Who is the real hypocrite in electricity sector?

Hydro One and a little distributor in Niagara On The Lake have different ways of doing business … and serving customers

Niagara On The Lake Hydro president Tim Curtis: honest effort for customers

February 20, 2018

It is interesting to compare a relatively small Ontario-based local electricity distribution company (LDC) against a much larger one such as Hydro One. If you do, you get some idea of what’s behind rate-paying electricity customers concerns.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro (NOTL) had the gall recently to brazenly ask, Are we hypocrites?  They asked that question because they installed 70 kW of solar panels on the roof of their building and it will, at 15% generation capacity, produce revenue of about $21,400 annually.  Their news release made this bold statement:

“A reasonable question to ask is whether the Board of NOTL Energy can be considered hypocrites for accepting a FIT contract while they publicly called for the cancellation of the FIT and MicroFIT programs? 

“The short answer is, yes, we are hypocrites.”

Now, contrast NOTL’s honesty with Hydro One and their efforts to convince U.S. electricity regulators they are deserving of acquiring Avista. It’s a strange path Hydro One is taking. Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt recently traveled to Juneau, Alaska to plea for approval in respect to Avista’s ownership of Alaska Electric Light & Power Company.  Their appeal included a 444-page submission to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, one of several required to convince regulators in four western states that the takeover of Avista would not negatively affect customers.

So it wasn’t a private island in the Caribbean Schmidt traveled to, but hopefully Ontario ratepayers won’t be picking up the tab for Schmidt et al in their efforts to win approval for Hydro One’s Avista takeover.

But we are paying: Hydro One’s December 31, 2017 Financial Statement was released February 13, 2018 and had an unusual “after tax” income claim of $36 million on page 34 referenced as: “Costs related to acquisition of Avista Corporation”.   Accounting rules allow Hydro One to claim expenditures related to Schmidt’s travel costs along with consultant and legal fees plus prep time for submissions made to the regulators in the states where Avista operates. As a result, Hydro One reported “Adjusted Net Income” of $694 million versus $721 million in 2016. Putting aside the $36 million, net income was actually down $63 million, or 8.7%.

Also, as a result of the dividend increase announced in May 2017 (quarterly at 22 cents per share), the payout of the 4th Quarter net income of $155 million (net of the above Avista expenditures of $36 million) resulted in a payout ratio of 89% (in excess of the maximum of 80% announced) of quarterly income — that doesn’t leave much for the oft-touted reinvestment in infrastructure.

Also evident in the Financial Statement is the fact the Ontario Provincial Government received $150 million less by way of dividend payments in 2017 compared to 2016. That $150 million could have covered interest payments on over $4 billion of the provincial debt!

An interesting feature in Hydro One’s annual report is the first 15 pages are devoted to telling the reader how wonderful the company is and how much progress has been achieved. For example is the claim of customer satisfaction climbing to 71%. It is probably fair to assume this “climb” occurred after the launch of the “Fair Hydro Plan” which kicked up to 31% of “electricity costs” down the road, but promised electricity customers a 25% chop off their bills right now.   As a de facto monopoly, perhaps 71% customer satisfaction is somehow good? Forgotten in the bragging process is the fact Hydro One are spending $15 million to give their customers prettier bills containing less information. The $15 million spend is included in one of several outstanding rate application increases filed with the Ontario Energy Board.

So brave little Niagara On the Lake Hydro will increase spending and increase revenues (slightly) meaning less pressure on increased delivery rates, but Hydro One spends on frills that will increase pressure on their clients’ delivery rates.

I will let the reader decide which of the two local distribution companies is the true hypocrite.



Multi-million-dollar power contracts IESO style

Or, how the IESO could have saved Ontario ratepayers more than $400 million by cancelling one wind power project, but didn’t 

Surplus power in Ontario: why not get out of a contract if you could?[Photo: IESO]
February 6, 2018

On March 10, 2016 the Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO announced the outcome of the “Competitive Bids for Large Renewable Projects” via a news release which, among other issues claimed, they said they would award “five wind contracts totalling 299.5 MW, with a weighted average price of 8.59 cents/kWh”. The news release also described the contracting process: “The LRP process was administered by the IESO and overseen by an external fairness advisor. Robust and transparent public procurement practices were followed throughout the process, and each proposal was carefully evaluated for compliance against a list of specific mandatory requirements and rated criteria.”

