No hydro price rise today? Just wait

November 1, 2016

Ontario’s electricity ratepayers or customers were somewhat surprised when the OEB (Ontario Energy Board) announced on October 19 there would be no change to electricity rates for the following six months.  That announcement was only the third time out of the last 18 since 2007 where rates didn’t increase.

Many commentators said, however, this can’t hold and the government has simply punted a rate increase down the road. So, what is likely to happen come Spring 2017?

We have some clues in recently released information. The IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) just published the September 2016 Monthly Market Report which provides the Class B weighted average of both HOEP (hourly Ontario energy price) and the Global Adjustment for the first nine months of the current year, representing the commodity cost.  For the first nine months of 2016, the raw commodity cost’s “weighted average” was $110.93 per megawatt hour (MWh) compared to $98.88/MWh in 2015.

So, that would be up: that signals a 12.2% increase year over year in the electricity1. generation cost.

The IESO has also been posting the consumption and costs of the HOEP and the GA for each of the two customer classes A and B; if you calculate the difference between Class A and Class B consumption and costs for the same period as noted above you discover this.

  • Class A ratepayers increased consumption by 2 terawatts (TWh) from 19 TWh to 21 TWh whereas Class B ratepayers decreased their consumption from 87 TWh in 2015 to 86 TWh year over year.
  • Class A ratepayers paid $70 million more for the additional 2 TWh which was at the bargain price of 3.5 cents per kWh. The raw commodity cost for Class A ratepayers declined from $65.42/MWh in 2015 to $62.50/MWh in 2016 for a 4.4% reduction.

Class B ratepayers may have reduced the electricity consumption (by 1 TWh or 1 billion kWh) but they paid an additional $893 million over 2015.   The extra cost for Class B ratepayers of 1.04 cents per kWh is equivalent to just over $90 a year for the “average” household.

That cost will presumably find its way to the next announcement in mid-April 2017 when the OEB tells us what households will be paying for the six months commencing May 1, 2017.

The Class B to Class A shift will increase further (implementation date has not been announced) in the future, based on Energy Minister Thibeault’s announcement in a press release on September 15, 2016, granting an additional 1,000 plus companies access to the Industrial Conservation Initiative (ICI) program.

The balancing act of trying to retain jobs while greening Ontario’s energy generation via the Class B to Class A subsidy (now approaching $1 billion annually) appears set to create more energy poverty in the Class B group despite removal of the 8% provincial portion of the HST.

The Spring forecast? Increased electricity rates.

Parker Gallant

1. This does not include transmission, regulatory, distribution, etc. costs.

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Energy Minister Thibeault tries to explain power bill savings, and leaves a few things out

Napanee gas plant: about to start up and cost you money, soon
Napanee gas plant: about to start up and cost you money, soon

The difference between Ontario’s previous Energy Minister, Bob Chiarelli and his replacement, Glenn Thibeault is now out in the open.

For those of you who may not remember how Bob Chiarelli responded to the Auditor General’s announcement about the cost of the Oakville gas plant scandal this excerpt from an article in the Toronto Sun of December 5, 2013 will refresh your memory: “The cancellation of a signed contract to build a gas plant in Oakville will cost hydro customers up to $2 a year, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) says. ‘It’s less than a cup of Tim Hortons coffee,’ Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said Thursday.” 

Fast forward to October 21, 2016 and the press conference announcement from Premier Wynne about a deal to annually import 2 terawatts (TWh) of electricity from Quebec.  Bob Chiarelli’s replacement Glenn Thibeault suddenly had to field questions about how this announcement will benefit Ontario ratepayers.  In an interview on CFRA 580 with Kristy Cameron he was pressed to answer what it will do to reduce ratepayers’ bills.    The Minister’s response was ponderously slow. He eventually said the result would be a savings of “somewhere about ten cents.”  Cameron pressed him further and he finally confessed it was “ten cents overall”.  Not monthly, not annually — just “overall”!

