Hydro One gives the finger to Ontario Auditor General

Hydro One execs implemented only 17% of the Auditor General’s recommendations. She noticed…

The Ontario Auditor General released the 2017 Annual Report and included were the “Follow-up Reports on 2015 Annual Report Value-for-Money Audits (Summary)”.  Two of those (1.06 and 3.04) related to Hydro One audits with both titled “Management of Electricity Transmission and Distribution Assets”.

The two reports note the “Building Ontario Up Act, 2015 (ACT)”* removed the AG’s ability to conduct “value-for-money audits”.  The Act partially privatized Hydro One apparently to allow funds raised from the sale to be spent on “infrastructure”; however, several reports by economists and the AG’s office have either implied or suggested it was done in order to allow the Ontario government to claim they balanced the books.

Standing Committee Follow-up

Leaving that aside, it is worth noting the Standing Committee’s follow-up report (3.04) indicates they made 10 recommendations to Hydro One, none of which were shown to be implemented by them.   The follow-up report noted “Without receiving further details from Hydro One to verify and support the information in its update, our Office was only able to assess and report on the status of some, but not all, of our recommendations (see Section 1.06) and was not able to assess and report on the status of any of the Committee’s recommendations.” 

The report went on to say: “We conducted assurance work between April 1, 2017 and July 26, 2017. To meet new Canadian auditing standards, we requested Hydro One’s CEO and/or Vice President to sign a management rep­resentation letter, dated September 1, 2017, at the completion of our work. The purpose of the letter was to obtain written representation from Hydro One that it had provided us with a complete update of the status of the recommendations made in the original audit two years ago.

On August 29, 2017, Hydro One responded that it declined to sign this letter or any similar document. Hydro One indicate that since it ceased to be an agency of the Crown fol­lowing passage of the Building Ontario Up Act, 2015, it was not required to participate in this follow-up, and it was not appropriate for it to sign the letter.”

Auditor General Follow-up

The AG’s 2015 Hydro One, “value-for-money report” had 17 Recommendations and 36 specific recommended actions attached to those recommendations. As was the case with the recommendations made by the Standing Committee, Hydro One basically told the AG to get stuffed, although the follow-up report (1.06) did note: “As an act of good faith and courtesy, Hydro One nevertheless sent us a document on April 26, 2017, presenting actions it had taken to respond to our recommenda­tions (following our formal request in late Janu­ary 2017 for it to report back to us). However, as explained in more detail in the following section, it declined to provide us with any more details beside this document.” 

Few recommendations implemented

With the limited information provided and other evidence obtained from the Hydro One documents filed with the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for several rate increase requests (still under review by the OEB), the AG was able to confirm four out of the 36 recommended actions were fully implemented and two were in process for implementation. They were also able to confirm that four actions “will not be implemented”! As a result, only 17% of the AG’s recommended actions can be classified as accepted and executed by Hydro One.

It appears Hydro One’s executive are treating Bonnie Lysyk, the Ontario Auditor General, in a similar fashion as the previous Minister of Energy, Bob Chiarelli did when he dismissed her “smart meter” report by suggesting she didn’t understand the electricity system. (“The electricity system is very complex, it’s very difficult to understand,” Chiarelli said.)

Coincidentally, one of the issues in the report that elicited the foregoing response from Minister Chiarelli is one the AG raised in respect to Hydro One as “Recommendation # 14” aimed at reducing their lengthy power outages (compared to all other Ontario based local distribution companies [LDC]) which stated: “To lower its repair costs and improve customer service relating to power outages through more accurate and timely dispatches of its repair crews, Hydro One should develop a plan and timetable for using its existing smart meter capability to pinpoint the loca­tion of customers with power outages.” That recommendation has now been classified as “No longer Applicable” and no apparent resolution is sought when viewing the notes in Hydro One’s 2016 annual report.

Their response to Recommendation # 14 may have been cloaked in anger as the AG in the 2015 report noted the 1.2 million “smart meters” acquired by Hydro One cost “$660 million yet it did not implement the related software and capabilities to improve its response times to power outages. Hydro One used smart meters predominantly for billing purposes, but not for the purpose of remotely identifying the location of power outages in the distribution system before a customer calls to report the outage. The $660 million expenditure indicates an average cost of $550.00 per “smart meter” and, as many Hydro One ratepayers learned, despite their average cost being twice that of other LDC they often generated billing errors and about 150,000 of them still require manual readings!