Fast forward to October 26, 2017 and the release of Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault’s “Long-Term Energy Plan 2017 Delivering Fairness and Choice,” which offers some context for power contracts currently.

“Due to the substantial decline in the cost of wind and solar technologies over the last decade, renewables are increasingly competitive with conventional energy sources and will continue to play a key role in helping Ontario meet its climate change goals.”


“Ontario is Canada’s leader in installed wind and solar power.”

Economics of power procurement

Further on in the Plan are examples of how the Ministry, via the institutions under it, is working with communities. This one suggests the IESO is cognizant of the costs affecting ratepayers: “Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Gull Bay First Nation (GBFN) are in the early stages of building an advanced renewable microgrid on the GBFN reserve on the western shore of Lake Nipigon. GBFN has an on-reserve population of 300 people and is one of the four remote First Nation communities that the IESO has determined to be economically unfeasible to connect to the provincial grid at this time.”

IESO recently issued their 18-Month Outlook for the period January 2018 to June 2019 and this report also noted the situation in respect to surplus power: “Conditions for surplus baseload generation (SBG) will continue over the Outlook period. It is expected that SBG will continue to be managed effectively through existing market mechanisms, which include intertie scheduling, the dispatch of grid-connected renewable resources and nuclear manoeuvres or shutdowns.”

Those manoeuvres or shutdowns in 2017 caused over 10 TWh (terawatt hours) to be wasted, but their costs were added to ratepayers’ bills and included 3.3 TWh of curtailed wind.

So, the province has a surplus of power, and the costs of wind and solar have become more competitive. Why would the IESO then not seize upon the opportunity to deal with a high-cost industrial-scale wind power project, when they had the ability to cancel it due to non-compliance with the original contract? At the very least shouldn’t they have renegotiated the contract to reduce the impact on ratepayers?

They did neither.

The White Pines story is a curious exercise in contract law, to be sure. A successful appeal* to the Environmental Review Tribunal by the community group the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County** resulted in the project being reduced from 59.45 MW to 18.45 MW last fall. IESO could have simply canceled it because it was clearly unable to meet a condition requiring delivery of 75% of the capacity agreed to in the contract. At the very least, IESO could have renegotiated the terms of the contract to fulfill the Energy Minister’s claim that “renewables are increasingly competitive”.

But the IESO amended the contract for the reduced project, and granted waivers to the original conditions of performance, it was learned in a Belleville courtroom recently.

Cancelling would save millions

If IESO had canceled the contract, the Ministry could have claimed they reduced future rate increases saving ratepayers $21 million annually or $420 million over the full 20-year term. Even if IESO had only renegotiated the contract to the 8.59 cents/kWh achieved via the competitive bidding process instead of the 13.5 cents/kWh of the original contract, the Ministry could have claimed savings of about $5 million over the full term of the contract based on the currently approved 18.45 MW of capacity.

Has the IESO forgotten this line in in its Mission Statement ?

“Planning for and competitively procuring the resources that meet Ontario’s electricity needs today and tomorrow”

Cancelling just this one project*** would have helped to reduce surplus baseload and therefore the costs kicked down the road under the Fair Hydro Plan to be paid for in the future.



*The appeal was one on the grounds that the project would cause serious and irreversible harm to wildlife

**Disclosure: I am a member of the community group

*** The IESO has five contracts for more wind power projects totaling $3 billion, for power Ontario does not need.

Energy poverty in Ontario: the data reveals a sad situation

Yesterday, I dealt with the government’s apparent interest in “energy poverty” and specifically noted a consumer survey currently being used by the OEB in an attempt to define how local distribution companies should deal with payments for accounts in arrears.

