge on a “mock trial” of environmentalist David Suzuki related to a live theatre performance referenced as “The Trial of David Suzuki” but she withdrew as Sun News host Ezra Levant raised “queries on Judge Sachs and her possible bias.”

The foregoing raises the question on whether she continues to retain the suggested bias and if so, why did she not relinquish her role in this matter or why didn’t the other two justices suggest she do so?

It is obvious the mess created by the former governments of the province continue to weigh heavily on the ratepayers/taxpayers and the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating the burden.

Once the pandemic recedes the Ford government needs to take serious action to correct this mess in the Energy Ministry and not simply transfer the costs to taxpayers.

 

*The Ford government has to this point issued less than 10 directives which moved costs to taxpayers whereas the McGuinty/Wynne led Ontario Liberal governments issued over 150 directives to the OEB, IESO, Hydro One and the OPG and the bulk of them have and continue to cause electricity rates to increase.

The OEB and IESO are Coming After us Ratepayers Again

It appears the almost 200 employees at the OEB and the over 700 employees at IESO who collectively must survive on an average annual salary, plus benefits, of only $150K are concerned as the Covid-19 pandemic has affected people in the province.

If for some reason you felt their concerns were related to all the people who have been laid off or will lose their jobs or businesses because of the pandemic you would be sadly mistaken!

The concern, as expressed by the OEB is with OPG and electricity transmitters, ie: Hydro One!  Their recent letter of April 29, 2020 instructs those two parties to:  establish “Deferral Accounts to Record Impacts Arising from the COVID-19 Emergency”.  The letter notes; “electricity and natural gas distributors* may incur incremental costs as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”  As a result, the “OEB ordered the establishment of a deferral account with sub-accounts for electricity and natural gas distributors to use to track any incremental costs and lost revenues related to the COVID-19 pandemic effective March 24, 2020.”

NB: deferral accounts are set up to recoup lost revenue!

The IESO held a webinar April 23, 2020 titled: “An overview of COVID-19 impacts on electricity system operations” to also deal with the issues.

IESO disclosed some interesting pieces of information in their webinar such as:  “IESO and stakeholders have been limiting staff on-site, deferring non-essential work, and focusing on core operations” and “A third control room was built and successfully deployed in 10 days, which can be used to further maintain physical separation of control room operators”.

The latter disclosure is a big wow, as many of us have been after IESO to provide up-to-date disclosure information on issues such as: curtailed wind, spilled hydro, embedded generation etc. etc. for years without success but show them a “pandemic” and they can apparently accomplish a new “control room” in 10 days!  A simple search on the IESO website of “transparency” generates 2,290 hits but for some reason they have difficulty generating the foregoing information for those of us with a curious mind!

IESO’s webinar does provide some interesting information and the following stands out not so much for its truthfulness as much as for what IESO ignores.  First, what they posted: “High surplus baseload generation (SBG) conditions are often observed in the spring when demand is low and there are large amounts of energy from hydroelectric resources caused by higher water levels”.  The foregoing comes as no surprise however, what is surprising is, they make no mention of either wind or solar’s penchant to produce much higher generation during the Spring!  Why focus on what we all know and avoid what we would like to know?

Needless to say, the webinar info discloses (with the exception of residential consumption increasing by 4%) all segments: small commercial, industrial, etc. are showing decreased consumption in the double digit category meaning surplus baseload generation is being exported (at very cheap prices) or (non-disclosed) we are curtailing wind or spilling hydro and it will appear in our future bills and we must pay for it.

Add the above to the OEB and IESO efforts to ensure OPG and Hydro One employees (as well as themselves) can maintain their lifestyles and watch those OEB “deferral accounts” bound upwards.

Ratepayers should prepare themselves for future rate increases to ensure all those overworked and underpaid “public service” employees in the electricity sector receive their entitlements!

*While the word “distributors” is used we are unsure if that applies to all of the almost 70 LDC (local distribution companies) in the province.

Ontario ratepayers and taxpayers pay up for Hydro One’s Niagara transmission line

The 76-kilometre Niagara transmission line, meant to strengthen power ties between New York State and Ontario, with a capacity to import/export as much as 800 megawatts of electricity has finally been completed.

Recently, information submitted to the OEB (EB-2018-0275) in a rate application stated: “The Project was originally approved by the Ontario Energy Board on July 8, 2005 pursuant to EB-2004-0476 but construction was halted in 2006 until earlier this year due to a third-party land dispute.

The Niagara transmission line was finally completed August 30, 2019, or over 14 years after construction started. It’s been a long road!

The decision and order from the OEB blessed the application (they generally do for Hydro One) noting; “Niagara Reinforcement Limited Partnership’s (NRLP) interim 2020 revenue requirement request of $9,389,914 is approved.”

