Hydro One: the Svengali behind the Fair Hydro Act?

If you are a Hydro One customer, when you get your bill this month it will include a letter addressed “To our valued customers” which describes the wonderful things Hydro One has supposedly done for you.  The letter, signed by CEO Mayo Schmidt, is filled with claims about actions taken and how they were all done to “serve you better.”

One of the paragraphs is particularly noteworthy. It declares:

“For our customers who are struggling with affordability, I want you to know that we are strongly advocating on your behalf. Earlier this year we urged government to make affordability a priority and we made several suggestions that resulted in the creation of the Fair Hydro Plan. The majority of our customers consuming 750 kWh a month have started to see an average reduction of 31 per cent on their monthly bill. For many of our customer, this represents a savings of $600 a year.”

So, the take-away from those words of sympathy from CEO Schmidt ($4.4 million* in compensation in 2016) suggests it was he — not Premier Wynne or Energy Minister Thibeault — who conceived the “kick the can down the road” concept that became the Fair Hydro Act!

Look back to a recent comment from Minister Thibeault in a CBC article, he said this about the Plan:  “ ‘This is like remortgaging our house,’ Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault told reporters Monday at Queen’s Park. “I’ve always said that the Fair Hydro Plan was a fair plan; it was the best plan we could come up with when we were talking with energy experts, accounting experts, the legal experts.”

When the Fair Hydro Plan was launched back on March 2, 2017 Premier Wynne said: “I have heard from people around the province who are worried about the price they are asked to pay for electricity and the impact it has on their household budget. Electricity is a necessity. By fixing problems in the system, we will be able to provide every residential customer in Ontario with an average 25 per cent off their bills now and make rates fairer in the future.”

So the question is, does the “we” include Hydro One’s CEO Schmidt, and is he classified as one of the “energy experts” Minister Thibeault claimed they talked with?  If so, I hope Schmidt told him about the rate increases Hydro One has applied for that will increase average customer’s bills by $141 a year in 2022 (based on current Hydro One rate applications under review by the OEB).

Those rate increases are needed by Hydro One to help pay for their upcoming purchase of Avista Corp. as it will represent a revenue gain to them of close to $500 million annually.

The LDC benefiting the most from the Fair Hydro Plan was Hydro One which still has the second highest distribution rates. Before privatization, they had the highest ratepayer arrears (past due accounts), the bulk of ratepayers accessing the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP) and the highest level of bad debts.  A part of the rate increase they currently seek would allow them to install “pre-paid smart meters” meaning if a ratepayer couldn’t afford top up their account they would be automatically disconnected.

On October 17, 2017 ratepayers got further bad news from Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario’s Auditor General reported due to the way in which the Fair Hydro Plan is being financed, ratepayers will be required to pay an extra $4 billion in interest costs.  That $4 billion increases estimated borrowing costs by 19% to $21 billion to cover the forecast $18.4 billion cost of the Plan. The latter costs represent the bulk of the 25% reduction (16%**), bringing total estimated costs for this portion to $39.4 billion.

The shell game of the Ontario Liberal government in Ontario’s energy portfolio continues, aided and abetted by Hydro One. If Hydro One’s rate applications are approved, their distribution rates will jump bringing more misery to their ratepayers!

 

* The CEO’s compensation is more than the total amount available annually under the LEAP (Low-income Energy Assistance Program) from the 73 local distribution companies in the province.

** The other 9% comes from removing the provincial portion of the HST (8%) and putting the OESP and RRRP (1%) as a taxpayer responsibility.

 

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Labour Day weekend stats show up Wynne government power folly

Mr Thibeault: If you sell the lemonade for 6.5 cents but it costs you 13 cents … oh, never mind

The Labour Day weekend was a disappointment for many as the last summer holiday featured below-normal temperatures in most of Ontario. The cool weather meant Ontario’s demand for electricity was only 904,000* megawatts (MWh) for the three days.

The “weighted” average of the hourly Ontario electricity price (HOEP) averaged a meagre $6.13/MWh (0.61 cents/kWh), meaning the market value for that consumption was only $5.542 million.