When the government released its Economic and Fiscal Review 2017: A Strong and Fair Ontario in November, the minister claimed, “Our plan is working. There are now more jobs in Ontario than ever before —more than 800,000 net new jobs since the depth of the recession”.

Impressive: but did those “800,000 net new jobs” have any effect on reducing Ontario’s energy poverty?

The statistics betray a sad situation for Ontario citizens struggling to pay power bills. Two weeks after the launch of the OEB survey and two months before the 2017 Fiscal Review, an interesting 29-page report appeared on OEB’s website.  Named “Data reported to the Ontario Energy Board by Electricity Distributors” it was full of bad news for the period from 2013 to the end of 2016.

The bad news included the number of ratepayers who had been disconnected, the accounts in arrears (up 85,141 or 27.7% since 2013,) and the amount of arrears at year-end. It included customers with “arrears payment agreements,” the amount of those and those cancelled (up 96.4% since 2013). It has data on write-offs, accounts enrolled in equal or monthly payment plans, etc. etc.  It also has data on security deposits, customers with “load limiting devices,” those with “timed load interrupter devices,” the number of “eligible low-income customers” (Hydro One’s increased by 520% since 2013), and those disconnected for nonpayment (up 180% since 2013), etc. etc.

New jobs? No effect on poverty

Based on the “data” in the report (kept under wraps by the OEB), it certainly appears the economic policies of the government may have created “800,000 net new jobs” but it hasn’t done much to counteract “energy poverty” — that has escalated since 2013.

It’s also unclear why the OEB didn’t issue a press release in respect to the data. My queries to them about the 2016 results of the OESP (Ontario Energy Support Program) and LEAP (Low-income Energy Assistance Program) also remain unanswered.

It appears the government has ignored facts and focused attention instead on more spending to make people believe they can have more “free” stuff.  The August launch of the Green Ontario Fund was one such event; the government plans to “invest” $377 million in proceeds from its carbon market to establish the fund.

The minister was quoted in the press release: “Taking strong action on climate change means making it as easy as possible for people and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home and work, while also saving money.

Programs (rebates) offered via the “Green Ontario Fund” can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, but the homeowner or small business owner must have funds of an almost equal amount and must work with a “qualified” contractor.   One should assume those who have fallen in arrears on their hydro bills don’t have the cash required to insulate their home or install a heat pump to save money, or they would have been able to pay their monthly energy bill. The $377 million in cap and trade dollars will clearly be handed out to only those who can afford to spend to reduce emissions.

No comment on the strain on Ontario families

There was no commentary associated with the OEB’s data so there is no discussion of the strain put on family members, food banks, charitable institutions and churches called on to help pay hydro bills.

One wonders how much those individuals and institutions helped by way of paying electricity bills and if the contributions exceeded the “write-offs” ($50.9 million in 2016) by the local distribution companies? One also wonders how many single parent families, seniors, disabled, etc. are living in freezing homes or apartments trying to keep their electricity bills at affordable levels?  The recent record low temperatures throughout the province will surely exacerbate the problems associated with their electricity bills being experienced by so many caused by the government’s energy policies.

That $377 million the government is spending could have gone a long way to alleviate the true cost of the Green Energy Act, as could the approximately $400 million paid to corporate wind power developers in 2017 for power they didn’t produce (it was “curtailed” or not added to the grid, but paid for).

I hope the people occupying those 800,000 new jobs are doing their part in generously donating to the charities, food banks, churches, etc. to keep Ontarians living in “energy poverty” warm and fed!

(C) Parker Gallant

NB: You can find out how your LDC is doing in respect to “energy poverty” by reviewing the OEB data report.  Link is here:  https://www.oeb.ca/sites/default/files/2013–2016-disconnection-late-payment%20data-by-utility_20170921.pdf


Ontario and energy poverty: addressing it at last?

Almost every day, it seems, the Ontario government must publish a press release announcing the wonders of what the government does for its citizens.

The press release of December 28, 2017 was typical, listing “free” stuff the government had announced over the past year. It referred to minimum wage increases, free tuition, free prescription drugs, etc.