Despite the hoopla from Wynne’s announcement it appears the Ontario/Quebec agreement to import 2 TWh of electricity annually is simply an attempt to mask the mess the governing party has created.

The agreement may in fact raise the cost of electricity.  The premier claims hydro imports from Quebec will replace gas-generated power which currently costs ratepayers substantially as we pay those generators $10-15,000 per MW per month to idle.  When they are called on to produce power the cost is basically for fuel and that cost is approximately 2.5 cents/kWh. So, if we are paying Quebec the rumoured 6 cents a kWh ($60 million per TWh), those 2 TWh will result in Ontario ratepayers picking up a cost of about $70 million or $15 per electricity ratepayer annually.

That will quickly erase the “10 cents overall” benefit claimed by Energy Minister Thibeault. Too bad he didn’t come clean like his predecessor and simply say it will raise the price of electricity, and by how much, even if it was an (inaccurate) folksy analogy.

Not to be forgotten in the gas plant scandal is the fact that both the Mississauga (now Sarnia) and the Oakville (now Napanee) plants are scheduled to come on-stream over the next year, meaning we will have another 1,200 MW of gas generation idling. The annual cost to idle will be about $180 million.

We should brace ourselves. With the gas plants and the five wind power contracts announced earlier this year, there will be plenty more increases to Ontario’s electricity bills.

Parker Gallant

NAFTA wind farm decision shows need for onshore wind power research too

Related image

October 26, 2016

The events of the past few months have been difficult for new Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault as he continues to try to defend his predecessors’ decisions. He has tried to justify: increased energy poverty, the fastest growing electricity rates in North America, the slow demise of energy intensive enterprises (manufacturing, mining, refining, pulp and paper production, etc.), gas plant cancellations and the privatization of Hydro One, to name a few.

Not to be ignored are the many challenges lodged by rural ratepayers against contract awards allowing construction of industrial-scale wind power projects in their communities. Thousands of those ratepayers have challenged the contracts and spent millions of personal after-tax dollars sitting in front of Environmental Review Tribunals, valiantly doing their best to protect the environment and wildlife from the highly invasive power projects. Only a very small percentage of the challenges have proven successful.

Just days ago another ruling was issued and once again it was in favour of an industrial wind developer. This time however, it came from a tribunal sanctioned under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and it was against the Government of Canada because of actions by the Ontario government.

The challenge by Windstream Energy LLC resulted in an award of $25 million and an additional $3 million in legal fees against the decision by the provincial governing party to place a moratorium on a contract granted to Windstream for an offshore 300-MW wind development.

The ruling by the tribunal “found that the Government of Ontario treated Windstream Energy LLC’s (Windstream) investments in Canada unfairly and inequitably” and also ruled “on the whole did relatively little to address the scientific uncertainty” surrounding offshore wind that it relied upon as the main publicly cited reason for the moratorium.

If one were to discuss the contracts awarded by the Ontario Power Authority or IESO with the people who have challenged wind power projects at Environmental Review Tribunals I suspect the words: unfairly and inequitably would be frequently heard.  Many rural Ontarians living in proximity to operating turbine installations and suffering the effects of audible and inaudible (infrasound) noise would raise the issue of the lack of research on the effects of the noise on humans.

“Relatively little” has been done to address the scientific uncertainty surrounding onshore wind turbines, as well.

Parker Gallant

Challenging CanWEA’s claim about wind power and electricity bills

October 16, 2016

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), the wind power development lobbyist and trade association, posted a declaration last week defending wind power, saying it has no role in Ontario’s rising electricity bills. CanWEA’s Regional Director for Ontario Brandy Giannetta posted an article on their website claiming she has facts showing that wind power is a minor factor in the raft of electricity bill increases we have seen in Ontario.

Her chief source of information is a study conducted in 2014 by Power Advisory for “environmental action organization” Environmental Defence; this study has been very influential on the Wynne government’s energy policy.

The claim by CanWEA needs to be challenged.  Let’s look at real facts from the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).  Scott Luft collects wind data from IESO and posts it monthly on his energy analysis website.  His estimates of “curtailed” generation are indeed estimates; however, they have proven to be conservative over the past couple of years.