Transparency? Doesn’t apply to us

One has to think that because Hydro One’s executives know they are a quasi private/public monopoly, they don’t have to follow the regulations and demonstrate the transparency required of fullly publicly owned entities, and they can simply ignore the AG’s and the Standing Committee’s recommendations and requests. Their monopolized clients are all of the generators, municipal and privately owned LDC and 1.3 million ratepayers who have no choice as to who will enable them to keep their lights on!

Hydro One’s apparent arrogance should be worrying to all ratepayers no matter if they are Hydro One clients or not.

We can only hope the Ontario Energy Board will finally use their regulatory authority when faced with approving any rate increase requests now before them from Hydro One!

Parker Gallant,

December 7, 2017

 

* In the 12 years from 2004 through to 2015 Hydro One paid $3.375 billion in dividends to the Province of Ontario.

Advertisements

Boldface type on hydro bills doesn’t make statements true

 

The baby’s not smiling… he can see the future

If you just received your monthly electricity bill from Hydro One (presumably all local distribution companies will have the same message), you will be drawn to the boldface type declaring:  “Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan saved you $XX.XX on your bill. This amount includes the 8% Provincial Rebate.”

The next paragraph elaborates on that message by telling you “Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan substantially lowers electricity bills for typical residential consumers.  This includes the eight percent rebate introduced in January 2017 and builds on previous initiatives to deliver broad-based relief on all electricity bills.” (“Previous initiatives”? Huh?)

Also included with your bill is a leaflet (English on one side and French on the other) expanding on the wonders of the Fair Hydro Plan with a picture of a happy smiling family (mom and dad but not the one-year-old in mom’s lap) viewing a laptop computer. Right above the picture is a white on black square with the words “Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan Bringing electricity bills down”.

The baby is right not to smile: the information on the bill and insert contain only selective facts.*

What’s missing: 

Missing on the bill and the brochure was an explanation on why our cost of electricity climbed well over 100% due to the Green Energy and Green Economy Act which handed out long-term, above market contracts for intermittent and unreliable wind and solar generation.

Missing was information about the cost of moving two gas plants to save Liberal seats in Oakville and Mississauga.

Missing was any information about why we pay gas plant generators hundreds of millions of dollars to sit idle to back up intermittent and unreliable wind and solar generation.

Missing was any mention about the Global Adjustment Mechanism (GA) forcing Ontario to export surplus generation to NY and Michigan for pennies on the dollar causing ratepayers to pick up hundreds of millions of missing dollars to cover the cost of surplus generation.

Missing was any mention of the hundreds of millions of dollars the curtailment of wind generation, steaming-off of nuclear or spilling of hydro costs ratepayers.

Missing is any mention of the costs of hundreds of millions of dollars to annually pay for discounts for LED lights, an energy-efficient furnace or a new energy-efficient refrigerator, etc., etc.

Missing was any mention of the hundreds of thousands of families placed in “energy poverty” who have had to choose to either buy food or pay their hydro bills.

Missing is any claim to the harm caused to humans and nature by the thousands of unreliable, intermittent wind turbines erected or any mention about how their installation is now affecting water aquifers in certain parts of the province.

Fairness is in the eye of the beholder and the current claim that the government is “Bringing electricity bills down” should be expanded to state what most Ontarians know: “Bringing electricity bills down” today, will cause them to rocket upwards in the near future due to our complete mismanagement of the energy portfolio.

(C) Parker Gallant

November 18, 2017

 

* Selective facts are “true” facts that only tell us part of the story.

 

 

 

 

 

Hydro One: the news is bad, bad and even worse

Hydro One’s litany of bad news

Shortly after Hydro One’s CEO Mayo Schmidt announced in July that Hydro One would acquire Avista Corporation of Spokane, Washington, it’s been a litany of bad news for him and the shareholders.

Bad News # 1.

The worst bad news was a recent one by the OEB in respect to the allocation of a large part of Hydro One’s rate increase request, associated with deferred income tax relative to their transmission business.   The note in their recently released 3rd Quarter report states: “On November 9, 2017, the OEB issued a Decision and Order that modified the portion of the tax savings that should be shared with ratepayers. This proposed methodology would result in an impairment of Hydro One Networks’ transmission deferred income tax regulatory asset of up to approximately $515 million. If the OEB were to apply the same methodology for sharing in Hydro One Networks’ 2018-2022 distribution rates, for which a decision is currently outstanding, it would result in an impairment of Hydro One Networks’ distribution deferred income tax regulatory asset of up to approximately $370 million.”

