Hydro One customers take it on the chin–again

Delivery charges ballooning, according to recent financial report

Hydro One released their first Quarter results on May 9, 2019: reported revenue was up 15.4 % ($183million) compared to the first Quarter of 2018.  The higher revenues were “driven by higher distribution revenues [up 30.5% from the comparable quarter] primarily due to OEB’s decision on the 2018 and 2019 distribution rates.”

With that in mind and, as a Hydro One customer who just received the monthly bill, I checked the relative percentage costs of their “delivery” charge. It was 45% of the bill (before taxes). Another quick calculation by simply dividing the delivery costs by the monthly consumption indicated a cost of 7.31cents/kWh for Hydro One’s delivery charges.   Electricity costs were 52% of the bill (8.5cents/kWh) and “regulatory charges” represented the balance.

Intrigued with these findings, I then calculated Hydro One’s comparative delivery costs for the same quarters in 2018 and 2019 to determine how the two rate increases granted by the OEB for their distribution business affected the same calculation—cost per kilowatt hour! Hydro One’s quarterly report provides the details on both GWh (gigawatt hours) distributed and the cost of “Purchased Power” so the basic calculation is the same as that for my bill.

For the first Quarter of 2018, Hydro One reported their distribution was 7,406 GWh which produced gross revenue of $1,145 million, and the cost of Purchased Power (PP) was $751 million, meaning “Distribution Revenue” net of PP was $394 million. Dividing that $394 million by the 7,406 GWh distributed indicates the average distribution cost was 5.32 cents/kWh.

For the first Quarter of 2019, Hydro One reported their distribution was 7,738 GWh (+4.5%) producing gross revenue of $1,321 million (+15.4%) and the cost of PP was $807 million (+7.5%) producing net Distribution Revenue of $514 million (+30.5%). Dividing that $514 million by the 7,738 GWh distributed indicate the average distribution cost was 6.64 cents/kWh.

So, based on these calculations, what do we get? Average delivery costs for Hydro One customers increased from 5.32 cents/kWh in 2018 to 6.64 cents/kWh in the comparable 2019 quarter which equates to a 24.8% increase year over year. That far outpaces the cost of living increase year over year!

Despite the 15.4% ($183 million) increase in revenue compared to the first Quarter of 2018, Hydro One’s net income fell from $222 million to $171 million as operations, maintenance and administration (OMA)  costs jumped by $146 million.  Interestingly enough, of the $146 million OMA increase, the financial statements attribute $140 million of it to the cost of the failed Avista acquisition.  In an attempt perhaps to appease shareholders, the quarterly financial statements suggest “Adjusted net income attributable to common shareholders” was $311 million.  If they earned that for the ensuing three quarters, net income would be $1.244 billion.  If one measured that income on an equity base of $9,622 million (Hydro One’s year-end equity December 31, 2018) it would represent a 12.9% ROE (return on equity).

The current OEB (Ontario Energy Board) allowed ROE is 8.98% which suggests the OEB either treats Hydro One as “special” or sets the ROE without enforcement. The first point under the OEB’s “Mandate” is “Establishing rates and prices that are reasonable to consumers and that allow utilities to invest in the system.”

Perhaps it’s time for the OEB to follow their mandate, as a 12.9% ROE exceeds the current allowed ROE by a wide margin. All ratepayers should be aware Hydro One has five distribution rate applications outstanding with the OEB according to their latest quarterly report!

Let’s all hope the OEB has a serious look at those applications and actually allows rates to be set that are “reasonable to consumers”!

PARKER GALLANT

Advertisements

How Ontario’s “little” electricity customers help out the big ones (with billions)

Class B Ontario ratepayers support Class A ratepayers–$6.2 billion and growing

It was almost six months ago when the Ontario Energy Board’s (OEB) Marker Surveillance Panel (MSP) released a review of the Industrial Conservation Initiative (ICI). The review looked at the impact it had on pricing since its launch in September 2011.

The ICI came into being after extensive lobbying for a reduction in electricity pricing by the Association of Major Power Consumers of Ontario (AMPCO) when Brad Duguid held the position of Minister of Energy.

The ICI model simply requires the “A” Class user to pick five “peak demand” hours over a year in order to gain a sizable discount to the price they pay.

An article written by yours truly, appeared shortly after the review’s release and pointed out the cost to Class B ratepayers, namely, residential and small/medium sized businesses. The article noted the failure by the OEB to act on its role which is: “The OEB supports and guides the continuing evolution of the Ontario energy sector by promoting outcomes and innovation that deliver value for all Ontario energy consumers.” The article noted it took the OEB seven (7) years to realize “the ICI as presently structured is a complicated and non-transparent means of recovering costs, with limited efficiency benefits.”

One should wonder if the recognition was a reflection of a change in government or, a realization the “value” didn’t apply to “all” of Ontario’s ratepayers the OEB is supposed to consider in its innocuous decisions!
The support of Class B to Class A ratepayers as of the end of 2017 “has shifted nearly $5 billion in electricity costs from larger consumers to smaller ones. In 2017, the ICI shifted $1.2 billion in electricity costs to households and small businesses—nearly four times greater than the amount in 2011.”

