Ontario Energy Board news release: cherry-picked facts and conflicting information

Glaring omissions from the OEB about the “Fair Hydro Plan”

Hydro One’s “low-density” customers pay more —way more

 The June 22, 2017 news release from the Ontario Energy Board tells Ontario ratepayers about the wonders of the “Fair Hydro Plan” and how much rates would have increased without it.

But other related information on the OEB website discloses cherry-picked data and, on examination, reveals shortcomings. One small example is a chart comparing Ontario residential rates with other cities in Canada and the U.S. San Francisco is at the top; Hydro One low-density in fourth place; and Toronto Hydro is in sixth place. The lowest five cities on the chart are all Canadian cities including Montreal; comparing their cost of electricity shows Hydro One’s (low density) costs are 232% higher!

The average monthly cost for U.S. cities are converted into Canadian dollars at $1.3046, pushing them up the scale to create the impression that Ontario’s electricity rates are competitive. What isn’t disclosed is average household income and what percentage of the income is consumed by electricity bill(s) on a comparative basis.  In San Francisco, 1.3% of household income (US$104,879) goes to pay for the comparable “average” electricity bill, whereas in Toronto (household income $75,270) it consumes over 2% of household income.  Household incomes in rural Ontario are lower (20% or more) than large urban centres such as Toronto, etc., as Statscan noted in an extensive report.  Hydro One’s billings in some cases, for their serviced areas, represents 5 to 10% of pre-tax household income.

The news release said if the Fair Hydro Plan hadn’t kicked in, rates per household were scheduled to increase 3.2% May 1st or about $33 annually for the “average” residential ratepayer.  That would have increased total costs of power (COP) by almost $200 million over 12 months for just residential ratepayers, and another $3/400 million (estimated) for the rest of the Class A and Class B ratepayers.  That money will now be part of the 30 year refinancing flowing from the “Fair Hydro Plan.”  Many of those “refinanced” assets will have reached their best before date so ratepayers will be paying for assets with little or no value requiring replacement.

Instead of the rate increase that would have occurred, the average household will see a monthly reduction of almost $22 ($263 a year) commencing July 1, 2017. The foregoing monthly decrease reflects the reduction in time-of-use (TOU) rates taking effect on that date based on the OEB’s standards of usage calculations.  The decrease includes prior announcements moving the OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) and the RRRP (Rural or Remote Rate Protection) allocation to the provincial treasury, instead of on the backs of ratepayers.  This was contained in the directive given to the OEB by Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault April 10, 2017.  The latter (OESP + RRRP) are estimated (by the writer) to have cost ratepayers about $5/600 million in 2016, and will increase as the OESP and the RRRP have both been expanded.  Those costs will become the responsibility of Ontario’s taxpayers.  Taxpayers will also bear the burden of the foregone revenue previously generated from the 8% provincial portion of the HST on electricity bills, removed as of January 1, 2017 the same time as “cap and trade” charges began.

More conflicting information in the OEB news release was the sentence: “With the new RPP prices that will start to apply on July 1, the total bill for the proxy customer described under the Fair Hydro Act, 2017 will be about $121. That is about $41 or 25% lower than it would have been without the following mitigation*”  That suggests the “proxy customer” was paying $162 per month, yet the “chart” referenced in the second paragraph contains what is shown as a “Median Ontario Utility (OEB regulated)” with a monthly bill (as of November 2016) of $130.46.  The OEB does not clarify what a “proxy customer” is and the “Fair Hydro Act 2017” contains no reference to a “proxy customer”!

With all this conflicting information from the OEB, it is hard to understand how they are fulfilling item number three in their “Mission” statement which reads: “Making the consumer’s own usage, and the broader energy issues, easier to understand”.

If the OEB was attempting to add clarity to the messages from Premier Wynne and the Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibeault about the Fair Hydro Plan, they have failed!