Hydro One was not pleased and as a result are appealing the ruling by the OEB to the Ontario Court of Appeals. They hope the decision will result in a 100% benefit for the shareholders and nothing for the ratepayers instead of the 29% allocated by the OEB.

Bad News # 2. and # 3.

Another bit of recent bad news was related to the ruling of the Alaskan regulators who  rejected the acquisition of Alaska Electric Light and Power Company (an Avista subsidiary) by Hydro One.  Interestingly enough, the rejection came even though Hydro One have guaranteed the regulators (via the Avista Corporation’s application to allow the takeover) a 10-year rate reduction which is estimated to reduce Avista’s revenue by US$31 million.

Bad News # 4.

Almost six months ago, Hydro One submitted a rate application to the OEB that, if fully granted, would increase average residential distribution rates by $141 annually. This was right in the midst of all the chatter about the Fair Hydro Plan the Ontario government was promoting.  When confronted with questions related to that application, the Premier declared to the Elliot Lake Standard: “It’s the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) that sets the rates. The Ontario Energy Board sometimes accepts increases and sometimes they don’t.”  Most ratepayers know that setting rate increases has become the purview of the Minister of Energy and the Premier who decreed rates would be reduced by 25% via the Fair Hydro Act so the claim was disingenuous.  Nevertheless, perhaps the OEB took a signal from the Premier’s message?  What they did was schedule a series of open-house meetings at nine locations in the province.  One should suspect those attending the meetings were not there to support the rate increases!  The OEB is still weighing the Hydro One submission and what they heard at the community events.

Bad News # 5.

Yet another piece of recent bad news came from Spokane, Washington when Avista announced their 3rd Quarter earnings were down 63% from US$12.2million to US$4.5million of the comparable 2016 Quarter. (Could someone please tell me why Hydro One is buying Avista Corp. and paying [US $5.3 million] 45 times current earnings, suggesting there are synergies that will result in savings and benefits to both sets of ratepayers separated by 3,687 km of driving miles?)

Bad News # 6.

Back in August 2016 the City of Orillia agreed to sell Orillia Power Distribution for $26.3 million (30 times 2015 earnings) and Hydro One dutifully submitted the agreement to the OEB for approval. Shortly after Hydro One announced their planned purchase of Avista, the OEB stated “In an order dated July 27, the board said it had determined “that the hearing of this application will be adjourned until the OEB renders its decision on Hydro One’s distribution rate application.”  Energy board staff found that rates proposed for previously acquired utilities in Hydro One’s distribution rate application

“suggest large distribution rate increases for some customers” in future.”  Hydro One resubmitted the application and the OEB’s response was: “On October 24, 2017, the OEB issued a Procedural Order in response to Hydro One’s Motion to Review and Vary, with key dates for filing additional materials on the Motion, hearing date, and filing of reply submissions.”

 Bad News # 7

On November 10, 2017 Hydro One released their 3rd Quarter results: they were disappointing, with distributed power dropping by 395 GWh (gigawatt hours) or 6% compared to the same quarter in 2016. That reflected itself in a revenue drop of 3.7% or $14 million (net of cost of power) despite additional revenue coming from OEB approved rate increases.  The overall drop in consumption in the province also reflected itself in a significant drop in average peak demand (down 9.3%) which would have resulted in a revenue drop if not for the OEB’s approval of transmission rate increases, pushing revenue up by $27 million.

The end result was a $15 million (-6.3%) drop in net income despite the year over year rate increases for both the distribution and transmission businesses. Interestingly Hydro One blamed “milder weather” as the cause of the consumption and peak demand drops whereas Environment Canada reported “From June 20 to July 31, Toronto hit 30 degrees just seven times, compared with 24 days in 2016” but perhaps “milder weather” insofar as Hydro One is concerned references cooler weather or simply reduced consumption due to the cost burden on ratepayers?

 Perhaps the stream of bad news that Hydro One is currently suffering from will allow the company’s executives time to reflect on the decade of bad news Ontario’s ratepayers have experienced as a result of their inability to keep our rates from climbing at a multiple of the cost of living.