Strangely, there was no mention of the Fair Hydro Plan or electricity in general, the issue that is/was top of mind by most voters in the province.

The December 28 release carried a quote from the Premier on how government is making life “fairer.”   

“As Premier, the most important part of my job is listening to the people of Ontario. When we make changes to legislation and regulations, it’s about responding to real concerns from people in every corner of our province. And it’s all part of our work to make Ontario a fairer and better place to live. We want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to get ahead in this changing economy.”

 Electricity may not have been mentioned expressly but a lot is happening on that file that will affect Ontario’s ratepayers, in addition to kicking the costs of the Fair Hydro Plan down the road.

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) appears to be the epicenter: the OEB recently announced it is establishing a “panel” to review how the OEB “can continue to protect consumers”.  The panel won’t report until next year, well after the election date of June 7, 2018.

The OEB’s survey on service rules, or dealing with “energy poverty”

The launch of the OEB panel was preceded by announcement of a survey by the OEB on September 7, 2017 to deal with why many ratepayers are unable to pay their electricity bills. The OEB explained why in a press release 

“Are there any times when Ontario energy utilities shouldn’t be allowed to disconnect customers? How much time should customers be given to pay and should they be allowed to use credit cards? Should energy utilities be allowed to ask for security deposits?”

A web search using the press release’s heading, “Public asked for input on customer service rules for Ontario energy utilities” indicates the survey received no media attention.  Nothing on the OEB site indicates local distribution companies (LDC) were told to notify their ratepaying customers about the survey.  How will this survey receive a broad and “fair” response? The survey results will be provided by pollster Ipsos to the OEB.   The survey is copyrighted so you cannot copy/paste any of the material provided or the questions asked without permission.  What happened to the transparency we were promised?

The survey will supposedly inform the OEB on how to treat ratepayers caught in the “heat or eat/energy poverty” scenario.* The survey asks for responses on “arrears payment arrangements” e.g.,  how long it should allow for repayment, whether late payment charges should apply, etc.  It asks, how long notice should be given for “disconnection” and if “load limiting devices” should be allowed, if utilities should offer equal monthly payment plans and if security deposits should be required, etc.  The survey appears to want a consensus allowing the OEB to set terms and conditions on how households living in energy poverty are to be treated.

No questions ask about pre-paid meters, but that idea is part of the Hydro One application submission for a rate increase currently before the OEB.

Tomorrow: why the sudden interest in how best to treat those living in Energy Poverty.


Parker Gallant


* Energy Poverty is generally defined as spending 10% of household income on heat and utilities: From Huffington Post “ In Ontario, at least one in five households fall into this category spending on average 12 per cent of their income on utilities


Energy Minister doles out lumps of coal to Ontario power customers Christmas Day

Ontario ratepayers, good and bad, had a disappointing Christmas Day

A quick review of IESO data for Christmas Day 2017 shows our Energy Ministry delivered lumps of coal to all Ontario’s electricity ratepayers, whether they were good or bad.  Those lumps of coal can be seen as a gift from all past and present Energy ministers who signed contracts for the industrial wind turbines liberally sprinkled throughout the province.

This year, the IESO data shows about 54,327 MWh* was curtailed (paid for but not delivered to the grid) and paid $120/MWH. That means wind power corporations were paid over $6.5 million  ($6,519,240 to be more precise) for NOT delivering that power.

The curtailed or wasted power was enough to supply almost 2.2 million average homes with power for the day, free.

Meanwhile, the IESO accepted about 25,680 MWh, so the curtailed/suspended generation was actually 2.1 times as much as grid-accepted wind power. Wind power corporations were paid $135 per MWh — that’s another $3,467,800 so the total bill for wind power for the day was $9,987,040.

What you paid them: 39 cents a kWh

Here’s what else it means: the 25,680 MWh of power actually accepted by IESO into the grid cost $388.77/MWh* or 39 cents a kWh!  And, that 39 cents a kWh doesn’t include the costs of gas plant backup, spilled hydro or steamed-off nuclear, all of which applied on Christmas Day.