At the same time, however, Ontario was exporting 168,000 MWh (net exports i.e., exports minus imports) to New York, Michigan, etc. at about the same price. Ontario got $1.03 million from the sale of that power, which brought the total market value of Ontario’s consumption and exports to $6.572 million.

Apparently.

If the $6.57 million figure was the true cost of power generation, then Ontario’s ratepayers would have been delighted; however, we know the HOEP makes up only a small portion of the cost. The Global Adjustment (GA) represents the bulk of costs.

What the power REALLY cost

The GA includes the difference between the contracted rate and the market or HOEP value and many other costs.   As is the normal process of IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) they provide a forecast of the GA at the start of each month. For September of this year, it was the highest ever at $127.39/MWh** or 12.7 cents/kWh.    Should IESO’s forecast prove correct, the total cost of those Labour Day megawatt hours for September will be $133.52 or 13.3 cents/kWh.

In other words, the 1,072,000 MWh consumed and exported over the three days of the Labour Day weekend had an all-in cost of over $143 million.

Ontario’s ratepayers in the interim were enjoying TOU (time of use) off-peak rates of 6.5cents/kWh meaning they will be billed $58,760,000 (904,000 X $65/MWh = $58,760,000).  That $58.760 million plus the $1.03 million from the export of the 168,000 MWh will produce revenue of only $59,793,000.

That leaves a shortfall in the costs of contracted generation of $83,340,440. ($143,133,440 – $59,793,000 = $83,340,440)

The $83 million shortfall for those three days winds up in what is referred to as a “variance” account and is normally reflected in the resetting of the rates semi-annually by the Ontario Energy Board on May 1st and November 1st. The Fair Hydro Act however kicked these costs down the road and will accumulate with all the other shortfalls and reflect themselves in future rate increases.

Still digging the hole

Despite these crazy financials, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault has not cancelled the renewable energy contracts issued in 2016 that are now chasing their Renewable Energy Approvals from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The amount of exported power on the Labour Day weekend combined with the 36,000 MWh of curtailed wind power represented more than one-fifth (22.6%) of Ontario’s demand.

Ontario clearly does not need any more intermittent wind power generated out of phase with demand.

Time for the Minister of Energy to brush up on his Grade 6 Math and stop punishing Ontario’s ratepayers.

Parker Gallant

 

* Ontario’s demand for the 2016 Labour Day was 1,197,000 MWh

**Hopefully the IESO forecast includes an allowance for curtailed wind which was approximately 36,000 MWh over the three days of the weekend and which Ontario ratepayers pay $120/MWh.

 

The Fair Hydro Act: Ontario’s unfair future

Wynne government’s “Fair Hydro” plan: another $3 billion a year. Fair?

The Fair Hydro Act kicked in July 1, 2017: we can now look at the first month of the 25% reduction Premier Wynne and her Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault, gave us, and determine if the projected costs look reasonable.

The cost forecast for the Act according to the Financial Accountability Office (FAO) of Ontario, was: “the Province is proposing to borrow an estimated average of $2.5 billion per year through 2027 to pay a portion of electricity costs, thereby temporarily reducing the amount paid by eligible ratepayers. The Province would recover the borrowed funds, including interest, from ratepayers over an estimated 18-year period starting in 2028.” 

The FAO’s estimate includes: the 8% provincial portion of the HST, the reduction of 17% in electricity costs and the additional 6% promised to 800,000 rural customers (principally Hydro One ratepayers) who will pay less. The latter is related to taxpayers picking up the costs of the RRRP (rural and remote rate protection plan) and the OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) under the Fair Hydro Act.

While the estimate by the FAO for the deferral appears significant at $189 million per month* (plus interest), it may turn out to be much higher, based on what we see in the very first month.

The first month’s deferral has been reported by IESO as $394.7 million. According to IESO it includes adjustments for May ($110.2 million) and June ($136.6 million) that represent the “partial reduction” granted by the OEB to “eligible customers.”  That puts the monthly costs for July 2017 at $147.9 million.

The IESO spokesperson also noted due to billing cycles of the various local distribution companies (LDC), the full monthly cost will not become evident until August submissions are made by the LDC.