The approval for NRLP rather than Hydro One is a reflection of well over a decade of negotiations to satisfy the Six Nations of the Grand River and, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.  Contained in a note in the 3rd Quarter financial results of Hydro One, indicates a portion of the Niagara line was sold to them in the entity now referenced as NRLP. The pertinent part of the audit note stated:  “Hydro One Networks sold to the Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation and, through a trust, to the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation a 25.0% and 0.1% equity interest in NRLP partnership units, respectively, for total consideration of $12 million, representing the fair value of the equity interest acquired.”  The Mississaugas also hold an option to purchase another 20%. NRLP was created for the sole purpose of allowing that to happen.

On November 5, 2015 an article headlined “Powerline to nowhere” on CTV, noted the cost of the line to that point was $100 million plus $54.5 million in interest payments (including $5 million in interest payments for 2016).  If one adds another $10 million in interest payments for 2017 and 2018 it appears the total cost of the Niagara line was in the neighbourhood of $165 million at a minimum.  In NRLP’s submission to the OEB the actual costs of the line were claimed to be $120 million, but it’s unclear if that included any interest. Either way the cost of the line was north of $165 million yet 25% of it was sold for $12 million which seems like a pretty good deal.  Details on the Mississaugas option were not disclosed.

It should be noted Hydro One had to seek an injunction in July 2019, after repeated attempts were made to block work on the transmission project.  They stated; “Work stopped again in January when members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) blocked access to the construction sites and issued a “cease and desist” order.  The CBC reported; “Hydro One’s statement of claim says the defendants “have a long history of organizing blockades, causing public disruption, breaching court orders” and interfering with land development and utilities as a tactic to negotiate compensation and other benefits to members of the Confederacy.”  The article also said: “The Six Nations and Mississaugas will have 45 per cent ownership* of the project, said Hydro One, and the project will create jobs and economic benefits.”  The injunction was granted by the judge in that appeal and as noted the line was completed August 30, 2019

The estimated cost of the line (north of $165 million) mentioned above has now been passed on to Ontario ratepayers via the OEB decision.  There were lots of other costs picked up by taxpayers in Ontario** and the rest of Canada as suggested in the partial list of material contained in the Chronology of Events at Caledonia in the former Federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Ministry website suggesting the other activities associated with the happenings in Caledonia also may have cost the Canadian taxpayers as much or more than the $165 million associated with the Niagara transmission line but that is for someone else to determine.

Conclusion

Perhaps we in Ontario should be grateful for the delay in completing the transmission line as it prevented the sale of even more of our surplus power from wind and solar etc. to New York for pennies on the dollar. The delay may have accidentally saved us ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars due to the 14 years it took to complete.

*Acquisition details related to the Mississaugas’ 20% purchase option are not available but are believed to expire quickly.

** The Ontario government agreed to pay $20 million to residents and business owners of Caledonia who suffered through the native protest at a housing development in Caledonia.

Hydro One’s 3rd Quarter 2019 results will make shareholders happy and distribution customers unhappy

Hydro one just released their 3rd Quarter results and net income after taxes increased from $194 million to $241 million or 29.4%.  Net income increased by only $14 million or 6.2% after adjusting the 2018 results upwards for the costs associated with the failed Avista acquisition.

Let’s look at those results by Hydro One’s client base of transmission (generators and local distribution companies or LDC) and distribution (ratepayers).

Transmission Revenue and Income Down                                                                                    What is interesting about their results is it shows transmission revenue decreased by $50 million (down 10.1%) as “peak demand” keeps falling.  Year over year the latter fell by 1,805 GWh (gigawatt hours) or 7.9%.  As a result, net income (before financing and taxes) from the transmission business dropped by $55 million or 19.2% from $287 million to $232 million.

Distribution Revenue and Income Up                                                                                       On the other side of their business Hydro One’s distribution revenue (net of purchased power) was up from $370 million to $403 million for a $33 million (+ 8.9%) gain and the revenue growth translated to a $33 million jump in net income (before financing and taxes).  The latter increased from $120 million to $153 million (+27.5%) year over year.

The jump in distribution income occurred despite the fact Hydro One’s 1.4 million customers reduced their consumption from 6,817 GWh to 6,627 GWh for a decline 190 GWh or 2.8%.  The forgoing means the average delivery cost per kWh increased from 5.43 cents/kWh to 6.08 cents/kWh year over year and amounts to a jump of 12%.   The 12% increase is co-incidentally what we were promised to see as a reduction in our rates by the Ford government.

Summary                                                                                                                                                 While all customers are billed for both delivery and transmission costs, the latter tends to represent a very small charge whereas delivery costs represent (on average) about 30% of your monthly bill.  Hydro One’s delivery costs however, are closer to 40% so it is disappointing to see that portion of the bill for their 1.4 million customers keeps climbing at rates well above inflation.

Getting rid of the $6 million man did nothing to reduce Hydro One’s delivery costs!