Luft posted data on wind power in Ontario in the first nine months of the current year; wind generated 7,035,901 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity and curtailed* another 1,558,555 MWh.  The power restricted or curtailed actually represents slightly more than 18% of total power generation from wind.  

Together (assuming an average price of $123.50/MWh), the cost of the 8,594,456  MWh of generated and curtailed wind cost ratepayers about $1,061,415.000.   What Luft has also done is use IESO data to determine the HOEP (hourly Ontario energy price) during the generation and curtailment times and, based on that data, the market valuation of that almost 8.6 terawatt hours (TWh) was just shy of $87 million.  What that clearly indicates is the market value of 8.6 million of generated and curtailed wind contracted as a result of the GEA cost Ontario ratepayers $974 million for unneeded power that was principally exported or curtailed because it was surplus to our needs.

The data from the first nine months of the current year suggest approximately 90% of the costs associated with generating unneeded electricity from industrial wind turbines (curtailed and exported)  were costs adding no value to Ontario’s ratepayers (except for the 1 cent per kilowatt hour they would have received in a truly competitive market environment).

What this means is, the Auditor General’s observation that the government of Ontario needed to do a cost/benefit study for its non-hydro renewable energy program has become patently obvious. The wind power lobby can claim what it wants about wind power’s role in electricity bills, but the figures speak for themselves.

Parker Gallant

*IESO definition: curtailment means the involuntary curtailment of non-dispatchable load as a result of insufficient generation capacity, of a limitation in the capacity of a transmission system or of actions taken by the IESO pursuant to Chapter 5 to maintain the reliability of the IESO-controlled grid or of the electricity system

Wynne government electricity bill relief comes with a price tag

Not a chance ...
Not a chance …

October 13, 2016

Ontario Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault is promising Ontario’s electricity customers some relief, according to several press releases springing from the Throne Speech in early September.

While the costs of the relief including the 8% Provincial Sales Tax abatement and the “low-density” monthly reduction is worrying, in that funding for it has not been disclosed, a bigger hit may be coming. The Minister said “more than a thousand new businesses soon eligible for ICI, in the September 15th press release.

ICI is the “Industrial Conservation Initiative” and refers to Class A customers (companies with peak demand is 5 megawatts or higher) whose electricity rates are subsidized by the Class B customers (demand over 50 kilowatts but less than 5 megawatts) if they reduce consumption during a few “peak” hours over the course of a year.

In Germany, the equivalent of Ontario’s Class B ratepayers pay 98% more for a kilowatt (kWh) of power than a German industrial consumer, according to statistics from Eurostat. Looking at the information for Ontario on the IESO site it appears that with the Minister’s announcement Ontario’s ratepayers may soon be put in the same position.  Currently it appears a kWh of power (commodity only) costs an average Ontario ratepayer 58% more than a Class A industrial consumer. The foregoing calculation is based on the GA (Global Adjustment) information from IESO plus the average HOEP (hourly Ontario energy price) for the 2016 January/August period.

The Minister’s announcement of an expanded ICI program reducing peak demand from 3 MW to

1 MW and adding “more than a thousand new businesses” will push the commodity cost down for those 1,000 businesses reportedly by 34%, but the contracted value of the generated power will remain.

Someone will have to pay for the difference.

Unless Minister Thibeault has suddenly found a cache of money that Finance Minister Sousa is willing to part with, it will be left to Class B ratepayers to pick up the tab.

The Energy Minister’s press release suggested a “Customer Impact Example” which was a plastic manufacturer whom he suggests could save $42K per month or $500,000 per annum.  If all 1,000 of those businesses are successful in doing that, the implication is that the cost of the ICI shift may total $500 million.

Quick math indicates the 4.5 million “average” residential ratepayers will be looking at an increase in their bills of about $10 a month, or $120 on an annual basis. Coincidentally, that $10 a month is almost equal to the $11 a month those same ratepayers  will supposedly save due to the removal of the Provincial Sales Tax portion (8%) of the HST.

