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

 

 

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5 reasons not to believe wind power lobby spin-Part 2

CanWEA points to Denmark as a fine example of “affordable” wind power — great if you think 47 cents a kWh is affordable [Photo Pioneer Institute]
In Part 1 of this series, I dealt with two of the five claims CanWEA makes for industrial-scale wind power development in its October 11, 2018 blog post, “Five reasons why wind energy is Ontario’s best option for new electricity supply”.

Refuting those two claims for omission of facts was relatively easy.

Here are the details on the remaining three.

3. CanWEA claim: “Wind energy will be necessary if Ontario is to keep Ontario’s electricity supply reliable through the next decade.”

CanWEA says the IESO “forecast a need for significant new electricity generation, especially from 2023 onwards, as the Pickering Nuclear station shuts down, other nuclear units are being refurbished, and generation contracts expire.”   Well, that is true as IESO did suggest a shortfall, but here are the facts: the forecast shortfall is 1,400 MW. The OPG Lennox generation station with 2,100 MW has a contract expiring that year. So the question is, will the contract be extended? I was recently taken on a tour of the Lennox facility where I observed they were in the process of refurbishing one of the four 525-MW units which suggests they anticipate a renewal of the contract. With the anticipated renewal the “need for significant new electricity generation” is simply a figment of CanWEA’s imagination.

This claim goes on to suggest: “New wind energy would help keep Ontario’s electricity supply reliable, as well as more affordable.” And, “Other jurisdictions around the world are proving this – for example, Denmark now produces more than 44 per cent of its electricity from wind turbines on an annual basis.” The Denmark example ignores the cost of residential electricity on Danish households which is the highest in Europe. Denmark’s household electricity price is 312.60 Euro/MWh or $471.10 CAD/MWh, based on current exchange rates.

Is CanWEA suggesting is that if Ontario’s ratepayers were paying 47.1 cents/kWh it would be affordable? That seems like a big stretch and would push many more households into energy poverty!

The same applies to the claim of it being “reliable.” As noted in a June 2017 peer-reviewed report by Marc Brouillette, wind generation in Ontario presented itself when needed only 35% of the time. If one considers that wind’s annual generation averages about 30% of capacity, it is therefore “reliable” about 10.5% of the time it’s actually needed. (Note: IESO values wind generation at 12% in their forecasts)

4. This CanWEA claim suggests: “Wind energy provides many services to system operators to keep electricity supply flexible.” Their view of “flexible” fails to align with what the grid operator IESO would consider flexible. As Marc Brouillette’s report noted, “… wind output over any three-day period can vary between almost zero and 90 per cent of capacity.” That variance often requires clean hydro spillage or nuclear steam-off or the export of surplus capacity or full curtailment.

All of those actions cost ratepayers considerable money. Wind is unable to ramp up if demand increases and is the reason Ontario has over 10,000 MW of gas/oil plant capacity, with much of it idling in case the wind stops blowing or clouds prevent solar from generating. CanWEA needs to review the definition of “flexible.”

Another amusing statement under this claim is that: “Wind energy can also provide a suite of electricity grid services, often more nimbly and more cost effectively than conventional sources, helping to ensure reliable and flexible electricity supply. These services include: operating reserve, regulation, reactive support, voltage control, primary frequency response, load following, and inertia and fast frequency response.”   The bulk of those “suite of electricity grid services” are requirements for any generators on the grid. The ones suggesting operating reserve, reactive support, load following and fast frequency support are really referencing the curtailment of wind generation as noted in the preceding paragraph.

5. CanWEA’s final claim is:Wind energy is essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and goes on to suggest: “Ontario has achieved a 90 per cent reduction in electricity sector greenhouse gas emissions over the past 15 years, and wind energy has been an important contributor. Wind turbines do not emit greenhouse gases, just as they do not pollute the air.” If CanWEA bothered to be truthful, the trade association would not claim “wind energy has been an important contributor” in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.   If you review year-end data as supplied by IESO for the year 2004 and compare it to the data for 2018, you are obliged to reach the conclusion that wind generation played absolutely no role in the “90% reduction in the electricity sector greenhouse gas emissions.”

Ontario demand in 2004 was 153.4 TWh (terawatt hours) and in 2018 was 137.4 TWh representing a drop in demand of 16 TWh. Nuclear generation in 2004 was 77 TWh and in 2018 was 90.1 TWh for an increase in generation of 13.1 TWh. The drop in demand of 16 TWh, plus the increased nuclear  generation of 13.1 TWh, equals 29.1 TWh. Those 29.1 TWh easily displaced the 2004 coal generation of 26.8 TWh!

Ontario didn’t need any wind turbines to achieve the 90 per cent reduction in emissions by closing the coal plants, and CanWEA was totally wrong to suggest wind generation played anything more than a very small role.

As the saying goes, “there are always two sides to every story” but if it doesn’t fit the message you wish to convey, you simply ignore the other side! CanWEA has done that consistently while ignoring the negative impacts of industrial wind turbines.

Here are just five:

1.Providing intermittent and unreliable generation,

2. Causing health problems due to audible and inaudible noise emissions,

3. Driving up electricity costs,

4. Killing birds and bats (all essential parts of the eco-system), and

5. Possible link to contamination of water wells.

I could list other negative impacts, but I would first invite CanWEA to attempt to dispel those five.

Needless to say, the anticipated response will be “crickets”!

PARKER GALLANT

Hydro One latest financials look positive — until you look beneath the surface

Lots of “spin” in a recent news release. 2019 doesn’t look so rosy

On February 21, 2019 Hydro One issued a press release announcing their fourth quarter and year-end 2018 results.

The market shrugged.