Parker Gallant

* “Mitigation” includes the OESP, RRRP, removal of the 8% provincial portion of the HST and the “refinancing of a portion of the costs of the Global Adjustment”

May showers Ontario electricity customers with records

With a forecast of more increases on the way …

Ontario news in May focused on record rainfalls in many areas of the province, records were being set elsewhere, too: in Ontario’s our electricity sector.

While one of those records occurred on May 27 when the 4,500 MW capacity of industrial wind turbines generated a record low of one (1) megawatt hour, there were others. They won’t make you proud.

Highest “B” Class GA per MWh ever @ $123.07/MWH – What the $123.07 represents is a Global Adjustment cost to all Class B ratepayers of 12.3 cents /kWh without including the HOEP (Hourly Ontario Electricity Price) at a time when Premier Wynne has told us her government is reducing our electricity bills by 25%* so the difference between what the cost of electricity was in May and other months and the TOU rates (to be announced) will be “kicked down the road” to be paid at a future date.

Highest “B” Class total dollar GA cost ever @ $1,013.9 million – The Class “B” ratepayers got stung badly in May 2017 as their portion of the GA reached record levels.

Highest OPA contracted GA monthly cost ever @ $838.3 million – The Ontario Power Authority (since merged with IESO) was created by Dwight Duncan when Minister of Energy and contracted for all new power contracts, including those above market ones for renewable energy (wind, solar and biomass).  Those contracted generation sources set a new record for contribution to the GA representing 73.2% of the total amount as noted under # 5. below.

 Lowest “B” Class consumption for May (in evidence) @ 8.310 TWh – It would appear that Class “B” ratepayers did their best to reduce consumption and based on data on the IESO website consumption levels set a record low in May 2017.

Highest overall total GA costs ever @ $1,144.5 million – The total GA costs for May 2017 for the combination of Class B and A ratepayers achieved this record level since the GA was first created.

Based on what happened in May, it would appear that holding future rate increases in the next four years to the inflation index will result in huge increases when the hold-back (financed by taxpayers via the OPG) is slated for recovery.

That could make the Debt Retirement Charge look like chump change!

—-

*  The OEB has not yet announced the TOU rates that will apply effective July 1, 2017 as a result of the passing of the “Fair Hydro Plan” Act in the Ontario Legislature.

 

Letter to Energy Minister Thibeault on rate increase application

 To: The Honourable Glenn Thibeault, Minister of Energy, Ontario

EB-2017-0049  Hydro One Rate Increase application

My views/thoughts and “What the OEB needs to consider”