What it is: another crushing blow to all of the residential ratepayers of the province.

The Energy Minister’s concept of a “benefit to all consumers in Ontario” looks to be simply a shuffling of money from one ratepayer’s pocket to another.

Parker Gallant

 

Ontario in Panic Mode: how Hydro One gets their money, cleans up their debt record, and you pay for it all

2. Ratepayer relief for Hydro One and its arrears

October 12, 2016

Yesterday, I dealt with the announcements from the Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibeault in September and the ways he promised would reduce our electricity bills. What the minister failed to explain was where the money is coming from.

Electricity ratepayers should be worried.

As Global TV began its coverage of the electricity sector in Ontario and how it affected people’s lives, many horror stories about “energy poverty” were showcased, particularly from Hydro One’s clients. We customers have become accustomed to bad news stories related to Hydro One’s “smart meters” and “over-billing” highlighted by former Ombudsman, Andre Marin.   The stories Global uncovered were even more remarkable as they were able to obtain data from the OEB that disclosed the number of ratepayers in arrears as of December 31, 2015.  As it turned out, Hydro One had almost 226,000 clients in arrears (20% of all their residential clients and 40% of all ratepayers in arrears in the province and 63% [$105.6 million] of the total dollar amount).  Additionally Hydro One Remote (a not-for-profit subsidiary serving remote communities) had 1,147 in arrears (33.7% of all [3,400] their residential ratepayers).

In the latter case, the rest of Ontario’s ratepayers supplement (read: subsidize) the 3,400 “remote” ratepayers at an average of $9,500 each (about $32 million annually) via the RRRP (Rural or Remote Electricity Rate Protection) fund.  The fund is set at $174 million annually which adds 0.13 cents/kWh  to each kilowatt hour consumed in the province.  The fund is also used to reduce the 329,000 Hydro One customers classified as “low-density” ratepayers.  The latter bills are reportedly reduced by $31.50 per month.  This eats up another $124 million of the fund.

It is my strong suspicion that it will be this fund that, using the words in Minister Thibeault’s press release of September 13th, result in:  “Providing eligible rural ratepayers with additional relief, decreasing total electricity bills by an average of $540 a year or $45 each month”.

If just the 329,000 “low-density”1: Hydro One clients are the “eligible” rural ratepayers envisaged in Minister Thibeault’s press release, the cost will be an additional $150 million.  What that means is that “electricity” rates will increase by an additional 0.12 cents/kWh for all the remaining Ontario ratepayers, adding about $20/25 per year to the “average” residential bill.

This also means Hydro One will be handed a guarantee they will receive the $150 million whereas they now have to be concerned with arrears and non-payment from those same clients.  This in turn would favourably impact their writeoffs for bad debts which were reported as $66 million in 2014 and $61 million in 2014.  It would also put Hydro One in the enviable position of knowing they could deliver zero kilowatt hours but still bill their clients for over $725 million or about 53% of their 2015 gross (net of cost of power) distribution revenue.

Hydro One, despite their smart meter and billing mess, have been on a rampage to shame their paying clients. They do this by sending a “Home Energy Report,a printed paper report delivered to participating customers via the mail. These reports include a so-called comparison to “efficient” neighbours and other neighbours.

For shame!
For shame!

People living year-round in low-density rated areas are talking about these reports. The bills I have seen viewed belong to people living close to many “seasonal” residences used on weekends or for short summer periods. A couple of these homes were heated with electricity.  The unsolicited Energy Reports are specific in their language with a cover letter from the “Director, Customer Strategy & Conservation Officer.”  A recent letter falsely claimed “You’re among the first in Ontario to receive this innovative new report”.   I wrote an article about one of those reports almost two years ago so the recent letter provided to me was hardly “among the first.”  One recent letter admonished the recipient “you used 56% more electricity than your neighbours.” In fact this particular ratepayer for the January-June 2016 period used 800 kWh hours monthly which until the May 1, 2016  change announced by the OEB was an “average” ratepayer consuming 9.6 MWh annually.