The $147.9 million will obviously be higher in the months and years ahead and well exceed the FAO’s estimates. For example, the July deferred GA amount would not include monies related to the different billing cycles, or include the 8% provincial portion of the HST.   Making a calculated guess, these would add another $100 million, meaning the monthly cost will be approximately $250 million or $3 billion annually.  As well, the OEB April 30, 2017 RPP (regulated price plan) report noted rates would have increased 3.1% May 1st had the Fair Hydro Act not altered normal procedures.

The 3.1% increase mentioned in the OEB report becomes clearer from this report excerpt: “After taking into account the reduction in the forecast amount of the Global Adjustment of approximately $1B, the average supply cost drops by $13.79/MWh relative to May 2016 prices, or $17.28/MWh relative to what RPP consumers otherwise would have paid starting on May 1, 2017.”

That 3.1% increase we avoided (deferred) and other rate increases approved by the OEB over the next several years will also be deferred, but accrued to appear on our future electricity bills.

Hydro One alone has nine rate applications either before the OEB or in the hopper, so we should expect a future whiplash from rate increases that will make the recent past look good!

And to think we thought the gas plant moves were costly!

Parker Gallant,

August 27, 2017

 

* The FAO chart 6-1 estimates a monthly impact of $41.00 per “average” residential ratepayer per month so the math equation is: $41.00 X 4,612,551 residential ratepayers (OEB Yearbook of Distributors for 2016) = $189,114.591 or $2.3 billion annually plus interest.

Ontario summer day means low power demand, high costs for consumers

A windy, sunny August day: sounds nice? In Ontario, that costs you. [Photo: Dorothea Larsen]
August 5 2017 was an interesting day: the wind was blowing and the sun was shining, in part of Ontario, anyway.

Unfortunately for Ontario ratepayers that weather will cost them a lot of money.

Why? The cost stems from the fact Ontario’s demand for electricity on that day was only 317,000 megawatts (MWh),* according to the IESO Daily Market Summary, probably due to conservation efforts and mild temperatures.  Low demand doesn’t save money: in fact, it will cost Ontario ratepayers millions of dollars due to bad management of the electricity sector by the current government.

I was curious about this windy, sunny day, which led me to contact Scott Luft, a master at using IESO data to give us a real picture of market demand and its costs.  Scott occasionally produces “Daily Ontario Supply Estimates” which provide a picture of both our demand and generated sources, what it cost, how much was exported, how much was curtailed/spilled (wasted), etc., and even how much of the costs were picked up by Class B ratepayers versus Class A.

Scott also estimates curtailed wind, spilled hydro, etc., using a conservative approach; they are generally confirmed months later by IESO.

Scott’s daily estimate for August 5, 2017 confirmed my suspicions!   Emissions-free nuclear and hydro generators alone supplied the 340,000 MWh of power Ontario needed easily, even exceeding Ontario demand by 23,000 MWh.  The cost of that generation was $21.1 million. After allowing for the value of the surplus 23,000 MWh as exports at the average hourly Ontario energy price (HOEP) of $4.94/MWh the cost per MWh comes to $66.34/MWh or 6.6 cents/kWh.**

Double the cost — and you’re paying it

Part of Scott’s daily estimate includes additional costs in the form of all the other generation sources, plus curtailed wind and solar, spilled hydro, biofuel and idling costs of gas plants. When those are added to the $21.1 million of nuclear and hydro, the price billed to ratepayers for the day jumps to $37.8 million — $119.24/MWh or 11.9 cents/kWh.  The Class A to Class B subsidy results in the cost per kWh for the “B” Class (that’s you and me) jumping to $131.10/MWh or 13.1 cents/kWh.

The other generation sources on Scott’s August 5 daily estimates include transmission (TX) and distributor (DX) connected generation, along with curtailed/idled, etc. costs with gas at 9,123 MWh (cost $4.1 million), wind at 49,088 MWh (cost $6.3 million), solar at 13,002 MWh (cost $6.1 million), biofuel at 701 MWh (cost $368,000) and imports of 8,563 MWh (cost $52,000).

The costs to you are mounting

Are you with me so far? What this means is, those other generation sources (including curtailed wind, etc.) of 85,000 MWh cost $16.7 million — $196.47/MWh or 19.5 cents/kWh) and are billed to … you, Ontario’s ratepayers.

