Class distinctions in Ontario’s electricity sector

Ordinary consumers try to conserve while …

Ontario: where the energy ministry robs Peter to benefit Paul

April 15, 2018

The data is out for the first two months of 2018 for both the consumption of electricity as well as the costs to Ontario’s upper and lower class of consumers.

According to Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO, consumption increased by 4.7% or 1.084 terawatts (TWh). That’s what 725,000 average households would consume for two months.

The annoying thing about the increase in consumption, however, is while Class B (that is, regular folks) ratepayers reduced consumption by 729,000 MWh Class A ratepayers (customers with higher demand such as businesses) increased their consumption by 1.813 million MWh.

So, why did consumption increase? If you guessed, Ontario’s energy ministry launched a “Black Friday” or a post “Boxing Day” sale, you would be heading in the right direction!  To explain: if one travels back to the days when Brad Duguid was the Minister of Energy he issued a directive to the OPA (Ontario Power Authority) instructing them to create and deliver an “industrial energy efficiency program” specifically for large transmission-connected (TX) ratepayers. He issued that directive and, as they say, the rest is history.   The resulting ICI (Industrial Conservation Initiative) granted the “A” ratepayers the ability to reduce their consumption during the “high five” peak hours and the reward was the GA (Global Adjustment) component would drop significantly for them.

Originally, Class A ratepayers were only the largest industrial clients (approximately 170) whose peak hourly demand was 5 megawatts (MW) per hour, or higher.   Since the launch of the new class distinction in January 2011, however, Class A clients have evolved further, to allow those with peak demand exceeding 500 kilowatts (kW) per hour. In other words, because industrial jobs were fleeing Ontario and various associations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Association of Major Power Consumers of Ontario, etc., made their concerns known, the ability to “opt in”’ to Class A was lowered. The results should have been obvious: Class B electricity costs would climb higher!

January and February 2018 saw the “B” to “A” Global Adjustment or GA subsidy transfer increase to $201 million compared to $179 million in the same two months of 2017. The full cost of the transfer and the extra $22 million (+ 12.3%) is allocated to Class B ratepayers, and probably includes some newly classified “A” ratepayers.

When you review the GA subsidy Class B ratepayers provided in 2017 compared to 2016, the increase year over year is up $369 million or 30%.   In 2016 Class B ratepayers absorbed $1.222 billion of the GA subsidizing Class A ratepayers and that support jumped to $1.591 billion in 2017. The $369 million increase occurred despite Class B ratepayers reducing their consumption by 9,976,000 MWh (what 1.1 million average households would consume in a full year) while Class A consumption went up by 5.146 million MWh.

No doubt most of this increase can be attributed to the lower “A” qualification level but IESO does not disclose that information.

For those of you who like to “connect the dots” here’s the puzzle: the almost $1.6 billion annual Class B subsidy added to the $400 million spent on “conservation” comes to $2 billion.   That $2 billion annual cost of 2017 comes very close to the Financial Accountability Office’s estimate of the annual cost of the Fair Hydro Plan at $2.1 billion.

Coincidence?

As it turns out, the outcry from Class B ratepayers about high electricity costs started to result in negative media attention which presumably brought about the concept of the “Fair Hydro Plan” which actually kicks about $2 billion of annual costs down the road for the next ten years.

Despite the obvious Class B to Class A subsidy highlighted above, the Fraser Institute’s* recent report on Ontario’s electricity system notes in the Executive Summary: “In 2016, large industrial users paid almost three times more than consumers in Montreal and Calgary and almost twice the prices paid by large consumers in Vancouver.” So, even though Class B ratepayers contributed $1.222 billion in 2016 to help reduce electricity rates for Ontario’s large industrial users, they still paid almost three times more than their counterparts in Montreal and Calgary.

Parker Gallant

*From the Fraser Institute report: “The centerpiece of the GEA was a Feed-In-Tariff program, which provides long-term guaranteed contracts to generators with renewable sources (wind, solar, etc.) at a fixed price above market rates. In order to fund these commitments, as well as the cost of conservation programs, Ontario levied a non-market surcharge on electricity called the Global Adjustment (GA).”

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