That was in spite of the spin of the release titled “Hydro One Reports Positive Fourth Quarter Results”. Some media reports echoed the Hydro One press release without, I presume, looking at the financial statements.

Because if one were to examine their results for the quarter, it is obvious why the market shrugged. Revenue (net of purchased power) was up by $41 million (5.3%) due to higher demand for electricity for the transmission (up 2.5%) and distribution (up 3.2%) businesses. Offsetting the increased demand and related revenue, was a year over year $64 million increase (26.2%) in OMA (operations maintenance and administration) costs for the comparable 2017 quarter.

The jump in after-tax net income to $162 million from$155 million, attributable to shareholders, was up $7 million or 4.5%. However, if it hadn’t been for a huge drop in income taxes (from $38 million in 2017 to only $1 million in 2018’s fourth quarter), Hydro One’s results would have been upsetting to shareholders.

If Hydro One had taken the hit related to the “termination fee” (US$ 103 million) payable to Avista shareholders on the failed acquisition of that company, Hydro One would have reported a loss for the quarter. This is based on Note 4 which stated: “On February 1, 2019, Hydro One entered into a credit agreement for a $170 million unsecured demand operating credit facility (Demand Facility) for the purpose of funding the payment of the termination fee payable to Avista Corporation as a result of the termination of the Merger Agreement and other Merger related costs.”

The first Quarter results of 2019 will presumably reflect the unaccounted-for cost of the termination fee.

While year-over-year results report a favourable trend with revenues (net of purchased power) up 6.5% or $204 million, it was mainly driven by higher demand for distribution customers (revenue up 2.1 %) and higher peak demand for transmission clients (revenue up 11.1%).  If Hydro One had taken the Avista “termination fee” hit of $170 million, net income for shareholders would have been below 2017’s reported $658 million instead of the $778 million (up 18.2%) claimed for 2018.  It’s all about the spin!

Needless to say, scanning the notes to the financial statement indicates Hydro One received rate application approvals from the OEB (Ontario Energy Board) that will affect both their distribution and transmission customers on a go-forward basis. Additional rate applications await rulings from the OEB.

It would appear Hydro One may well experience a decline in profitability in 2019 due to the $170 million Avista termination fee. Additionally, the possibility of reduced demand may surface as ratepayers will not see a repeat of the 25% Fair Hydro Act’s deferral which may have played a role in increased consumption.

We shouldn’t expect the Ford government to deliver the other 12% reduction promised leading up to their election in June 2018 as their accomplishments so far, on this file, have been quite disappointing. They failed to cancel wind and solar contracts that will impact future rate increases.

It appears the former Hydro One CEO has impacted shareholders and possibly ratepayers considerably more than the “Six-Million-Dollar” cost suggested by Premier Ford. While the current Hydro One’s Board of Directors has agreed to restrict the pay to a new CEO to a maximum of $1.5 million per annum it would take 35 years to recoup just the Avista termination costs. An unlikely event!

An ongoing concern is the possible effect on ratepayers, should Hydro One submit a request for a rate increase to the OEB (Ontario Energy Board) to cover the above Avista termination fee and other (already expensed) related costs for the boondoggle.

Ratepayers should hope — and expect — the Minister responsible (Greg Rickford) will issue a clear directive to the OEB instructing them to not grant a rate increase to cover those costs! He should do that despite the province still being a 47% shareholder of Hydro One.

PARKER GALLANT

Hydro One shareholders happy with Avista purchase denial

Avista shareholders, not so much

The Hydro One press release immediately following the decision by the State of Washington’s regulator denying them the right to acquire Avista Corporation was short but expressed “extreme disappointment.”

“TORONTO and SPOKANE, WA, Dec. 5, 2018 /CNW/ – Hydro One Limited (“Hydro One”) (TSX: H) and Avista Corporation (“Avista”) today received a regulatory decision from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), denying the proposed merger of the two companies. The companies are extremely disappointed in the UTC’s decision, are reviewing the order in detail and will determine the appropriate next steps.”

How did investors view the denial? Avista shareholders were definitely in the “extremely disappointed” crowd as their shares tumbled, but Hydro One investors were probably “extremely happy” as their shares had one of their very best days ever!

Remember, Hydro One offered to purchase Avista shares well over book value and at a high multiple to earnings ratio.  While the prior Board of Directors of Hydro One and then CEO Mayo Schmidt, along with Glenn Thibeault, former Minister of Energy, were excited about the offer to purchase Avista, it certainly appears that shareholders weren’t!

Some media blame “political interference” by Premier Ford as the principal reason for the denial! One such individual was quoted in CBC article stating: “Ontario Liberal finance critic Mitzie Hunter said Ford’s “reckless conduct” at Hydro One continues to damage the province’s interests.” Apparently Hydro One’s investors are not buying Mitzie’s claim!

There will, however, be a cost to Hydro One. When the purchase was negotiated, they agreed to a “termination fee” of US$ 103 million (CAD$ 139 million) and will have to pay that to Avista for distribution to their shareholders.  Hydro One will also have to unwind foreign exchange forward contracts and accumulated acquisition costs which will be expensed.  They also have to deal with the large convertible debenture issue ($1,540 million) which has a 10-year maturity and interest payments above market rates prior to conversion.

I assume we ratepayers will have to sit on the sidelines until Hydro One’s year-end report in early 2019 is issued before we get an estimate on the costs of the denial by the State of Washington’s regulator.

We can then hope our regulator, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), doesn’t grant a rate increase to Hydro One to cover the costs of their ill-considered attempt to acquire a company 3,200 kilometres away at an inflated price.

Only time will tell.

PARKER GALLANT

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

 

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