  1. The OEB must consider the fact Hydro One has publicly declared1(a) their intent to pay 70% to 80% of their net income after taxes as dividends to shareholders.  No other publicly owned LDC pays out at that level.   Toronto Hydro has recently informed the City of Toronto they will reduce their dividend.(b)  It should be a point of the review by the OEB to limit the payout dividend rate by Hydro One to no more than the average of all of the other LDC dividend payout rates as the higher payout rate increases borrowing needs and resulting interest payments thereby increasing the need for the raising of distribution rates!
  2. The OEB is currently in the process of endeavouring to have the distribution rates become more of a “fixed” cost moving away from variable rates currently embedded within the rate application system. Hydro One’s application ventures away from that path even though they cite the move to fixed rates on their website!(a)  The OEB needs to re-establish their regulatory purpose.
  3. A review of the Yearbook of Distributors(a) filings on the OEB website comparing Hydro One’s filings for 2014 with 2015 (2016 filings not posted yet) indicates OMA costs fell by $103 million from 2014 to 2015 while depreciation increased by $14 million. One would suspect the reported drop in OMA costs would have caused a drop in Hydro One’s distribution costs but no reduction was forthcoming.  One must assume the increased depreciation was due to the OEB approving the completion of capital spending moving previously approved spending within a variance account to current rate recovery status.  Presumably due to the drop in OMA costs; Hydro One reported an after-tax profit in their distribution business of $257.3 million an increase of $68,1 million in fiscal 2015.
  4. We would note either Hydro One has been effective at getting ratepayers to conserve OR their out of line distribution rates have driven ratepaying households into “energy poverty”. The foregoing is evident in comparing the year ended December 31, 2015 with the comparable year ended December 31, 2016.  Distribution volumes fell 8.6% whereas Transmission volumes increased 1.7% signaling distribution rates are out of line with other LDC!  A further 1.1% reduction in distributed electricity is evident in reviewing the 1st Quarter of 2017 as compared to the 1st Quarter of 2016! NB:
  5. We would note that asset classifications of: “Goodwill” and “Intangible Assets” now cumulatively represent $676 million having increased from $400 million in 2012.  Those assets now represent 6.7% of Hydro One’s equity base and in line with the OEB’s annual setting of the ROE allowed by the LDC has the effect of inflation of Hydro One’s rate increases.  It is time to discount the $676 million when considering the current application.  Hydro One has inflated the goodwill (in particular) by enticing local councils to sell their LDC to Hydro One at prices that exceed normal acquisition activities in the private market.  That in turn impacts not only the ratepayers of the acquired LDC but also (via the inclusion of the goodwill) impact all other Hydro One ratepayers.
  6. Of note in respect to the OEB’s responsibility is the January 14, 2016 “Review of the Cost of Capital for Ontario’s Regulated Utilities”(a) wherein we find the following under the heading “Electricity Distributors” and labeled # 4) under “The differences between the OEB approved and the actual results can be attributed to the following:”: is the following: “4) The utility’s ability to manage its costs leading to under or over spending, and demand pressures! Ontario’s ratepayers should rightly expect the OEB to not only “attribute” differences between “approved and the actual results” for the foregoing reason but to also bear that in mind on a comparative basis with all LDC ensuring that “over spending” is not granted the freedom given to Hydro One in the past and in the future!  Costs for the same relative activities should be similar for all LDC!

 Parker Gallant

NB:  What that suggests is having the highest distribution rates during a time when the grid has a large surplus of electricity has two negative effects on ratepayers.  The first is that reducing consumption will have a detrimental impact on the HOEP driving it down further particularly during the shoulder seasons when demand is low and secondly the reduced revenue to Hydro One will cause them to apply for rate increases associated with the revenue drop thereby increasing distribution rates.  It is a downward spiral for ratepayers!  We would also point out that while Hydro One experienced an 8.6% drop in consumption the IESO report that consumption from 2015 to 2016 remained flat at 137 TWh.

 

 

1.(a) https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/investment-ideas/research-reports/hydro-one-will-be-a-dividend-stock-worth-considering/article26829880/

(b) https://ca.news.yahoo.com/toronto-hydro-cuts-citys-dividend-172637812.html

2.(a) http://www.hydroone.com/Norfolk/Pages/MovingtoFixedDistributionRates.aspx

3.(a) https://www.oeb.ca/utility-performance-and-monitoring/natural-gas-and-electricity-utility-yearbooks

6.(a)https://www.oeb.ca/oeb/_Documents/EB-2009-0084/OEB_Staff_Report_CostofCapital_Review_20160114.pdf

What good is wind power?

April brought high winds, record curtailment of wind power, and record low consumer demand. Wasted and exported power could have supplied half the homes in Ontario for a month.

The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) recently released their April 2017 Monthly Market Report with information on power consumption, market pricing, exports and a host of other data.  What the April report revealed was Ontario’s average demand was low — so low that when energy analyst Scott Luft searched IESO’s records, he found the total demand for the month was a record low. He searched back to 1994, which is as far back as available.

The total demand reported by IESO for April 2017 was 9,788,614 megawatt hours (MWh): Ontario ratepayers are conserving, or we have lost many industrial clients, or both!

Another significant fact appearing on IESO’s website is that April was a pretty good month for Class A ratepayers. They consumed 21.9% of Ontario’s demand, but were only charged 11.4% of the Global Adjustment (GA), $965.7 million.  Class B ratepayers (that’s you and me, and small businesses) were charged with paying 88.6% of the GA, but represented only 78.1% of Ontario’s demand.

