New info: energy poverty still deep in Ontario

It apparently took the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) a long time to put together the report on the low-income energy assistance program (LEAP) as the 2016 report was not posted until January 11, 2018.

(It was late:  OEB reporting regulations state “A distributor shall provide in the form and manner required by the Board, annually, by April 30, the following information related to the provision of LEAP emergency financial assistance in the preceding calendar year.”)

Actually, I looked for the reports for both the LEAP program and the OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) back in mid-December 2017, and still have not received a response.  Busy times at the OEB? Or is the release of the OESP report being delayed for some reason?

The LEAP report is just what we have come to expect. The leader by a wide margin in terms of the program, was Hydro One, which represented 52.4% of all recipients, despite only having about 25% of all residential ratepayers as clients. The dollar values from Hydro One also represented 57.4% of total available funds and 60.7% of total grants disbursed.   Hydro One’s budget was only $1,845,000 (41% of the CEO’s annual remuneration), but it had to be supplemented via donations of $2,250,000 from numerous corporate donors and social agencies.

Thirty-nine (39) LDC depleted their funds in 2016 and 12 more had less than the average grant amount available at year-end. Almost half of the LDC had run out of funds by the time summer arrived in June 2016.

Funds disbursed under the LEAP and Winter Warmth programs compared to 2015 increased in 2016 by $1,318,700 to $7,776,600 (up 20%) despite the fact the OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) started January 1, 2016 and offered significant relief to hundreds of thousands of low-income Ontarians. The OESP was estimated by the OEB to cost other ratepayers as much as $200 million annually.

It certainly appears “energy poverty” continues to increase in the province despite the recent claim by the Minister of Economic Development and Growth that “Ontario has now created more than 800,000 net new jobs since the depths of the recession.”

The assumption must be, those 800,000 jobs are all at the low end of the pay scale — otherwise there would have been no need to kick $25 billion (plus the interest [$15 billion]on the borrowed funds) of ratepayer bills down the road for future generation to pay.

Parker Gallant

 

 

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The secret is out: wind power costs plenty

This past weekend’s stats are not kind to the wind power cheerleaders

The wind power trade association, the Canadian Wind Energy Association or CanWEA, uses every opportunity to push for more wind power development, and often uses “selective facts” to promote their claims.   One of the latest relied on investment firm Lazard by stating:  “A December 2016 report from the U.S. investment firm Lazard found that wind energy is the lowest cost option for new supply in the United States without any subsidies. Wind energy costs continue to fall, offering an attractive electricity source to provinces seeking to clean and diversify their electricity systems.”

That statement is included in CanWEA’s recently released brochure “The Secret is Out, Wind is in”.

Had the unknown author(s) at CanWEA simply looked at the Ontario Energy Board’s (OEB) semi-annual Regulated Price Plan they would have noted Table 2 on page 21 of the April 20, 2017 report that the cost of a wind-generated kilowatt hour (kWh) in Ontario is shown as 17.3 cents ($178/MWh), as the cost of “curtailed” (not added to the grid) wind is also included as a cost input.

Had the author(s) also simply looked at IESO data they might also have noticed that maybe wind energy costs are not continuing to fall!   Saturday, November 25th was an example: it was a very windy day in Ontario with an especially windy night. Unfortunately for the wind power cheerleaders, our demand for power from 12 AM until 7 or 8 AM was relatively low, but the wind was really blowing. That meant the 4,200+ MW of wind capacity were running at 90% (approximately) of their capacity, at the same time as Ontario’s demand for power was hovering mid-way between 11,000 and 12,000 MW. That’s very close to what our nuclear plants can provide on their own without help from other generation sources.

As a result, IESO ordered wind’s curtailment, hydro’s spilling and nuclear steam-off. At the same time, they were exporting whatever the market would take.

So, all together on November 25, the IESO curtailed 35,600 MWh of grid-connected wind and accepted 30,600 MWh into the grid, while scrambling to prevent brownouts or blackouts by exporting about 50,000 MWh over the day.