Approximately $8.1 million of the day’s costs will be allocated to the Fair Hydro Plan and wind up on future electricity bills. If August 5 was a typical day, the amount kicked down the road for the next four years by the Premier Wynne-led government will amount to $3 billion annually (plus interest).  (The $8.1 million estimate for this day comes from the use of what is referred to as the “Global Adjustment Modifier” set by the OEB at $32.90/MWh from July 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018 and will be reset at the later date. The $8.1 million was obtained by simply multiplying Class B consumption — 246,000 MWh — by the $32.90 “Modifier”.)

Mismanagement of the energy portfolio by the Wynne-led government on August 5 generated a cost for Class B ratepayers that was excessive. It will continue, and lead to an explosion of households living in “energy poverty”*** when the Fair Hydro Plan comes to an end in four years.

The Minister of Energy needs to recognize the problems caused by intermittent and unreliable renewable energy!  Once he understands the latter he should immediately cancel any wind and solar contracted projects that have not commenced construction, along with any in the early planning stages.

Kicking the can down the road via the Fair Hydro Act is anything but fair. Paying twice for non-emitting clean energy simply amplifies the bad management this portfolio has received from our government.

Parker Gallant

August 11, 2017

*   Some of the above MWh references are rounded to the nearest thousand.

** The 6.6 cent rate, coincidentally, is close to our new off-peak rate of 6.5 cents/kWh (previously 8.7 cents/kWh) which came into effect July 1, 2017. The lower rate is a result of the “Fair Hydro Plan” instituted by the Premier Wynne that kicked 25% of the costs down the road for four years.  The Off-Peak rate back on May 1, 2007 was 3.2 cents/kWh so even after the recent reduction it is still up over 103% in the last 10 years.

*** Energy poverty is generally defined as utilizing 10% or more of a household’s disposal income to pay for their electricity and heating needs.

 

Hydro One takeover of U.S. company a big negative for Ontarians

The Financial Post, August 10, 2017

Parker Gallant: Thibeault and Wynne believe it’s wrong for the province to borrow $4 billion to reacquire Hydro One shares, but OK for Hydro One to borrow $5.1 billion while diluting the province’s interest in it

PostMedia photo

By Parker Gallant
On March 28th, a few weeks after Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault held their press conference about the “Fair Hydro Plan,” Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP, delivered a motion to the Ontario legislature calling for a buy-back of Hydro One. The motion failed and later resulted in Thibeault calling the NDP motion “short on details and long on hollow promises.” He noted that many of the NDP’s proposals “rely on a vague and yet-to-be-determined ‘expert panel’ that will be convened in the future.” Buying back $4 billion in Hydro One shares is costly, the energy minister added, and “will not take one cent off electricity bills. What it will do is send billions to the stock market instead of making much needed infrastructure investments in communities across Ontario.”

Fast forward to July 19th, when Thibeault was beside himself with excitement because Hydro One will be paying US$5.3 billion ($6.7 billion) to purchase Avista, a much smaller electricity and natural gas utility headquartered in Spokane, Wash., 3,200 kilometres from Toronto. Hydro One offered a 24-per-cent premium on the traded value of the stock price over its July 18th closing and, based on Avista’s 2016 annual profit, it will take Hydro One 38 years to recoup the $6.7-billion price tag. Thibeault’s press release announcing the takeover carried this obtuse claim: “It is to the shared benefit of Hydro One’s customers, employees and shareholders to see the company strengthened and growing.” He also stated that, “In particular, we welcome the fact that this proposed acquisition will not impact the rates that Ontario customers pay. Neither will it have any impact on local jobs.”

The privatization of Hydro One and dilution of the province’s shareholding keep its debt off of the province’s balance sheet

 Based on that press release, and the requirement to get shareholder approval, we must assume Thibeault gave his blessings to the acquisition and dilution of the province’s holdings, which will decline from 49 per cent to 44 per cent. He presumably also blessed Hydro One’s borrowing program, which will add US$2.6 billion ($3.7 billion) in new debt, not including another $1.4 billion via a convertible debenture paying 12 per cent per annum in interest prior to its conversion to common shares.

