The trial of two aides of former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty is likely to lay bare some inner workings behind the politicized management of Ontario’s power system over the past 10 years
On Monday, the criminal trial of David Livingston and Laura Miller, who served former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty as chief of staff and deputy chief of staff respectively, convenes in Toronto. They face charges of breach of trust and mischief in relation to the alleged destruction of government files dealing with power plants originally contracted for the Greater Toronto Area. The trial is sure to attract media attention, particularly since another trial related to alleged Election Act violations by prominent Ontario Liberals — Pat Sorbara, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s former chief of staff, and Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed — is going on at the same time.
A Globe and Mailarticle of November 11, 2002 reported that Dalton McGuinty, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party (OLP), then in Opposition, was upset because Premier Ernie Eves had promised legislation to cap electricity prices.
Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty said the true cost of the Conservative government’s hydro bungling will add billions of dollars to the debt.
“Now that families and businesses have been scared to death, now that new investment in supply has been scared off, now that everyone knows hydro has been completely mismanaged, Ernie Eves is going back to square one,” Mr. McGuinty said in a news release on Monday.
“The government should have had its act together before the market opened. And the bill for its failure to do that hasn’t been cancelled — it’s just been put off.”
Mr. McGuinty said the Ontario Liberals have been calling for action for months, but the Eves government has not acted until now to freeze electricity prices and increase supply.
The Liberal Leader said his real concern is what Ontarians will have to pay over the long term.
Fast forward to September 14, 2005 when Dalton McGuinty was Ontario’s Premier. In a keynote speech to the Ontario Energy Association, he bragged about what the OLP had accomplished and their plans for the future. Let’s examine the promises made in that speech.
McGuinty: “We won’t gamble away Ontario’s future prosperity because of what the next poll might or might not say...”
A noble thought, but discarded by the OLP. When seeking re-election in 2011 McGuinty cancelled the Mississauga and Oakville gas plants and plans to contract for offshore wind developments. Polling in ridings affected by the foregoing showed several Liberal seats in jeopardy. More recently, shortly after a poll indicated Premier Wynne’s approval rating was at 20 %, she announced hydro rates would be cut by 25 %. Policy by polls…
McGuinty: … Or because of what new technology might or might not be developed.
The launch of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEA) in 2009 focused on wind and solar generation at above market prices, without a cost/benefit study as pointed out by the Ontario Auditor General in his December 5, 2011 report. Both wind and solar were old technologies promoted by ENGO and wind and solar associations and known to be intermittent and unreliable sources of generation.
McGuinty: That’s why we asked the OPA to report on a long-term plan.
The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) produced a viable plan with limited wind and solar capacity to be contracted for in a competitive environment, but the plan was suspended by Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman before approval via his directive to the OPA dated September 17, 2008.
McGuinty: That’s why we acted to take the politics out of pricing.
The recent Fair Hydro Act and the gas plant moves dispel the notion that politics has been removed from pricing, as do the FIT and MicroFIT programs that past Minister Smitherman enabled via a directive issued September 24, 2009 to the OPA which included a domestic content requirement. The latter resulted in a challenge before the World Trade Organization which Canada lost and taxpayers picked up the costs.
McGuinty: This spring, the Ontario Energy Board, a truly arms-length public agency will set the price of power for small consumers. The OEB sets the price based on what electricity costs, not on what politicians think it should cost, or wish it would cost.
While those homilies are correct, the prices are set based on input costs which the OEB has no control over. In simple terms, they divide the input costs accumulated (Global Adjustment + Hourly Ontario Electricity Price + transmission) and divide it by kilowatt hours consumed. The impact of above market (highlighted by the Auditor General reports) contracts with wind, solar, and other generators and the plethora of other spending (e.g., conservation $400 million per year, etc.) dictated by the Energy Minister, plus above market salaries and benefits for OPG and Hydro One employees etc., are all part of those costs.
McGuinty: We could require our businesses and families to subsidize the price of electricity through their taxes.
Premier McGuinty did just that when he moved the gas plants and part of the cost was paid by taxpayers. The Liberal government also drove up the price of hydro and put 600,000 household into energy poverty. It fell on charities, supported by Ontario taxpayers, to help those households. Tax dollars from those households also supplied grants to buyers of expensive Tesla automobiles and those grants continue today!
McGuinty: But, having finally put our province on a sound financial footing, we choose to ensure the price of electricity reflects the true cost of electricity.
The “sound financial footing” didn’t last long, and during the Liberals’ reign Ontario’s debt has increased from $132 billion to over $300 billion. Ontario has seen only one budget in the last decade that will seemingly balance and that was the most recent one.
McGuinty: We can’t guarantee price certainty –; that just isn’t realistic, given the nature of the challenges before us.
