Questions unanswered on northern Ontario transmission project

A much needed connection for remote First Nation communities brings questions about funding

What connection is there between Dutton Dunwich township in Southwestern Ontario and Deer Lake First Nation of Northern Ontario? Deer Lake First Nation is 180 km north of Red Lake, or 1,915 km from Dutton Dunwich by road, so the two communities are far apart. What connects them is how the Ontario government manages the electricity sector.

Ontario’s Energy Minister issued a directive to the Ontario Energy Board or OEB on July 29, 2016, stating “the construction of the Remotes Connection Project, including the Line to Pickle Lake, is needed as a priority project.”

Deer Lake First Nation and three other of the 16 First Nation communities to benefit from being connected to the recently announced $1.6-billion Wataynikaneyap (Watay) Power grid, are also named as partners in the Strong Breeze Wind Farm (57.5MW) in Dutton-Dunwich. They were brought into the project by U.S.-based Invenergy LLC which resulted in a points advantage in the procurement bid process administered by the Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO.

The Watay Power Project is a different story: it will be a much-needed connection for 16 First Nations to the Ontario power transmission grid. The 16 First Nations represent a population of over 14,000 who currently rely on diesel for power generation. It will be owned by 22 First Nations.

Who is putting up the cash, and is it a loan or a grant?                                                                                                                    

There appears to be a disconnect on the announcements associated with the $1.6-billion project as MP Bob Nault’s website stated: “Today, the Honourable Bob Nault, along with the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, announced $1.6 billion in federal funding for Wataynikaneyap Power to connect 16 First Nations to the provincial power grid.”

The CBC’s report had a different view of the funding, however: “Premier Kathleen Wynne and Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault along with the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, Jane Philpott, announced an investment of $1.6 billion dollars to connect 16 First Nations in Northwestern Ontario to the electrical grid.”

The report quoted Ontario’s Premier, who said “We are putting the money up front and then the federal government is coming in and back filling that money, so the province is putting up over $1.3 billion in order to facilitate the project … in order for the project to get going, someone had to take the risk.”

There is a lack of clarity for taxpayers in the federal and provincial statements. Who is really providing the money? And is it $1.6 or $1.3 billion? Is it a loan or is it a grant? Taxpayers should be told.

Delivery costs

Grid-connected electricity for the 14,000 residents of the 16 First Nations communities works out to about $114,000 each and (assuming 3.5 residents per household) $400,000 per household. If one assumes a lifespan of 40 years* for the transmission system the delivery cost annually is $10,000 per household, without factoring in either electricity or interest costs on the debt (if it is debt).  Somehow, I doubt the 14,000 residents of the 16 First Nations will get the bill; will it fall on the taxpayers or ratepayers in Ontario, or all Canadian taxpayers to pick up the bill?  If it is Ontario ratepayers, should not the cost of this initiative properly be part of an indigenous support and development program, rather than adding to already beleagured ratepayers’ bills? Clarity on this issue would be appreciated from both the federal and provincial governments.

Environmental and health impacts                                                                                                 

An IESO “Panel Discussion: Engagement at the Local Level indicated grid connection to Ontario’s remote First Nation’s communities would: “Save $1 billion compared to diesel generation (PWC Study)” and that $472 million of the social value includes the “present value” of 6.6 million tonnes of avoided CO2 equivalent and $304 million of “adverse health impacts” over 40 years in the $1 billion reputedly saved, according to the PWC report of June 17, 2015.

What Watay Power won’t provide                                                                                                  

The website for Watay Power has a “Frequently Asked Questions” page, where two interesting questions posed. One concerns future power outages and the other asks whether the $1.6-billion transmission system will connect to the undeveloped Ring of Fire?

The first intriguing question was, “What options do communities have for back-up power during outages?” The answer was “A back up study is being prepared to develop options on how each community local distribution plans to address outages. The Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project is solely responsible for transmission.”

The second question was: “Will this line connect to the Ring of Fire?”** The answer to that question was, “The Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project is not proposing a connection to the Ring of Fire at this time.”

So, it would appear no backup plan is included in the estimated $1.6 billion cost, nor is a connection planned to the Ring of Fire which is regarded as “ Ontario’s version of the Oil Sands, the deposit has been said to contain $60-billion in mineral wealth.”

The Watay Power project poses many questions for Ontarians and Canadians. While the project is worthy in connecting remote communities to the power grid, Queens Park and Ottawa need to provide more details on who is really paying for it.