Thibeault and Wynne believe it’s wrong for the province to borrow $4 billion, as the NDP suggested, to reacquire Hydro One shares, but OK for Hydro One to borrow $5.1 billion while diluting the province’s interest in it. The privatization of Hydro One and dilution of the province’s shareholding keep its debt off of the province’s balance sheet.

So, is the acquisition all that Thibeault and Hydro One’s CEO, Mayo Schmidt, claim it is or is the spin meant to distract ratepayers into believing the takeover will lessen pressure on future rate increases? Let’s examine a few facts:

— The acquisition of Avista will result in Hydro One’s debt (short and long term) increasing by 46 per cent, or $5.1 billion, to reach in excess of $16 billion. Should interest rates increase Hydro One will submit an application to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for a rate increase, an accepted OEB process.

— Hydro One’s 2017 first-quarter report notes it currently has five rate applications awaiting approval by the OEB and plans to file another nine rate applications over the next four years.

— Washington, where Avista’s electricity ratepayers are located, pays the second-lowest rates of any state on average, with all-in residential rates of 9.43 cents/kWh as of April 2017. Only Louisiana can claim lower rates at an average of 9.35 cents/kWh (U.S. rates expressed in U.S. currency).

— Based on the information in Avista’s 2016 annual report, it appears the all-in cost of a kilowatt-hour delivered to its ratepayers was 8.68 cents/kWh.

— Hydro One, on the other hand, has the highest rates in Canada and in most of North America. It is difficult to see how Washington ratepayers will see any benefit from this acquisition. Based on the data supplied by Hydro One to the OEB for 2015, its average cost of a kilowatt-hour was almost double Avista’s at 17 cents/kWh.

It is difficult to believe several of the claims in Hydro One’s news release

It is difficult to believe several of the claims in Hydro One’s July 19th news release. As an example, it states the acquisition of Avista “will be accretive to earnings per share in the mid-single digits in the first full year of operation.” Politicians and regulators in Washington may be tougher than those in Ontario when Hydro One seeks a rate increase! It gains increases in Ontario from the OEB and via political tampering, which recently resulted in a requirement that taxpayers pick up a part of Hydro One’s bad debt allocations via the Ontario Electricity Support Program.

Another quote is also a stretch: “Efficiencies through enhanced scale, innovation, shared IT systems and increased purchasing power provides cost savings for customers and better customer service, complementing both organization’s commitment to excellence.” This claim comes from the company that had the distinction of being singled out by Ontario’s ombudsman for issuing over 100,000 faulty hydro bills. Moreover, last October Global TV found Hydro One had almost 226,000 clients in arrears, which represented 20 per cent of all its residential clients and 40 per cent of all ratepayers in arrears in the province.

Ratepayers and taxpayers should view the Hydro One takeover of Avista as negative. To re-purpose Thibeault’s comment to the NDP leader, this action “will not take one cent off electricity bills.”

Financial Post

Parker Gallant is a retired bank executive who looked at his power bill and didn’t like what he saw.

Electricity planning in Ontario: bad and getting worse

Ontario Energy Minister Thibeault: he really believes this stuff?

From all appearances, Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault sincerely believes Premier Wynne’s plan to reduce our hydro bills is the right one and the opposition parties have got it all wrong.

Shortly after Premier Wynne and her loyal servant Glenn Thibeault announced the Liberals’ “Fair Hydro Plan” Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP, announced their plan. Thibeault had this to say about the NDP’s plans to repurchase Hydro One shares: “Buying back $4 billion in Hydro One shares is costly, he added, and ‘will not take one cent off electricity bills. What it will do is send billions to the stock market instead of making much needed infrastructure investments in communities across Ontario.’ ”

When PC MPP Vic Fedeli suggested diverting our surplus power to local businesses so they can create jobs, instead of exporting it to U.S. states at staggeringly low prices* Thibeault lashed out, saying that was  “back-of-the-napkin” thinking.  Thibeault did admit Ontario “doesn’t have sufficient electricity demand at home to use up the electricity we export to other markets.”

