Ontario’s class distinction stings ordinary hydro customers

Electricity bill-payers are subsidizing business to the tune of over $1 billion, every year

 In early 2010, then Minister of Energy Brad Duguid 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.

That directive led to the creation of the two classes of ratepayers that now exist in Ontario.

Originally, Class A ratepayers were only the largest industrial clients (TX) whose peak hourly demand was 5 megawatts (MW) per hour, or higher.   Since the launch of the new distinction in January 2011, Class A clients have evolved further under Energy Ministers Chiarelli and Thibeault, to allow those with peak demand exceeding 500 kilowatts (kW) per hour.

That move leave the great unwashed “B” Class – you and me — to pick up the subsidy costs for  Ontario’s larger employers. The concern was (is) that those companies without subsidies might exit the province and take their jobs with them.

The algorithm that determines what a Class A customer pays is related to how successful they are at picking the top five hours of Ontario’s peak demand. The “A” class companies who fire up their own generators (usually natural gas) or close their plants/operations down and reduce demand on Ontario’s generation sources during the five highest peak-demand hours over the 12 months, will get the biggest discount.

The focus on “conservation” during those hours carries the political hope of achieving “peak” demand reduction.  The theory is the reduction should result in reduced need for new generation.*

While that goal may have been the intent, at the same time Ministers Duguid, Chiarelli and Thibeault were (are!) giving orders to contract for more and more renewable wind and solar contracts to the point where the “market price” or HOEP (Hourly Ontario Electricity price) continued a slow descent due to surplus generation.   The HOEP in May 2017 achieved a new low of $3.17 per MWh or 32/100th of 1 cent/kWh. In June 2008, it was $62.30/MWh.

Both classes of ratepayer equally pick up the full cost of the HOEP on a per kWh basis!

With the focus on the cost shift of the ratepayer classes tied to the GA (Global Adjustment), the higher the latter the greater the cost shift.   The addition of so many more businesses to the Class A group simply amplified the cross-class subsidy!

For an example of the growth in the dollar value of that shift, let’s look at some June numbers, now that IESO has released the June 2017 summary report.

The first year the B to A shift happened was in 2011: for June of that year the GA was $423.1 million and Class A ratepayers picked up $46 million of that cost. Unfortunately, IESO did not start disclosing the consumption by ratepayer class until 2015, so it is not possible to determine what percentage of the GA was being paid by Class A versus Class B ratepayers.

The June 2015 IESO webpage discloses consumption of 11.004 terawatt hours** (TWh) with Class A consumption of 2.061 TWh (23%), and GA paid by Class A ratepayers of $90.4 million. That’s 9.6% out of total GA costs of $943.1 million.  So, Class B ratepayers picked up $126.5 million to subsidize Class A ratepayers that month.  That translates to a GA cost per kWh for Class A of 4.4 cents versus 9.5 cents for Class B ratepayers. HOEP for June 2015 was $15.31/MWh!

IESO discloses total consumption of 11.509 TWh for June 2016 with Class A consumption of 2.308 TWh (20.05%). The GA for Class A was $121.6 million out of GA costs of $995.3 million. Had the GA been allocated on the 20.05% Class A consumption, they would have paid $200.4 million meaning Class B ratepayers subsidies were $78.8 million for the month.  HOEP for that month was $20.17.

June 2017 total consumption was 11.617 TWh, of which 2.482 TWh (21.36%) was for Class A ratepayers. The Class A GA totaled $137.9 million, but if they had been allocated the 21.36% of their consumption on the GA of $1.208.8 billion instead of the 11.4%, they would have paid $258.2 million.  Class B ratepayers provided a subsidy of $120.3 million.

The 5,055,000 (2015 OEB Yearbook of distributors) Class B ratepayers in the province each picked up an average of $23.80 of subsidy costs for June 2017.

If that becomes the norm, those ratepayers will pony up around $1.4 billion annually. 

Back before former Energy Minister Duguid issued his directive, the Association of Major Power Consumers of Ontario, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business were lamenting the rising costs of electricity in Ontario. Some companies left the province due to costs, so it was inevitable the Ontario Liberal government would finally hear their pleas for relief.  The result? The creation of the two rate classes.

In effect, the creation of the two rate classes and the subsidy shift from Class B to Class A ratepayers should be labeled “employment insurance” as it was needed to simply retain jobs in jeopardy because many companies were threatening to leave the province due to high uncompetitive electricity rates.

Why can’t our Energy Ministers come to the realization they should cease contracting for new, unreliable and intermittent wind and solar generation that produces power out of phase with demand?

*   The claim by the government is that by not contracting for new capital investment in generation, we ratepayers save future rate increases

**1 terawatt is equal to 1 billion kilowatts

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