Wynne government in panic mode

First in a series of three

In July, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault was pressed by Shirlee Engel of Global TV on the rising cost of electricity bills. He said, “While I’m still not using the word crisis,” said Thibeault. “I know it’s important. For one family if it’s a hundred bucks out of their own pocket that’s a crisis for them and I get that.”

In September Premier Wynne mentioned the word “hydro” at an international plowing match, and was instantly booed.

Now it appears we have a government in a panic mode trying to deal with a crisis of their own making.

The Throne Speech held promises about getting rid of the provincial portion of the HST on electricity bills. Then on September 13, 2016 a press release from Minister Thibeault confirmed the 8% reduction reducing bills $130 annually, and announced other actions such as, “Providing eligible rural ratepayers with additional relief, decreasing total electricity bills by an average of $540 a year or $45 each month”.

The press release did not detail what constitutes an “eligible” rural ratepayer; however, if it is just the 329,000 or so who are Hydro One’s “low-density” ratepayers the annual cost will be approximately $150 million. The press release went on to say: “Empowering businesses to reduce their bill by up to 34 per cent through the expansion of the Industrial Conservation Initiative” (ICI). 

Neither the Throne Speech nor the press releases say where the government is getting the money to pay for those initiatives, but removal of the 8% provincial portion of the HST will be on the backs of the taxpayers.

The electricity sector in the province is a $20-billion (before HST) business. That means $1.6 billion previously allocated to other ministries will now be unavailable, or the government will need to forgo balancing the budget or raise taxes/fees, etc. to cover off the lost tax revenue.

Minister Thibeault issued another press release in September related to “Empowering businesses to reduce their bill”.  This one had a “Customer Impact Example”:

“With more than a thousand new businesses soon eligible for ICI, cost impact across sectors and industries will vary. As an illustrative example of the impact, a plastics manufacturer with an average peak demand of 2 MW that participates in the ICI program could see its electricity price reduced from $154 per MWh to as low as $102 per MWh. This would result in energy cost savings of up to $42,000 per month.”

If you do the quick math on the above and assume each of those 1,000 plus businesses save $42,000 a month the reduction may be $500 million but once again, there is no indication where the funds will come from to cover those costs.

The above electricity bill reductions promised by the government total almost $2.2 billion and considerably more than the $1.5 billion in funds allocated to balancing the budget currently in dispute between the Ontario Auditor General and Liz Sandals, Ontario’s Treasury Board President.

So exactly how the governing party plans to pull off these bill reductions is not known.

Perhaps to create confusion amongst voters/taxpayers and inattentive media, Minister Thibeault issued another press release  September 27th announcing the “suspension” of LRP II to acquire 1,000 MW of renewable energy, principally in the form of wind, solar and biomass.  The press release declared  “This decision is expected to save up to $3.8 billion in electricity system costs relative to Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) forecast. This would save the typical residential electricity consumer an average of approximately $2.45 per month on their electricity bill, relative to previous forecasts.

It is unclear if Minister Thibeault is suggesting suspending future rate increases will somehow cover off the costs of his promises to reduce our electricity bills by $2.3 billion.

Or is it somehow related to the accounting dispute the government is engaged in with the Auditor General?

Parker Gallant

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