This begs the question: why does the Energy Minister not cancel contracts recently awarded (LRP 1) and permanently cancel plans (LRP 2) to add more renewables that will be surplus due to insufficient demand and plant closures.  In respect to the latter, demand will continue to be insufficient as the recent announcements about the closing of the Proctor and Gamble plant (500 employees) in Brockville and the Siemens plant in Tillsonburg (340 employees), just to name two, will further reduce demand.

The Siemens announcement undermines the Green Energy Act which the Liberals originally touted as destined to create 50,000 jobs, but fell miserably short of that goal. In fact it cost Ontario jobs as suggested by former Ontario Auditor General McCarter in his 2011 report.

Thibeault might also stop directing IESO to spend $400 million annually on conservation programs which further reduces demand, but at a cost that is added to ratepayer bills and negatively affects export sale prices.*

Now, when Minister Thibeault or Premier Wynne speak about the Liberal Plan, they revert to the main “Fair Hydro Plan” talking point which is “This is the largest rate cut in Ontario history”.  What Minister Thibeault always fails to note is Ontario’s ratepayers have experienced the largest rate increases in history thanks to the GEA’s passage in 2009!  He also fails to acknowledge the future costs due to the Fair Hydro Plan which will push rates up well past those before the “largest rate cut in Ontario history”.   That cost (subject to balanced budgets) according to the Financial Accountability Office will be $45 billion versus a benefit of $24 billion.  That $45 billion will easily drive up electricity rates and represents in excess of two years of current total electricity costs.

Amortized over 10 years we should expect annual rate increases well in excess of 10%.   At that time, all ratepayers will be exposed to the Ontario Liberal government’s incredibility bad planning!

Parker Gallant

* For the first six months of 2017 IESO report the sales price for surplus exports was $14.93 a megawatt hour (MWh) or 1.49 cents a kWh which is close to 10% of what it costs to produce. Ontario’s ratepayers pay for the losses via their monthly bills

 

Wind power waste not healthy for Ontario

A few days ago (July 11, 2017) Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Dr. Eric Hoskins issued a press release saying 131 hospitals would receive $175 million for “repairs and upgrades”.  That’s an average of $1.3 million per hospital to be doled out, apparently because the Wynne government finally produced a “balanced budget”.

The press release states: “Funding from the province allows hospitals to make critical improvements to their facilities, including upgrades or replacements to roofs, windows, heating and air conditioning systems, fire alarms and back-up generators.”

One wonders if Minister Hoskins ever chats with Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault who doles out money to industrial wind turbine (IWT) developments at a pace that would make his $1.3 million per hospital look like small potatoes!   In the first six months of 2017, the bill to Ontario ratepayers was approximately $1.089 billion for accepted and curtailed industrial wind.  That works out to approximately $475,000 per turbine … for six months!  (That assumes there are about 2300 turbines with an average capacity of 2 MW or megawatts currently operating in the province.)

Also in the first six months of 2017, grid-connected and distributor-connected IWT collectively generated 6,143,000 MWh and curtailed 1,906,000 MWh* according to IESO data and curtailed estimates by Scott Luft.  That means the cost per grid-accepted MWh was about $177 or 17.7 cents/kWh! If the next six months are similar to the first six, each average 2-MW wind turbine will cost $950,000** generating or curtailing the intermittent and unreliable power they are famous for.

Those wind turbines require back-up by gas plants and frequently cause the spilling of hydro power and the steam-off of nuclear plants. The costs of these grid managing activities to ratepayers easily drive the costs per turbine well past the hospital repair allocations.

Kicking the can down the road under the Fair Hydro Act will see the foregoing incredible waste of ratepayer dollars accumulate within OPG, and result in rate increases as high as those we have experienced over the past 10 years, once 2021 arrives.

Try to imagine how much better our health care system would be with that estimated annual waste of $2 billion ($40 billion over the 20-year terms of the contracts) allocated towards health care instead of handing it over to mainly foreign industrial wind developers.

The time has come to stop signing those contracts!

Parker Gallant

* The average curtailed wind for the first 6 months of 2017 was 23.6% and for May was 43.8%.

** This assumes accepted generation is paid $140/MWh and curtailed wind is paid $120/MWh.