Almost six months have transpired since issuance of the MSP review and nothing has changed. Another year has gone by (the review reflected cost transfers to the end of 2017) and 2018 duplicated the shift of 2017 so add another $1.2 billion and push the total transfer to $6.2 billion since mid-September 2011.

What that represents is an average subsidy to Class A ratepayers of over $1,200 for each of the approximately 5.1 million Class B ratepayers over the 7 ½ years since the ICI came into existence.

The Market Surveillance Panel made several observations on how the ICI could be made more efficient and/or enhanced to make it fairer. The Panel’s first two observations would help to reduce the burden on Class B ratepayers so perhaps its time the OEB and/or the Ministry enable those changes which are:
*Costs that are not related to the fixed capacity costs of needed generation are removed from the Global Adjustment and recovered by other means.
*Only the cost of peaking generation is recovered based on consumption during peak demand hours; the cost of non-peaking generation should be allocated such that all consumers that benefit from that capacity pay for that capacity.”

Almost a year ago, many in Ontario voted for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, handing them a majority government. One of the chief reasons the Liberals were defeated was their mishandling of the energy file. Based on the foregoing, most voters anticipated the new Ford-led government would have tackled the file with all the might one would expect with the election promise that “help is on the way” followed by the declaration of Premier Ford in his victory speech stating; “My friends, help is here.”

The opportunities to demonstrate the “help” are there for all to see such as those recommended by the MSP.

The government could also use regulations to enforce noise controls (audible and inaudible) on industrial wind turbines, they should insist the UNIFOR wind turbine in Saugeen Shores be removed, they could cancel the 100 MW Nation Rise project to save future ratepayers hundreds of millions, and they could insist the OEB reflect its “vision” which claims it is responsible for: “promoting outcomes and innovation that deliver value for all Ontario energy consumers.”

Ontario’s Class B ratepayers are waiting for “help” to arrive and see the OEB deliver actual value!

Oh, and a thank you from the Class A ratepayers would be nice too!

PARKER GALLANT

Is the IESO finally trying to get it right?

The baby’s not happy… are his parents being scammed?

One of the IESO’s responsibilities is to ensure Ontario ratepayers are billed fairly. That’s been a challenge with more than 100 “directives” from the former Liberal government. First in a series

July 30, 2018

Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is responsible for monthly settlement (dollars in and dollars out) with all LDC (local distribution companies), transmission companies (Hydro One) and with thousands of generators of various stripes connected to the TX (transmission gird) and DX (distribution grid).

In order to capture the vagaries of what the monthly settlement encompasses, the IESO have a 164-page market manual entitled, “Settlements Part 5.5 Physical Markets Settlement Statements Issue 69”.  Its effective date was March 7, 2018, the fifteenth update of the manual over the last three years!

I’m confident the 15 recent updates were a result of directives emanating from the desks of former Liberal Ministers of Energy, namely Messrs. Bob Chiarelli and his successor Glenn Thibeault, and include the actions related to the Fair Hydro Act and the rebate of the 8% Provincial portion of the HST.

The directives and the changes they entail indicate the IESO is trying to “get it right” in their responsibility in dealing with the variables. Those variables were created by the Liberal government as it toyed with the energy portfolio over the last 15 years in so many ways via those directives (117 to OPA/IESO alone).  As an example, IESO in 2017 was responsible for settling about $16 billion related to the costs of generating electricity (what the public is charged for the combination of the HOEP (hourly Ontario electricity price) and the GA (Global Adjustment).

Ensuring ratepayers are correctly billed and generators are paid no more than they deserve places a lot of responsibility on IESO to ensure ratepayers are not being scammed!

On the latter point it is worth noting a CBC article from just seven months ago stated:  “Hydro customers shelled out about $100 million in ‘inappropriate’ payments to a natural gas plant that exploited flaws in how Ontario manages its private electricity generators”. The article said “gaming” of the system was discovered by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and contained this statement about the IESO: “the investigation found IESO did little checking into the details of Goreway Power Station’s billings.

Data not audited

That is somewhat disconcerting. When I recently asked IESO about the Fair Hydro Plan’s “variance account” for the month of May 2018 being very high ($309.9 million), they answered “Please note that settlement data submitted to the IESO by the LDCs is not audited by the IESO (audit responsibilities reside with the OEB) and is processed as submitted.”

In viewing IESO’s December 31, 2017 financial statements, their independent auditors (KPMG) attempt to capture their responsibilities, listing 30 of them as if they were simply the Ten Commandments. The one directing the activities associated with the money movement related to the FHP (Fair Hydro Plan) says: “engaging in activities related to making payments to and receiving payments as contemplated under the FHP and related settlement activities”.

The disconcerting part of this is that the Fair Hydro Plan alone will (according to the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario) amount to approximately $1,750 million on an annual basis — the 8% HST provincial rebate will add another $1 billion annually.  That certainly leaves the taxpayers and ratepayers of the future exposed to any one of the LDC “gaming” the system, or inadvertently submitting incorrect information.

Can we current and future ratepayers trust that Hydro One and all of the other LDC will submit correct “data” to IESO and that it will be properly audited by the Ontario Energy Board?

Stay tuned!

Second installment to appear tomorrow

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.”

and

“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