Parker Gallant,

November 14, 2017

 

Hydro One and the OEB Yearbook: more fun with figures

The OEB’s just released Yearbook results in questions about the “facts”

Utility performance and monitoring

Photo: Ontario Energy Board

Since embarking on my objective look at the Ontario electricity sector several years ago, one of the events I look forward to is the posting of the Yearbook of Distributors on the OEB’s (Ontario Energy Board) website.  In the current edition (2016) of the Yearbook’s 142 pages you can find almost everything you could think of in respect to information of interest on the 73 LDCs (local distribution companies) that were operating in the province.  From the largest LDCs (Hydro One, Toronto Hydro, etc.) to the smallest (Chapleau PUC, Hydro 2000, etc.) the information is vast!

The filing for the year ended December 31, 2016 was published August 17, 2017. This year’s report raised issues as some of the format had changed and past information (back as far as 2012) had been amended. Those amendments applied mainly to prior reports of Hydro One.

Hydro One: increased Ontario Coverage?

An oddity I missed in reviewing the 2015 Yearbook related to “Rural Service Area” for Hydro One but thankfully, in an exchange with my friend Scott Luft, he pointed out to me their service area had jumped from 2014 to 2015 by over 310,000 sq. km from 650,000 sq km to 961,123 sq. km.  While 677 sq. km were “urban,”* the balance were rural.  What that suggests is that Hydro One’s distribution coverage of the province supposedly jumped from 65% of the total area of Ontario to over 96% of the geographic area of the province.   If one goes to the Hydro One website however they claim “We distribute electricity to over 1.3 million residential and business customers covering approximately 75 per cent of the geographic area of Ontario.” A query to Hydro One about the big jump in coverage to Hydro One made over a month ago remains unanswered!  It would appear that despite a “certified for completeness and accuracy” sign-off by a Hydro One “executive signing officer” (the OEB told me all LDCs must sign off), when the information was submitted to the OEB certain information may not be accurate!  The foregoing will probably remind people of Hydro One’s claim of “billing accuracy” a few years ago.

So, what is Hydro One’s actual Ontario coverage?

Hydro One and the missing kilowatts

One of the principal amendments was in respect to “Total kWh Supplied” (including line losses) which jumped by 8.4% (10,464,000 MWh/megawatt hours) from 2015 to 2016, or enough to supply 1.2 million average households.

When I queried the OEB about the jump I was provided with the answer that Hydro One’s “metric on page 3 has been updated to reflect Hydro One’s 2012 to 2015 data revisions for kWh delivered to all customers” and was described under “note iii on page 3 of the Yearbook.”   Note iii stated, “This metric represents the total kWh of electricity delivered to all customers in the distributor’s licensed service area and to any embedded distributors. Past figures have been updated to reflect distributor data revisions.” It appears to have only applied to Hydro One! So how could the OEB and the distributor (Hydro One) miss reporting on such a significant amount of kWh supplied to their customers? This issue is still being explored with the OEB! On page 69 of the Yearbook Hydro One reports 36,122,262,456 kWh were supplied to its customers.   On page 81 (a new section) where they report the kWh delivered to “Residential Customers,” “General Service Customers” (large and small) and “Sub Transmission Customers” (“embedded distributors” referenced in the OEB’s response) and “Large Users” generally referred to as Class A (Hydro One claim zero Class A customers) they report only 21,444,528,579 kWh were metered (billed) to their customers.

Further, if one reviews the Hydro One Annual Report for 2016 they claim (page 2) total electricity distributed was 26,289 GWh or 26,289,000,000 kWh. So that begs the question — which is it?

Based on the foregoing puzzling facts, it is impossible as one example, to determine what the average distribution rate is by classification of ratepayer yet data provided should logically allow for that to happen.

Hydro One reports $183 million in “Other Income”

This example is related to the income statement filed by Hydro One (page 33 in the Yearbook) which contains a claim they generated “Other Income” in the amount of $183 million. Yet a reference to their audited financial statement for the year ended December 31, 2016 contains no claim related to that heading.

The query to what that was got the following answer from Hydro One:

“Starting in 2016, the OEB restated how the Other Income (Loss) item is reported in their Yearbook. In 2016, the OEB subtracts an accounting item – the Standard Supply Service Admin Revenue – from the Power and Distribution Revenue amount. SSS Admin Revenue is an OEB-set administrative fee paid by customers who purchase electricity directly from their local utility. This charge is also deducted from the revenue requirement in the derivation of rates revenue requirement. To balance, the SSS Admin Revenue is then added back into Other Income (Loss) by the OEB. There are two other accounting items in 2016 for Other Income (Loss): Total Operating Revenues and Other Incomes/Deductions, with the sum of these three adding up to $183M.”

