Hydro One and a little distributor in Niagara On The Lake have different ways of doing business … and serving customers
February 20, 2018
It is interesting to compare a relatively small Ontario-based local electricity distribution company (LDC) against a much larger one such as Hydro One. If you do, you get some idea of what’s behind rate-paying electricity customers concerns.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro (NOTL) had the gall recently to brazenly ask, Are we hypocrites? They asked that question because they installed 70 kW of solar panels on the roof of their building and it will, at 15% generation capacity, produce revenue of about $21,400 annually. Their news release made this bold statement:
“A reasonable question to ask is whether the Board of NOTL Energy can be considered hypocrites for accepting a FIT contract while they publicly called for the cancellation of the FIT and MicroFIT programs?
“The short answer is, yes, we are hypocrites.”
Now, contrast NOTL’s honesty with Hydro One and their efforts to convince U.S. electricity regulators they are deserving of acquiring Avista. It’s a strange path Hydro One is taking. Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt recently traveled to Juneau, Alaska to plea for approval in respect to Avista’s ownership of Alaska Electric Light & Power Company. Their appeal included a 444-page submission to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, one of several required to convince regulators in four western states that the takeover of Avista would not negatively affect customers.
So it wasn’t a private island in the Caribbean Schmidt traveled to, but hopefully Ontario ratepayers won’t be picking up the tab for Schmidt et al in their efforts to win approval for Hydro One’s Avista takeover.
But we are paying: Hydro One’s December 31, 2017 Financial Statement was released February 13, 2018 and had an unusual “after tax” income claim of $36 million on page 34 referenced as: “Costs related to acquisition of Avista Corporation”. Accounting rules allow Hydro One to claim expenditures related to Schmidt’s travel costs along with consultant and legal fees plus prep time for submissions made to the regulators in the states where Avista operates. As a result, Hydro One reported “Adjusted Net Income” of $694 million versus $721 million in 2016. Putting aside the $36 million, net income was actually down $63 million, or 8.7%.
Also, as a result of the dividend increase announced in May 2017 (quarterly at 22 cents per share), the payout of the 4th Quarter net income of $155 million (net of the above Avista expenditures of $36 million) resulted in a payout ratio of 89% (in excess of the maximum of 80% announced) of quarterly income — that doesn’t leave much for the oft-touted reinvestment in infrastructure.
Also evident in the Financial Statement is the fact the Ontario Provincial Government received $150 million less by way of dividend payments in 2017 compared to 2016. That $150 million could have covered interest payments on over $4 billion of the provincial debt!
An interesting feature in Hydro One’s annual report is the first 15 pages are devoted to telling the reader how wonderful the company is and how much progress has been achieved. For example is the claim of customer satisfaction climbing to 71%. It is probably fair to assume this “climb” occurred after the launch of the “Fair Hydro Plan” which kicked up to 31% of “electricity costs” down the road, but promised electricity customers a 25% chop off their bills right now. As a de facto monopoly, perhaps 71% customer satisfaction is somehow good? Forgotten in the bragging process is the fact Hydro One are spending $15 million to give their customers prettier bills containing less information. The $15 million spend is included in one of several outstanding rate application increases filed with the Ontario Energy Board.
So brave little Niagara On the Lake Hydro will increase spending and increase revenues (slightly) meaning less pressure on increased delivery rates, but Hydro One spends on frills that will increase pressure on their clients’ delivery rates.
I will let the reader decide which of the two local distribution companies is the true hypocrite.