Parker Gallant                                                                                                                                 April 16, 2018

* “Studies have shown that building the transmission infrastructure to these remote communities would save over $1 billion compared to continued diesel generation over the next 40 years.”

**”Ten years after a large chromite deposit in Ontario’s James Bay lowlands was first discovered and declared a “game-changer” for the Canadian economy, the Ring of Fire mining development is flaming out in a dispute over who is talking to whom.”

Parker Gallant is an independent commentator on energy issues

 

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NextEra renewables sale to CPP speaks volumes

Canada Pension Plan’s investment in part of a wind-solar power portfolio seems to ignore a lot of negatives, including the energy poverty rising in Ontario due to electricity bills

Canada Pension Plan contribution rates are rising again, as reported by the Financial Post December 14, 2017: “the contribution rate (i.e., the CPP tax) has increased from 3.6 per cent when the CPP was launched in 1966 to its current rate of 9.9 per cent. It will increase further to 11.9 per cent beginning in 2019.”

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) is an active investor, looking for good rates of return without taking “excessive risk.” So they either searched for assets that pay guaranteed above market rates, or were approached by U.S. Power giant NextEra who sold them their Ontario portfolio of 396 MW of wind and solar contracts. CPPIB paid $1.871 million per MW for a total of $741 million CAD and also assumed the debt (US$689 million) attached to the NextEra portfolio. The press release associated with the acquisition had this quote from Bruce Hogg, Managing Director, Head of Power and Renewables: “As power demand grows worldwide and with a focus on accelerating the energy transition, we will continue to seek opportunities to expand our power and renewables portfolio globally.”

Perhaps Mr. Hogg was unaware “power demand” in Ontario has actually fallen from 153.4 TWh in 2004 to 132.1 TWh in 2017 despite an increase in our population of approximately 450,000.  He may also be unaware industrial wind turbines create health problems, cause property values to drop and kill birds and bats including those on the endangered species list.

What the CPP acquisition means is Ontario ratepayers will be indirectly contributing additional funds to the CPP without the benefit of reducing either their annual tax burden or increasing their future pension benefits. A “win, win” for CPP and a “lose, lose” for Ontario’s taxpayers. The sole redeeming feature is that the money will stay in Canada instead of flowing elsewhere.

Ironically, the CPP by acquiring and holding those assets will also be showing their support for energy poverty. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) in their December 2014 report noted: “Using LIM* as a measuring tool, and relying on Statistics Canada household data, Ontario has 713,300 low-income households.” At that point in time the 713,300 households represented almost 16% of residential ratepayers in the province and one should suspect that number has increased over the past three years.

So, one should also wonder why NextEra, headquartered in Florida, sold those assets and their above market returns? The press related to their announcement of the sale speaks volumes: “As discussed during our earnings call in January, we expect the sale of the Canadian portfolio to enable us to recycle capital back into U.S. assets, which benefit from a longer federal income tax shield and a lower effective corporate tax rate, allowing NextEra Energy Partners to retain more CAFD** in the future for every $1 invested.”

No doubt the NextEra sale may be a sign of the future as the Canadian economy has shown serious signs of slowing as taxes rise and foreign investment falls. The bulk of the investment in the renewable energy sector in Ontario came from offshore companies who rushed to take advantage of the above market rates and guaranteed prices offered under the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program available under the Green Energy Act.

Those investors will look to cash in on the sale of those assets, so we should expect to see more public and private Canadian pension funds stepping up to purchase them.

Parker Gallant

*Statistics Canada’s Low-Income Measure is simply defined as half of the median adjusted economic family income.

**Cash Available for Distribution

Ministry of the Environment missing in action on Prince Edward County fuel spill

Hard to imagine how a wind power contract handed out by the Ontario Power Authority could have a negative impact on Prince Edward County miles away, but it has!   The contract was awarded to a shell company (Windlectric Inc.) owned by Algonquin Power.  The approval granted Windlectric is to erect 26 industrial wind turbines (IWT) each soaring over 500 feet high with a capacity of 74.3 MW on Amherst Island.  When completed, they would deliver unneeded surplus power intermittently and unreliably.

Needless to say, residents of Amherst Island have been fighting the IWT invasion. Unfortunately, even though the island is considered an Important Bird Area (IBA) and labeled the “Owl Capital of North America” the residents have been unable to stop the project.  The power developer recently moved to start construction, first attempting to build a temporary dock enabling them to bring in the heavy equipment and supplies needed to erect the turbines.