So, the sudden appearance of $183 million under the heading “Other Income” was blamed on the accounting standards of the OEB. That led me to believe it was perhaps related to revenue paid to “embedded” generation from wind, solar, etc., less the cost of billed kWh for consumption by those same ratepayers. When I made the inquiry to the OEB along those lines I brought out the fact that the numbers posted in the Yearbook for Hydro One related to the posted amount for the Cost of Power was $3,292 billion, but on Hydro One’s annual statement it was $3,427 billion or a difference of $135 million.

The OEB’s response was:

“The netting of the revenue/costs is not associated with embedded generation. The OEB revised the individual trial balance accounts that are aggregated to obtain the “Power and Distribution Revenue” and “Other Income” line item values reported in the 2016 Yearbook in order to improve the accuracy. Please refer to Glossary on page 135 of the 2016 Yearbook for a listing of the accounts that are aggregated for the line items reported in the 2016 Yearbook and the OEB’s Accounting Procedures Handbook for details on the individual uniform system of accounts (USoA). As a result of this change, the $183.2 million shown in “Other Income” includes $125 million that Hydro One reported in Account 4245, Government and Other Assistance Directly Credited to Income. The $125 million is related to Rural or Remote Electricity Rate Protection (RRRP)** revenues. The net effect of the change is zero as the increase in “Other Income” is offset by a decrease in ‘Power and Distribution Revenue.’ The change in the account aggregation and reporting format has no bearing or relationship to changes in the Hydro One’s reported consumption data.”

It appears the accounting tricks the Premier Wynne led government concocted under the “Fair Hydro Act” highlighted by the Auditor General may have permeated other parts of the Energy portfolio including either or both of the OEB or Hydro One. All indications are, the new information blurs any transparency it was meant to create.

Parker Gallant,

* I have criticized Hydro One in the past for not claiming they service urban communities as they provide power to small cities (e.g., Trenton) and numerous towns that would be considered “urban” but never claimed they did.

** The Fair Hydro Act moved the costs of the RRRP to taxpayers as it principally supports indigenous communities.

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.

 

Hydro One’s shopping list: new Smart Meters”!

Ka-ching! And, Hydro One is considering asking you to pay for electricity up-front …

Electricity: soon to be a luxury in Ontario? More families choose between heat, or eat

It was just a couple of years ago when then Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin issued his damning report about Hydro One’s billing errors. As quoted by the Globe and Mail, “Hydro One issued faulty bills to more than 100,000 customers, lied to the government and regulators in a bid to cover up the problem, then spent $88.3-million in public funds to repair the damage.”

The Office of the Ombudsman cannot now report on Hydro One due to partial privatization, so ratepayers obtaining their electricity from them should be prepared for this monopoly to do whatever it wants.

Prior to the release of the Ombudsman’s report the OEB said this:  “On March 26, 2015, the OEB issued a Decision and Order to amend Hydro One’s distribution license to include an exemption from the requirement to apply TOU pricing to approximately 170,000 Regulated Price Plan customers that are outside the smart meter telecommunications infrastructure. The exemption expires December 31, 2019.”

Those 170,000 RRP customers represented about 14% of Hydro One’s customer base. In December of 2015 the Ontario Auditor General in her annual report noted: “Hydro One installed 1.2 million smart meters on its distribution system at a cost of $660 million”. The math on that indicates a probable cost per meter of $550 each, including the 170,000 meters that aren’t working as they should. Now, Hydro One is back in front of the OEB seeking rate increases that will impact their ratepayers for the next five years. They are submitting thousands of pages of documents to justify their needs to increase distribution rates by 1.56cents/kWh for their rate-paying clients.

Looking at one of the Hydro One application documents, you find the following (untenable) claim related to smart meters: “There is a significant increase in projected spending in 2022, which reflects the anticipated commencement of smart meter replacement, as the current population of smart meters approach end of service life.”

This should alarm Hydro One customers—should we once again be concerned about billing problems? Will the replacements once again fall short of being able to communicate data?

Ontario’s record with smart meters is not stellar. A report issued in August 2016 by The Brattle Group report notes: “Besides Italy, Ontario is the only region in the world to roll-out smart meters to all its residential customers and to deploy TOU rates for generation charges to all customers who stay with regulated supply.” The old mechanical meters were much cheaper and longer lasting as an article from 2010 states: “Itron, which formerly produced mechanical meters and now makes smart meters, said that older instruments generally have a lifespan of about 30 years before they start to slow down.”