Cost: $160 million for revenue of $14 million

The other disturbing fact about April was our net export sales of power. That totaled 1,311,120 MWh sold at an average price of $11.14/MWh for a revenue of just $14.6 million for power that cost ratepayers $160 million. The loss of $145.4 million for the month contributed to the GA total of $965.7 million.

That 1.3 million MWh of exported power — which you paid for — could have provided power for more than 1.7 million average Ontario households at a cost of 1.11cents/kWh or just $8.35 for the month! (Assuming average use of 750 kilowatt hours/kWh of electricity for the month.)

Reviewing the IESO stats provides relatively current information but it doesn’t disclose the source of the generation, or what caused the hourly Ontario electricity price (HOEP) to be so low. Did we, for example, have to curtail wind?

Wind power: wasted. Again.

For that information I depend on my friend Scott Luft, who keeps a monthly data file which includes not only actual industrial wind generation, but also an estimate (always conservative) of curtailed wind power which we pay for but isn’t delivered to the electricity grid.  For the month of April 2017, wind power generated and curtailed (521,056 MWh) was 1,374,873 MWh, for a cost of  approximately $182 million.

Curtailed wind in April was the highest on record since we began paying for it back in September 2013!

Here’s the fatal math:

net exports of 1.3 million MWh +

the 521,000 of curtailed wind = 18.7% of total Ontario demand.

Combined, the 1,832,176 MWh at the HOEP price of $11.14/MWh and 1.11 cents/kWh and what do you get? Enough power for more than 2.4 million average households (over 50% of all households in the province) with their average need for power at a cost of only $8.35 — for the whole month.

Why doesn’t Premier Wynne simply cancel the Green Energy Act and the contracts for projects not yet built?

Either math is a problem for the Premier or she doesn’t want to admit to another “mistake”!

Parker Gallant

May 28, 2017

*Please note the GA is the can Premier Wynne is “kicking down the road” under her “Fair Hydro Plan” where she will refinance assets the Province doesn’t own by getting Ontario Power Generation to accumulate the debt for the uncoming 25% reduction in our monthly bills for the next four years. Look forward to a reappearance of the DRC (Debt Retirement Charge) but on a bigger scale in 2021!

Free power for a month for 4,000 Ontario families? Here’s how we missed that

How many homes could have benefitted from the excess power Ontario wastes, or sells off cheap?

Recently reading comments on an article related to the cost of wind power generation in Ontario, I was struck by a simple message.

The commenter had obviously visited the IESO “Data Directory”  and reviewed one item labeled Intertie Flows; he observed that IESO had exported 3,000 MWh (megawatt hours) in an hour.   He then observed that the exported power could have supplied 4,000 homes with free power for a month.  (Here’s the math: 3,000 MWh equals 3 million kWh; the “average” Ontario household consumes 750 kWh per month, so divide the 3 million by 750 and the answer is 4,000.)

This simple fact has not been picked up on by the media and yet, it is an easy way to shed more light on Premier Wynne’s “mistake” and our rising electricity rates.   The commenter also suggests going further and examining a full quarter to determine how many Ontario households would benefit from no exported power.

Excess wind and solar costs us

To be fair, while Ontario has frequently exported 3,000 MWh, we also import electricity generated elsewhere presumably at similar market prices. Those net exports or net imports (very infrequent for Ontario) are contained in the Intertie* hourly reports posted by IESO. Let’s look at the first three months of the current year.

To begin, IESO’s Monthly Market Reports for January, February and March of 2017 indicate Ontario’s “average net intertie schedule” for the first quarter of the current year totaled 2,909,000 MWh. While that was happening, industrial-scale wind turbines were generating over 3.9 million MWh in the same three months, and were also required (by IESO) to curtail (and be paid for) another 536,000 MWh.  So, the wind power developers picked up about $620 million for those three months.