What you got paid: 1.9 cents

That’s not all: at the same time, the IESO was busy exporting surplus power to our neighbours in New York and Michigan at an average of 1,993MW (net-total exports less imports) per hour. We practically gave away 48,000MWh (rounded) at a cost to Ontario ratepayers of over $4 million.  So, Christmas Day, the day of giving, ratepayers coughed up $14 million for unneeded power whether they could afford it or not! That $14 million raised the cost to electricity customers by about $40/MWh or 4 cents/kWh.

Christmas Day is supposed to be a day of joy and giving. In Ontario though, it was a day when the result of government energy policies and mismanagement furthered hardship for many.

(C) Parker Gallant,

December 27, 2017


* Calculation is simply $8,083,200 + $3,467,800 = $11,551,000/25689 MWh = $449.80/MWh

New panel may be a shield for the government on power policy, hydro bills

Shortly after Glenn Thibeault was appointed Ontario Energy Minister, he was at an Ottawa press conference. When asked about electricity service “disconnections” he feigned ignorance saying, “I continue to drink from the firehose” suggesting he couldn’t answer the question due to the complexity of the portfolio.

One and a half years later, it now appears he knows more than the folks at the Ontario Energy Board (OEB).

Minister Thibeault recently announced he is “launching a review” of the OEB via a panel headed up by Richard Dicerni, a former acting CEO of Ontario Power Generation (appointed to that position by Dwight Duncan when he served as Minister of Energy under Premier McGuinty).

The press release announcing the panel review noted,  “The OEB is responsible for establishing energy rates and prices that are reasonable, setting rules for energy companies operating in Ontario, and making the energy system easier to navigate and understand for consumers.”

It also mentioned “The panel will have a broad mandate including reviewing how the OEB can continue to protect consumers amidst a rapidly changing sector, support innovation and new technologies, and how the OEB should be structured and resourced to deliver on its changing role. The panel will seek feedback from the public starting in spring 2018, examine best practices from other jurisdictions and report back to government by the end of 2018.”

OEB under government’s thumb

The OEB was stripped of its authority by Premier Wynne and Minister Thibeault when they decreed, under the Fair Hydro Act, that electricity rates for residential ratepayers would be reduced by 25%. That decree followed 18 directives and letters of instruction to the OEB by a variety of Ontario’s Energy Ministers since 2003.  Five of those directives/letters were issued by the current Minister.

So, the question today is, what is the panel likely to find and what are they likely to recommend?

More to the point, what won’t they find out?

Ontario ratepayers expecting the panel to find the OEB was responsible for the rate increases we have experienced will be disappointed.  If ratepayers expect the panel to recommend the OEB be given back their regulatory authority as one would hope, that  won’t happen either, or at least not before the 2018 election is over.  The panel, as noted above, has been instructed to report by the end of 2018 or about six months after the upcoming election in June 2018.

As an observer of the electricity portfolio, I think the objective of establishing this panel is it to give the Ontario government talking points to deflect mismanagement. Minister Thibeault’s quote in the press release carried this message: “Utilities and regulators need to respond by renewing their focus on efficiency, reliability, affordability and looking at new cutting-edge ways of keeping electricity consumers as their top priority.”

Never mind that the “focus” of utilities and regulators over the past decade has been to execute policies dictated by their masters—the various Energy Ministers who have arbitrarily decreed their views via directives, specific acts and regulatory changes on how the electricity sector should function.

Down a very long road

When Liberal candidates are questioned about the energy file by media and voters leading up to the election day in June next year, they will surely say we need to wait for the panel conclusions later in the year, and that the government expects the OEB to help us move to an equitable and “fair” price for electricity in the province. They will claim they have told the utilities and the regulators they need to focus on the electricity consumer and that they expect “fairness” will be the outcome!

The panel could become a very useful deflection tool ward off criticism and escape allegations of the harm caused to ratepayers and the Ontario economy.

It is clear the Minister of Energy has learned a lot since his appointment.