Another disturbing issue is found on page 2038 in yet another of the documents submitted for the rate increase discloses Hydro One’s plans when it comes to ratepayers who are slow to pay their bills:

“One method of enabling customer control of their electricity consumptions, while in arrears condition, and minimizing Hydro One Network’s financial risk, is through the use of pre-paid meters. Pre-paid meters are a type of energy meter that requires users to pay for energy before using it. This is done via a smartcard, token or key that can be ‘topped up’ at a corner shop, via a smartphone application or online. For customers who are high collection risk, the financial risk will be minimized by rolling out this type of meter. With a pre-paid meter, electricity is paid up-front. Once the pre-paid amount is used up, power is cut-off until the customer is able to load the meter with more credits.”

 If the OEB backs off on their muscle flexing and grants Hydro One’s wishes, ratepayers should expect they will have to prepay their anticipated electricity usage or have their power cut off.

Sad times for Ontario as power becomes a luxury, and many more households face the “heat or eat” dilemma!

 

The OEB flexes its muscles … but Hydro One keeps asking for more

Hydro One asks for more money. Sometimes, the OEB says no. Sometimes.

The Ontario Energy Board said NO to Hydro One’s request for $30 million, essentially for executive salaries — but another application for a rate increase is coming

Over the past several years, the rate applications submitted to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) by Hydro One generally got the rubber stamp of approval despite the obvious — their distribution rates were growing at multiples of other distributors and their transmission rates also grew well past inflation rates.

The latter were/are not comparable as Hydro One has a transmission monopoly and that was entirely secured when they purchased Great Lakes Power in late 2016 for $373 million.  The purchase was blessed by the OEB even though it basically gave Hydro One control of over 98% of all the transmission lines in the province.  Prior to the purchase of Great Lakes Power, Hydro One had been snapping up small local distribution companies (LDC) and this writer has been critical of that for some time as outlined here and here.

Hydro One’s most recent attempt to acquire one of Ontario’s smaller LDCs was put on hold, however, by the OEB less than two weeks after the announcement of their plan to acquire Avista Corp. of Spokane, Washington for C$6.7 billion. The OEB’s approval related to the purchase of Orillia Power Distribution by Hydro One was held in abeyance because, the OEB’s “board staff found that rates proposed for previously acquired utilities in Hydro One’s distribution rate application suggest large distribution rate increases for some customers in future.”  Funnily enough, that is what I predicted in 2013 when Hydro One was busy scooping up several small LDCs.

The most recent event when the OEB flexed its muscles was in respect to the application from Hydro One asking for increased rates for their transmission monopoly. The OEB basically told Hydro One they would not be able to allocate $30 million in additional administrative costs to their rate increase application over the next two years.  The $30 million, as the OEB stated, was reflective of “hydro customers gain little from the jump in executive salaries that were largely generated by the IPO. The total corporate management costs for Hydro One in 2014 of about $5.5 million are set to increase to $22.1 million in 2018”.

While the two recent decisions by the OEB are encouraging, the worrying one for Hydro One’s ratepayers is the 2018-2022 Distribution Rate Application (OEB File No. EB-2017-0049). This particular application seeks rate increases totaling $11.75 per month or $141.00 annually for an “average” ratepayer consuming 9,000 kWh. It represents an increase of 1.56 cents/kWh!

The OEB’s 2016 Yearbook of Distributors notes Hydro One’s distribution in 2016 was 36,122,262,000 kWh, so the 1.56cents/kWh is an increase in revenue in excess of $565 million annually. If it’s only the 26,289,000,000 kWh that Hydro One report as their distribution total in their annual report, it will amount to increased annual revenues of $411 million. It it’s the former, it represents an increase in distribution revenue of 45% and if the latter, a 33% increased based on the net distribution income (deducting the cost of power) for 2016.   Either one will represent a multiple of the inflation rate.  And, either of those spectacular increases would go a long way to help Hydro One pay for the above market price they have agreed to pay for the acquisition of Avista!

One certainly hopes the OEB will continue to flex their muscles in respect to Hydro One and ensure they are not allowed to extract another $565 million annually from ratepayers’ pockets just so they can pay obscene executive salaries and dividends to Avista shareholders.

In the meantime, many Hydro One households in Ontario continue to have to choose between paying their hydro bill or putting food on the table.