Industrial-scale wind power developers get paid $120/MWh for curtailed wind and $135 MWh for grid-accepted wind.

Quick math on all that means:

Ontario’s ratepayers picked up the costs of almost $8.6 million for curtailed and grid-accepted wind power produced when it wasn’t needed.

The cost of the grid-accepted wind (30,600 MWh) was therefore just over $280/MWh or 28 cents per kWh or, 10.7 cents more than the OEB reported back in April. On top of that, we ratepayers also ate the costs of spilled hydro, steamed off nuclear and the losses on the 50,000 MWh exported at a price close to zero.

Now if that author or authors who cranked out the latest CanWEA “selective facts” brochure were brutally honest, they would immediately change the title to:

“The Secret is out: wind is horribly expensive, intermittent and unreliable!”

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.

How much did Premier Wynne’s hydro “mistake” actually cost?

Five months ago, Premier Kathleen Wynne admitted to the delegates at the annual Ontario Liberal Party convention her government “made a mistake” allowing electricity rates to rise so high.  Those rates have actually soared, increasing by 80.9% from 2009.

Comparing Ontario electricity rates to other indicators such as inflation, shows just how bad the situation is. Comparing the IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) Monthly Summaries for January and February 2009 with the same two months in 2017, the combined costs of HOEP (hourly Ontario energy price) plus the Global Adjustment (GA) show costs per kilowatt hour (kWh) have increased from 5.85 cents/kWh to 10.58 cents/kWh. That is an 80.9% increase.  Average inflation over the same time-frame has increased about 14%.   (The reader should note the 2009 and 2017 costs are before HST so the 8% reduction commenced January 1st has had no effect on contracted or regulated electricity rates.)

So how bad? The cost of the basic commodity has increased by almost six times the inflation rate!

Commodity cost is way up

Reviewing the IESO Monthly Summaries for the two-month periods in 2009 versus 2017 also shows Ontario demand fell by 7% or 1,713,000 MWh (1.7 TWh). The Summary reports indicate the 24.43 TWh representing Ontario demand in 2009 cost $58.49 million/TWh or $1,429 million for January and February. The 22.7 TWh of Ontario demand in 2017 cost $105.78 million/ TWh or $2,330 million for the same two months.  That represents an increase in the commodity cost of electricity of $901 million for 7% less electricity — an average monthly increase of $450 million.

So, why?

Exports

One of the reasons was the drop in the market price as the HOEP fell from an average of $51.93/MWh in 2009 for the two months to $21.56/MWh in 2017 while the GA jumped from an average of $6.56/MWh in 2009 to $82.27/MWH in 2017. What that means is, the loss on exports from Ontario in 2009 cost Ontario ratepayers $13.1 million and in 2017 cost ratepayers $174.2 million as the GA costs are not included in the sale of exports via the HOEP.

OK, of that $900+ million increase, we have $174 million found … $727 million to go!

Wind power

Another obvious cause of the big jump was generation and payment for curtailment of power from industrial wind turbines (IWT). Back in the early part of 2009, Ontario had approximately 800 MW of IWT capacity; in the early 2017 we have about 4,550 MW of capacity.   According to my friend Scott Luft, who uses IESO data to estimate the generation and curtailment of IWTs,  in 2009 the turbines delivered almost 395,000 MWh in January and February. In 2017, it’s a different story: generation and curtailment combined jumped to about 2,926,000 MWh.

The contracted wind power prior the passage of the Green Energy Act is estimated to be at the rate of $90/MWh, whereas wind power contracted for after the Act was at $135/MWh (plus a cost-of-living annual increase) meaning they currently are estimated at $140/MWh. The math on the 2009 generation therefore shows a cost of $35.5 million and the 2017 generation/curtailment cost becomes $409.6 million.  The increased cost of wind from 2009 is ($409.6 million less $35.5 million) $374 million.   Deducting the $374 million from $727 million leaves $353 million to find to get to $901 million!