To make matters worse, the average of the Hourly Ontario Electricity Price (HOEP) received (via the traded market) over those three months was only $22.72 per MWh or 2.27 cents per kWh.   That means Ontario received $66.1 million for the sale of the 2.9 million “intertie” MWh, while the average cost paid by ratepayers at 11.1 cents/kWh means the cost of those exports was almost $324 million.

Reducing power bills by 25% is peanuts—kill the contracts

Let’s go farther: if 1.3 million (28% of all residential households) of Ontario’s average ratepayers could have purchased those net exported kWh over the three months at the same price they were sold for, the 2250 kWh they consumed would have cost them $51 instead of the $250 they were billed. That would have reduced their cost of electricity by 390%. That makes Premier Wynne’s supposed 25% electricity bill reduction pale in comparison.

If the Premier really wants to lessen the burden on future ratepayer bills she should immediately cancel any wind and solar contracts that have not broken ground, and suspend any all future procurement of these unreliable and intermittent generation sources.

 

*Intertie is defined as an interconnection permitting passage of current between two or more utility systems.

Wynne spin and the Fair Hydro Plan–Part 2

Part 1 in this series featured Premier Wynne’s assertion that “In the past few years we’ve invested more than $50 billion in electricity infrastructure — new dams in the south, new towers in the north, $13 billion to refurbish nuclear power plants alone and billions more to ensure new transmission and distribution lines everywhere.”

She is obviously spinning tales! Those “new dams in the south” are nowhere to be seen unless she is talking about “Big Becky” the tunnel under Niagara Falls at a cost of $1.5 billion ($600 million over budget) and the “new towers” in the north are presumably the industrial wind turbines (IWT) erected on the shores of Lake Superior where they despoil the landscape made famous by the Group of Seven.   And most of those “new transmission and distribution lines” were added to accommodate wind and solar developments, not to improve the existing electricity infrastructure!

The Premier’s spin about bringing bills down by 25% and her declaration “This is the largest cut to electricity rates in the history of Ontario” ignored the facts when she references “the elephant in the room” claiming it took “too long to come to grips with” how costs had increased.

The Premier claiming the “largest cut to electricity rates” should have admitted to how much rates have increased, but that admission would have failed to win back any of her former supporters. The “elephant” was the 138% increase Ontario’s average residential ratepayer has seen in time-of-use rates since May 1, 2008 in just the raw commodity (electricity) cost — that increased from $420 a year to $1,002.   The $582.00 increase is exclusive of the provincial portion (8%) of the HST!  The cost to small and medium-sized businesses was naturally a lot worse, as their consumption is much higher.

The Premier has already removed the provincial tax portion on out bills so the remaining reduction will reduce the average residential bill by 17% or $170 on the commodity cost for a monthly drop of $14. That’s almost the same amount as the Wynne government suggests the “cap and trade” tax will cost us!

How did we get to a 138% increase?

Let’s look at where that 138% increase came from. Based on the Ontario Energy Board’s Yearbook of Distributors for 2008* and 2015** the “cost of power” increased from $9.031 billion to $13.971 billion, an increase of $4.940 billion despite a reduction in consumption of 4.2 terawatts (enough to supply 465,000 average households).  As well, “average” consumption fell while the number of customers increased by 362,000!

That additional annual cost for less power of $4.940 billion was the product of the GEA passage in early 2009 which resulted in contracted developers being paid above market prices for intermittent, unreliable wind and solar generation requiring back-up from new gas plants.

A prior article dealing with 2016 costs for wind, solar, gas and conservation was based on information from IESO that allowed me to estimate an annual cost of $4.123 billion made up of: wind-$1.566 billion, solar-$1.493 billion, gas back-up-$734 million and conservation-$300 million.  Not included was an estimate for the low-income support program or OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) which was included in the recent budget for the 2016/2017 year as $400 million.  Also not included are the costs of spilled hydro and steamed-off nuclear (about 5 TWh or enough to power 550,000 average households) which would add another $300 million bringing the estimate to $4.823 billion and close to the 2008/2015 increase of $4.940 in the commodity cost***.