Abracadabra! Now you see it, now you don’t on Hydro bills

No, wait: you’re never going to see it

[Getty images]
On December 12, 2017, Yvan Baker, Liberal MPP for Etobicoke Centre introduced Bill 190, An Act to amend the Consumer Protection Act, 2002. After the first reading he provided a short statement:

Mr. Yvan Baker: Speaker, we all know how terrible it feels when you expect to pay one price for something and end up paying a price that’s much higher than that. Consumers feel confused, misinformed and sometimes misled.  This bill, known as the What You See is What You Pay Act, amends the Consumer Protection Act by adding a new section that requires all suppliers of goods or services to ensure that any information provided to a consumer regarding the price of a good or service includes the all-inclusive price. The all-inclusive price is a total of all amounts that a consumer will have to pay for the good or service, including tax and other charges or fees.

This will ensure that consumers don’t have to worry about hidden taxes or fees and that they can make more informed choices. It will ensure that what you see is what you pay.”

So, a question: what will happen to our electricity bills in the future?

According to Hydro One they will have “A fresh new look to serve you better”.  Hydro One appears to be in the process of spending $15 million dollars to make that happen, as explained on page 2032 of one of the dozens of documents filed with the OEB seeking several rate increases. Those will cost $141 more per average ratepayer over the next four years.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault spoke to the billing issue in the Legislature December 12 stating:  “We have an LDC working group with the Electricity Distributors Association, which represents all local utilities across the province. They’re working with us, as part of the long-term energy plan, to create a bill redesign. They understand what needs to be done and how we need to ensure that we make it as clear as possible, for people to understand how our electricity system works and how our electricity bills work as well.”

A quick look at the sample “fresh” bill posted by Hydro One doesn’t show much difference from those currently used, although it promises we ratepayers will “Understand more about the electricity use, delivery and regulatory charges that make up your statement.”

I suspect there is much we won’t be told. The Yvan Baker bill will presumably bury the breakdown of what is in the key three lines “Electricity used,” “Delivery” and “Regulatory Changes” so we shouldn’t expect to be enlightened.

Here are several samples of what we won’t see as a breakdown on our bills:

  1. Cap and Trade costs—they are not allowed to appear on either our electricity or natural gas bills
  2. Fuel costs for water both running through turbines and being spilled when IESO instructs OPG to do the latter. Costs/fees paid to the province annually are in excess of $350 million.
  3. Costs for curtailed wind generation of over $400 million annually.
  4. Costs for spilled hydro of 4.5 TWh (terawatt hours) at a cost of about $200 million annually.
  5. Costs for various conservation programs estimated at $400 million annually.
  6. Costs for line losses of 5/6 TWh annually representing a cost of at least $500 million.
  7. Costs for steaming off Bruce Nuclear—annual costs unknown but believed to be $50/100 million annually.
  8. Costs for “gaming” the system by gas plant and coal plant operators estimated to be in excess of $350 million by the Auditor General of Ontario over a period of several years.
  9. Costs absorbed for exporting surplus generation annually in excess of $1 billion.
  10. Costs associated with the Class A to Class B transfer estimated to be around $1 billion annually.
  11. Interest costs (unknown) on borrowed funds related to the Fair Hydro Act’s 25% reduction.

Do the quick math on the above you will note the annual costs of what we won’t see itemized on our bill comes to $4 billion. Most of it represents no value to residential or small business ratepayers. The only value accrues to the Class A ratepayers and all the costs will be paid by residential and small business ratepayers.

A rough estimate of the costs of the above to the average residential ratepayer who consumes 9 MWh (megawatt hour) annually is approximately $27.00 per/MWh (2.7 cents/kWh) and represents $243.00 annually ($27,00 X 9 MWh) for no benefit!

For Ontario ratepayers “What You See is What You Pay” has been a fact of life under the current government. Hydro One’s $15-million spend to give us a bill without a proper breakdown will do nothing to “to ensure that we make it as clear as possible” despite Minister Thibeault’s claim!

Transparency will continue to elude the Energy Ministry and ratepayers will still feel misinformed.