The Fair Hydro Act just passed by the Wynne government guarantees price certainty for four years for certain classes of ratepayers. This isn’t realistic: refinancing those assets may conflict with their ability to continue to generate electricity for an additional ten years. Amortization of fixed assets is based on the longevity of those assets, but the Wynne government has decreed that they can extend their life so that our children will be stuck with the replacement costs.
McGuinty: But I can assure you that we will do everything we can to ensure safe, clean, affordable electricity is always in full supply in the Province of Ontario.
When the OLP became the government, the average price of a kilowatt hour was 4.3 cents. By 2016 it averaged 11.2 cents — a 160% increase. The 25% reduction touted by Premier Wynne as the largest in Ontario’s history followed. The subsidy to cover that 25% will accumulate within the confines of OPG and at the end of increases held to “the rate of inflation for the next four years,” that subsidy will rise well above that benchmark in the years following that moratorium.
McGuinty: We won’t subsidize prices or cap prices –; that would mean more debt or higher deficits. Both of which would lead ultimately to higher taxes.
By deferring debt to subsidize hydro prices for four years within OPG’s balance sheet (guaranteed by the Province), the plan is to hide (temporarily) the impact from ratepayers while supposedly balancing the budget.
So, what happened to all those lofty promises of “affordable” electricity costs for consumers and business, that is immune to politics?
Was this what all those promises really meant?
“The true cost of the Liberal government’s hydro bungling will addtens ofbillions of dollars to the debt.”
Re-reading Premier Wynne’s statement of March 2, 2017 on her announcement of Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan, one is struck by the avoidance of the truth, the sudden empathy displayed and her blatant claims. As one example, she suddenly noticed “Electricity is not a frill — it’s an essential part of our daily lives.”
The Premier has obviously forgotten her party clearly treated it as a “frill” by taking advice from environmentalists who persuaded her (and predecessor Dalton McGuinty) that industrial wind turbines (IWT) and solar panels could easily replace the power generated by coal plants. They were so taken by those claims the energy minister didn’t bother to do a cost-benefit analysis as noted by Ontario’s Auditor General (AG). They also charged ahead installing “smart meters” at a cost of $2 billion (AG report) and instructed the OPA (Ontario Power Authority) to acquire 10,500 MW of renewable energy principally in the form of IWT and solar panels.
The year prior (2008) to the creation of the Green Energy Act, Ontario’s coal generation plants produced 23.2 TWh (terawatts) or enough electricity to supply 2.4 million (55%) average households . In 2016 wind and solar* collectively and intermittently generated 14.2 TWh — 9 TWh less than coal plants generated in 2008. The collective cost of wind and solar and their back-up (gas) in 2016 was approximately $3.8 billion or 27 cents per kilowatt (kWh,) whereas the cost per kWh of coal power generated in 2008 was 5.5 cents/kWh (OPG annual report).
Renewables: five times more costly
In short, the collective cost of electricity supplied by renewables and their back-up (gas) to replace coal generation turned out to be five times more which clearly raised the cost of the “frill,” but our Premier(s) and Energy Ministers were apparently unaware** costs were rising to that extent.
On the latter point the Premier in her statement claims: “But it’s not as if I’ve been unaware of the challenge. I have seen the rising rates. My family and I get a bill like anyone else.” Premier Wynne’s salary in 2016 was $208,974.00 and in 2006 was $108,031.00 so she has seen a pay increase of 92% in 10 years. It’s doubtful she was impacted by the $536,84 average annual increase she experienced in her cost of electricity as it represents less than one day’s pay at her current compensation level.
The Premier’s statement blames rate increases on past governments and claims since the Liberals regained power in 2003 they had to engage in “fixing a system that had been structured unwisely”. Naturally, the 2003 blackout (caused by a fault in Northern Ohio) is blamed for the upgrade by the Premier to obscure their contracting of unreliable and intermittent wind and solar generation at above market prices. The Premier now claims the “electricity grid” they created “is second to none.” And yet, the AG noted in her December 2015 annual report that power outages increased 24% and lasted 30% longer!
Later in her statement the Premier notes “But the way we financed those investments was a mistake.” The disturbing part of the statement about “those investments”, was Premier Wynne’s assertion “In the past few years we’ve invested more than $50 billion in electricity infrastructure — new dams in the south, new towers in the north, $13 billion to refurbish nuclear power plants alone and billions more to ensure new transmission and distribution lines everywhere.”
That part of the Premier’s spin will form the basis of Part 2, in this series, tomorrow.
* Wind and solar generation are classified as “base-load” generation whereas coal was strictly used for “peaking” (high demand periods) purposes.
** The writer has consistently sent Premier Wynne and her predecessor along with the various Energy Ministers a link to every article written no matter where it appeared.
While the Premier was promising relief for Ontario electricity customers (and blaming lots of other people), more proof of the government’s mistakes was occurring …
The press conference and press release on March 2nd for Premier Wynne’s announcement on reducing electricity bills by 25% took a full hour — she and Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault hung around to answer questions from the media.