The ironic issue about these “shaming letters” is if the customer consumes less, Hydro One will submit an application to increase their rates to recover lost revenue.  So Hydro One not only bills us for the “shaming letter” costs (via the $400 million a year spent on conservation efforts) via the cost of the electricity we consume, but they then obtain a rate increase to recover lost distribution revenue.

Sweet deal.

Parker Gallant

NEXT: The third in this series will examine ratepayer subsidies related to another of Minister Thibeault’s announcements.
1. The following chart was provided to the writer by Hydro One who advised me that “Residential-High Density customers are now classified as “Residential-Medium Density”.

hydro-one-residential-customers-by-rate-class

Wynne government in panic mode

First in a series of three

In July, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault was pressed by Shirlee Engel of Global TV on the rising cost of electricity bills. He said, “While I’m still not using the word crisis,” said Thibeault. “I know it’s important. For one family if it’s a hundred bucks out of their own pocket that’s a crisis for them and I get that.”

In September Premier Wynne mentioned the word “hydro” at an international plowing match, and was instantly booed.

Now it appears we have a government in a panic mode trying to deal with a crisis of their own making.

The Throne Speech held promises about getting rid of the provincial portion of the HST on electricity bills. Then on September 13, 2016 a press release from Minister Thibeault confirmed the 8% reduction reducing bills $130 annually, and announced other actions such as, “Providing eligible rural ratepayers with additional relief, decreasing total electricity bills by an average of $540 a year or $45 each month”.

The press release did not detail what constitutes an “eligible” rural ratepayer; however, if it is just the 329,000 or so who are Hydro One’s “low-density” ratepayers the annual cost will be approximately $150 million. The press release went on to say: “Empowering businesses to reduce their bill by up to 34 per cent through the expansion of the Industrial Conservation Initiative” (ICI). 

Neither the Throne Speech nor the press releases say where the government is getting the money to pay for those initiatives, but removal of the 8% provincial portion of the HST will be on the backs of the taxpayers.

The electricity sector in the province is a $20-billion (before HST) business. That means $1.6 billion previously allocated to other ministries will now be unavailable, or the government will need to forgo balancing the budget or raise taxes/fees, etc. to cover off the lost tax revenue.

Minister Thibeault issued another press release in September related to “Empowering businesses to reduce their bill”.  This one had a “Customer Impact Example”:

“With more than a thousand new businesses soon eligible for ICI, cost impact across sectors and industries will vary. As an illustrative example of the impact, a plastics manufacturer with an average peak demand of 2 MW that participates in the ICI program could see its electricity price reduced from $154 per MWh to as low as $102 per MWh. This would result in energy cost savings of up to $42,000 per month.”

If you do the quick math on the above and assume each of those 1,000 plus businesses save $42,000 a month the reduction may be $500 million but once again, there is no indication where the funds will come from to cover those costs.

The above electricity bill reductions promised by the government total almost $2.2 billion and considerably more than the $1.5 billion in funds allocated to balancing the budget currently in dispute between the Ontario Auditor General and Liz Sandals, Ontario’s Treasury Board President.

So exactly how the governing party plans to pull off these bill reductions is not known.

Perhaps to create confusion amongst voters/taxpayers and inattentive media, Minister Thibeault issued another press release  September 27th announcing the “suspension” of LRP II to acquire 1,000 MW of renewable energy, principally in the form of wind, solar and biomass.  The press release declared  “This decision is expected to save up to $3.8 billion in electricity system costs relative to Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) forecast. This would save the typical residential electricity consumer an average of approximately $2.45 per month on their electricity bill, relative to previous forecasts.

It is unclear if Minister Thibeault is suggesting suspending future rate increases will somehow cover off the costs of his promises to reduce our electricity bills by $2.3 billion.

Or is it somehow related to the accounting dispute the government is engaged in with the Auditor General?

Parker Gallant