The next article, Part 3 in this series, will examine Finance Minister, Sousa’s recent budget. We will do our best to identify the budgeted costs of the “Fair Hydro Plan” as they make their appearance in the forecasts.   Just how much are the Premier Wynne led government kicking “down the road” for future generations to pay?

 

* Note that both the cost of power and the consumption information in the OEB’s Yearbook do not include: First Nation Distributors, Hydro One Remotes, and Direct Connections to the Transmission Grid

** The OEB has not yet posted the 2016 information.

*** The Yearbook for the 2008/2015 comparison indicates distribution costs increased $767 million in this time frame which was a 21.6% increase and slightly higher than the cost of living increases.

Wynne spin and the “Fair Hydro Plan”

Re-reading Premier Wynne’s statement of March 2, 2017 on her announcement of Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan, one is struck by the avoidance of the truth, the sudden empathy displayed and her blatant claims.   As one example, she suddenly noticed “Electricity is not a frill — it’s an essential part of our daily lives.”

The Premier has obviously forgotten her party clearly treated it as a “frill” by taking advice from environmentalists who persuaded her (and predecessor Dalton McGuinty) that industrial wind turbines (IWT) and solar panels could easily replace the power generated by coal plants.  They were so taken by those claims the energy minister didn’t bother to do a cost-benefit analysis as noted by Ontario’s Auditor General (AG).  They also charged ahead installing “smart meters” at a cost of $2 billion (AG report) and instructed the OPA (Ontario Power Authority) to acquire 10,500 MW of renewable energy principally in the form of IWT and solar panels.

The year prior (2008) to the creation of the Green Energy Act, Ontario’s coal generation plants produced 23.2 TWh (terawatts) or enough electricity to supply 2.4 million (55%) average households .  In 2016 wind and solar* collectively and intermittently generated 14.2 TWh — 9 TWh less than coal plants generated in 2008.   The collective cost of wind and solar and their back-up (gas) in 2016 was approximately $3.8 billion or 27 cents per kilowatt (kWh,) whereas the cost per kWh of coal power generated in 2008 was 5.5 cents/kWh (OPG annual report).

Renewables: five times more costly

In short, the collective cost of electricity supplied by renewables and their back-up (gas) to replace coal generation turned out to be five times more which clearly raised the cost of the “frill,” but our Premier(s) and Energy Ministers were apparently unaware** costs were rising to that extent.

On the latter point the Premier in her statement claims: “But it’s not as if I’ve been unaware of the challenge. I have seen the rising rates. My family and I get a bill like anyone else.”  Premier Wynne’s salary in 2016 was $208,974.00 and in 2006 was $108,031.00 so she has seen a pay increase of 92% in 10 years.  It’s doubtful she was impacted by the $536,84 average annual increase she experienced in her cost of electricity as it represents less than one day’s pay at her current compensation level.

The Premier’s statement blames rate increases on past governments and claims since the Liberals regained power in 2003 they had to engage in “fixing a system that had been structured unwisely”.  Naturally, the 2003 blackout (caused by a fault in Northern Ohio) is blamed for the upgrade by the Premier to obscure their contracting of unreliable and intermittent wind and solar generation at above market prices.  The Premier now claims the “electricity grid” they created “is second to none.” And yet, the AG noted in  her December 2015 annual report that power outages increased 24% and lasted 30% longer!

Later in her statement the Premier notes “But the way we financed those investments was a mistake.”  The disturbing part of the statement about “those investments”, was Premier Wynne’s assertion “In the past few years we’ve invested more than $50 billion in electricity infrastructure — new dams in the south, new towers in the north, $13 billion to refurbish nuclear power plants alone and billions more to ensure new transmission and distribution lines everywhere.”

That part of the Premier’s spin will form the basis of Part 2, in this series, tomorrow.

 

* Wind and solar generation are classified as “base-load” generation whereas coal was strictly used for “peaking” (high demand periods) purposes.

** The writer has consistently sent Premier Wynne and her predecessor along with the various Energy Ministers a link to every article written no matter where it appeared.