The “temporary” dock and the IWT footings require tonnes of aggregate which it now appears they planned to source from Prince Edward County via barges.  The first barge brought into Picton Bay on March 23 was badly damaged and sank, releasing what appeared to be oil into the bay.  As time marched on, late on March 28 it was reported contaminants entered the Picton water intake zone.  Due to overnight wind forecasts the County declared a “water emergency” halting water processing at the Picton-Bloomfield drinking water plant.  The emergency continues and a “boil water” advisory was put in place on March 30th for residents of Picton and Bloomfield.  The water advisory required utilization of trucked drinking water from other locations in the county.

It is interesting to discover Windlectric’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed initially said nothing about this event, but they posted an apology letter on their site in respect to a power outage they earlier caused to the residents of Amherst Island.   It is also interesting the Marine Logistics Plan is dated March 27, 2017, four days after the barge sinking.  It suddenly appeared on their website but fails to mention Windlectric’s plan to source aggregate from Prince Edward County or the total tonnage of aggregate required for the dock and the footings for those 26 IWTs.  It does say:“The Project estimates peak delivery requirements at up to six main barge round trips per day, six days per week, between the Project’s mainland dock and the Project’s island dock.” 

Anyone familiar with the geography of Prince Edward County will recognize the “mainland dock” referenced has nothing to do with the supply of aggregate.

As the week went on, the County’s emergency team did its best to ensure drinkable water is readily available for the residents of both Picton and Bloomfield by opening bulk water stations and shuttling it to the Picton-Bloomfield water system from Wellington and Rossmore. The event has resulted in a massive effort to bring a team together to manage the problem(s). The team consists of not only the marine company McKeil Marine Limited, owning the barge and the County of Prince Edward. Additional involvement includes the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Eastern Canada Response Corporation), Environment Canada and Climate Change and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation.

One is hard-pressed to find a representative of the Ontario government in that list.

As it turns out, the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) has jumped in, but not to help. They issued “an order to McKeil Marine under the Ontario Water Resources Act to retain qualified consultants to investigate the environment impact on the County’s water system and private shoreline wells.” It’s too bad the MOECC didn’t require the same when handing out Renewable Energy Approvals (REA) to the developers who rushed to Ontario to erect IWTs and solar farms due to the high prices being offered on the backs of ratepayers.

One should anticipate the MOECC will find a reason to issue a fine as a penalty to McKeil Marine for the accident, but the ironic (and truthful) issue is, the MOECC is the Ontario Ministry that granted the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) to Windlectric Inc. in the first place. The REA seems to not have required Windlectric to file a “Marine Logistics Plan” until after the accident and the one filed is incomplete.   Should a fine be issued, it should be against the MOECC for their disregard for an IBA and the 34 species at risk when granting the original REA to Windlectric.

While issuing the REA was a flagrant disregard for the above reasons the other immediate issue that comes to mind is not recognizing Amherst Island is an “island” meaning supplies and equipment needed will have to travel by water. As just one example the 26 turbines being erected would require around 15,000 tonnes of concrete, slightly less than the foundation supporting the CN Tower and it will require approximately 1,000 concrete trucks to supply that amount! One should expect the local township roads will take a beating from all of that heavy (as in weight) traffic.

Makes you wonder how the MOECC officials issuing the REA, anticipated the concrete would get to Amherst Island if not by barge and cement trucks.

It is clearly time for Energy Minister, Glenn Thibeault to cancel this contract!

Parker Gallant,

April 2, 2017

Thanks to “countylive.ca” for their continuing updates!

Hydro One: can it deliver on its dividend promise?

The headline on the Hydro One February 10 press release was:  “Hydro One Reports Positive Fourth Quarter Revenue and Operating Cost Trends.” Annual “revenues, net of purchased power” came in at $3,125 million, an increase of $37 million (.4%) over 2015, while Net Income rose from $714 million to $746 million, and “adjusted” earnings per share increased to $1.21/share up from $1.16/share.

If you believe the reporting by Hydro One, you are led to believe a small increase in revenue translated to an almost identical increase in after-tax income.

A closer look is necessary to determine how that happened. As it turns out, transmission revenue was up $48 million and distribution revenue was down $11 million, accounting for the revenue increase. Regulatory assets1. climbed $130 million while operations, maintenance and administration (OMA) apparently fell by $66 million. It is not clear how many millions of OMA expenses were placed into “regulatory assets,” but we should assume a portion of salaries, pensions and benefits were.