The speech and the press release were a mea culpa — she apparently hadn’t noticed rates had climbed and referred to those high rates as the “elephant in the room.” She laid the blame on all previous governments in her answers to questions, for example:
Decades of under-investment in the electricity system by governments of all stripes resulted in the need to invest more than $50 billion in generation, transmission and distribution assets to ensure the system is clean and reliable.
The decision to eliminate Ontario’s use of coal and produce clean, renewable power, as well as policies put in place to provide targeted support to rural and low-income customers, have created additional costs.
If the premier was genuinely interested in the cause for high electricity bills she could have looked no farther back than her immediate predecessor, Dalton McGuinty. Premier McGuinty brought Ontario the Green Energy Act and the misinformed, unfounded belief that getting power from industrial wind turbines and solar panels, while paying at price multiples of other available reliable power, would work!
Those wind turbines and solar panels were generating power out of phase with Ontario demand even during her news conference, for which ratepayers are paying as much as 80.2 cents a kilowatt hour (kWh).
During the news conference hour, Ontario ratepayers consumed 17,300 megawatt hours (MWh); 85% of that consumption was provided by nuclear (10,000 MWh) and hydro (4,900 MWh). The balance came from gas, wind, solar and biomass. The average generation cost of nuclear and hydro generation was about $59/MWh (5.9 cents/kWh) and $191/MWh (19.1 cents/kWh) for the 15% provided by gas, wind, solar and biomass. The former costs include the “water tax” on hydro generation and the “decommissioning and fuel disposal” costs of nuclear whereas the latter does NOT include the cost of curtailed wind, idling costs of gas plants or the costs of moving those two gas plants from Oakville and Mississauga to save Liberal seats during the McGuinty era!
Also during that hour, Ontario exported 1,075 MWh to Michigan and 1,203 MWh to New York. Those 2,078 MWh (20% of Ontario’s demand) were sold to our neighbours at an average of $11.38/MWh (1.14 cents/kWh). The exports cost about $202,000, under the contract terms, yet resulted in just $23,000 of revenue to offset that cost. Ontario ratepayers picked up the loss of $179,000.
In fact, for that whole day, “net exports” hit Ontario’s ratepayers with a cost of $2.4 million.
Admitting she made a “mistake” while blaming decades of previous “governments of all stripes” is not a solution. And the 25% reduction in bills isn’t real, either: Premier Wynne is kicking the can down the road and laying the burden of her mistake on taxpayers. She still doesn’t appear to have the political courage to admit she, Mr. McGuinty and their governments made a mistake believing the environmental non-government organizations who persuaded them to believe in a green dream that has now, negatively affected all ratepayers in the province, driving away jobs in the private sector.
The herd of elephants is still in the room. Premier Wynne should start clearing them out by cancelling all wind and solar contracts that have not put a shovel in the ground!
Recent events in Ontario present an interesting way of looking at things. First was a request from the Ontario government (It looks like a petition) aimed at getting voters “to support lower hydro bills for Ontarians.” The request is also being supported by letters written by Liberal MPPs addressed to “Dear friends” followed by, “I am pleased to share with you that our government has announced important action to reduce the cost of electricity bills for families and businesses, in addition to reducing northern, rural and remote bills even more.”
The immediate reaction is, hey, weren’t you the energy ministers, and their leaders Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne the ones that increased the rates in the first place? And didn’t you do this via the Green Energy Act (GEA)? Didn’t you issue more than 100 directives to the Ontario Power Authority (now merged with IESO), the OEB, Hydro One, IESO and OPG telling them what to do?
So why the about face? Unless it is meant to place the blame on all those foregoing entities when the truth is, oppressive management and the GEA decreed how the bureaucrats should behave while removing democratic rights from municipalities.
The second event that caught my attention was the proroguing of the Legislature so Premier Wynne could present her case for how to resolve the energy “crisis.” (Never mind her recently appointed Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault denied it was a crisis in a recent interview with Shirlee Engel of Global TV.)
Minister Glenn Thibeault’s current behavior is interesting. Several years ago when he was Executive Director of the United Way of Sudbury he said this about poverty in Ontario: “Every year, right before school starts, our phone at the United Way office starts ringing off the hook.We have mothers and fathers calling us, some crying, as they need to decide whether to buy food or buy a backpack and school supplies for their child. That isn’t right and I’m glad our donors and many of our community partners have stepped up to the plate so we can help a few hundred children.”
Now here we are with families having to choose whether to buy food or heat their homes, and former NDP, former United Way exec Thibeault is the Minister of Energy. I’m sure he has heard cries from mothers, fathers and seniors about energy unaffordability since he commenced drinking from the “fire-hose” he suggested is the Ministry of Energy portfolio during his interview with Global TV.