As a result, it is impossible to determine whether Hydro One has become more or less efficient, despite this claim in the press release: “Our fourth quarter results demonstrate favourable revenue growth and operating cost control.” We can quickly see “favourable revenue growth” was small potatoes!

There are ways of using information in that press release and annual report to allow for calculations. One area that affects ratepayers is “delivery” costs which is reflected in Hydro One’s “distribution” business line. The annual report indicates the amount of electricity distributed to their 1.3 million residential and business customers fell 8.6% from 28,763 gigawatts (GWh) to 26,289 GWh while distribution revenue fell by $11 million from $1,499 million to $1,488 million. Using simple division one is able to calculate the cost of distribution per megawatt (MWh) increased from $52.05/MWh to $56.60/MWh for an increase of 8.7% or $4.55/MWh.

Everyone pays

Not all of that increase was paid for by Hydro One customers, however, as Hydro One receives revenue from all of Ontario’s ratepayers via the OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) which presumably resulted in the year over year drop (at a minimum) of $26 million in Hydro One’s “Allowance for doubtful accounts” from $61 million to $35 million. As well, all Ontario ratepayers pick up the costs of the RRRPP (rural and remote rate protection plan) which was $125.4 million for Hydro One in 2016 and will increase in 2017 to $243.4 million. Adjusting the distribution revenue to reflect contributions to Hydro One by all Ontario ratepayers would reduce their distribution costs to about $54/MWh (5.4 cents/kWh) and bring it almost in line with the claim by Hydro One their distribution/delivery costs represent about 37% of their customer’s electricity bills before HST. If one does the calculation on the OEB’s website however the actual cost of the “delivery” line for a “medium density” Hydro One ratepayer is 43%!

Another asset that showed a big jump on Hydro One’s balance sheet in 2016 was “goodwill” which more than doubled to $327 million, despite their having recovered $60 million in goodwill from the provincial acquisition of Hydro One Brampton before Hydro One went public. This also occurred just before the arranged merger of Hydro One Brampton with PowerStream, Horizon and Enersource. Hydro One has been snapping up some of the small local distribution companies (LDC) such as Norfolk Power, Woodstock Hydro, Haldimand for the past few years and recently applied to the OEB for acquisition of Orillia Power. Hydro One also just completed acquisition of Great Lakes Transmission improving the monopolistic control they hold in this business line to over 98%.   The LDC acquisitions were made well above book value and many of them had their delivery rates frozen for five years.

With Hydro One’s success at being the second most expensive hydro distributor we should expect the ratepayers in the locales of the acquired LDC will see their future delivery rates jump significantly.

On the liability side of Hydro One’s ledger, 2016 saw the acquisition of about $1.7 billion of increased and mainly long-term debt yet, their negative working capital position only improved $716 million. The additional debt raised during the year caused their Debt/Equity ratio to rise from 1.45:1 at the end of 2015 to 1.52:1 at the end of 2016 and brought with it increased interest costs. A rising D:E ratio often precedes a credit rating drop!

Dividend promise impossible, unless …

All this points to a company whose future is dependent on the OEB granting their every wish to increase delivery/distribution rates. If not, the promise to dividend out 70/80% of their annual net profits becomes impossible unless they either: forgo proper maintenance of the infrastructure, or reduce OMA costs via either staff reductions or salary cuts, or sell off assets!

Dividends paid in 2016 on the 5,623,000 common shares were $577 million representing 80% of net income attributable to common shares with just over $400 million going to the provincial treasury leaving about $150 million2. in retained earnings for future investments in infrastructure repairs and refurbishment and the building and/or improvement to the transmission grid(s) and LDC infrastructure.

Something’s got to give, or future increases to Hydro One’s ratepayers will be even worse than the past!

 

  1. Regulatory assets “represent certain amounts receivable from future customers and costs that have been deferred for accounting purposes because it is probable that they will be recovered in future rates.”
  2. Capital spending in 2016 was reported as $1.6 billion.  

What’s in your hydro bill? November-December dates

Since the Premier of Ontario has admitted her government has made a “mistake” and she is now concerned about rising electricity bills in Ontario, there is a lot of attention being paid to these bills.

I have been invited to speak at two Town Hall events coming up in the next few weeks.

• Saturday, Dec. 3: 10 a.m. to noon at the Kinburn Community Centre, 3045 Kinburn Side Rd., Kinburn.

• Saturday, Dec. 3: 2 to 4 p.m. at the Intercultural Dialogue Institute, 335 Michael Cowpland Dr. unit 112, Kanata.

Here is a news story about last week’s event.

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