Gas

Since 2009, more than 3,300 MW of gas plant capacity has been added to the Ontario grid. Its addition was basically to back up the wind and solar capacity (which is unreliable and intermittent) to ensure sufficient generation is available during renewables’ failure and high demand periods.  The private sector companies investing in those plants are paid for their capital investments amortized over their life span. When generating electricity they receive fuel costs plus a nominal markup. Payments details are not available in the public domain, but it is understood payments contracted are per MW of capacity, and  estimates given are $8/15,000 per MW per month.  Assuming the 3,300 MW of capacity secured since 2009 is at the mid-range ($12,000 per MW) the cost to ratepayers is $79 million (3,300 X $12,000 X 2 months).

That $79 million means we are still looking for $274 million.

Consuming less but paying more

IESO shows ratepayers consumed 1.7 TWh less in the first two months of 2017 than in 2009, but paid more. That is evident in OPG reports.  As OPG has not released its 2017 1st Quarter report estimates are based on the 2016, 1st Quarter report.  First we estimate spilled (wasted) hydro was 1.2 TWh at a reported cost of $44 million/TWh so that cost ratepayers $53 million.   The 21.0 TWh produced by OPG in the 2016, 1st Quarter generated average revenue per TWh of $70.4 million.  Estimating the first two months of 2017 generation at 14 TWh results in a cost of $985.6 million.  In 2009 OPG generated 25.6 TWh at an average of $57.8 million/TWh. Again estimating the total cost of the 17 TWh generated by OPG in the first two months produces a cost of $982.6 million so adding the $3 million to the spilled water cost shows an increase of $56 million.  Subtracting $56 million from $274 million means we are looking for the last $218 of the increase.

Solar, conservation, bio-mass and sundry

We assume the balance of the increased 2017 versus 2009 costs came from solar and bio-mass with a portion from the conservation program. Based on Figure 23 “Total Global Adjustment by Components” of the IESO Summary report we can estimate the costs of each of those for the two months.  It appears conservation spending (absent in 2009) represented about $50/55 million for the first two months of 2017 and bio-mass (incented by the FIT and MicroFIT programs) generated costs of around $40 million.  Solar (low during winter months) generated a minimum of $100/$120 million in costs for the two months based on the IESO Figure 23.  While those are “best” estimates to get to the increase of $901 million for the two months, we have not included increased costs from the IESO and OEB budgets which have both increased.

“No checks” in the system

An article recently appeared in the Globe and Mail written by George Vegh, former general counsel to the OEB.  This paragraph is perhaps why Premier Wynne admitted to her “mistake”

“Generation procurements are determined entirely by the government. The system operator – the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) – implements government directives. Neither the Ontario Energy Board nor any other independent regulator reviews these procurements. There are no independent criteria, no cost-benefit analysis, no consideration of the need for the procurements, and no review of alternatives. In short, there is virtually no check on the power to procure supply.”

 

What we have in Ontario is a “mistake” that will continue to cost Ontario ratepayers and taxpayers billions for years to come.

Admitting a mistake is one thing, doing something about it is another: Premier Wynne needs to recognize the Ontario Liberal government’s error, kill the Green Energy Act, and halt continued procurement of power from unreliable and intermittent wind and solar generators!

No hydro price rise today? Just wait

November 1, 2016

Ontario’s electricity ratepayers or customers were somewhat surprised when the OEB (Ontario Energy Board) announced on October 19 there would be no change to electricity rates for the following six months.  That announcement was only the third time out of the last 18 since 2007 where rates didn’t increase.

Many commentators said, however, this can’t hold and the government has simply punted a rate increase down the road. So, what is likely to happen come Spring 2017?

We have some clues in recently released information. The IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) just published the September 2016 Monthly Market Report which provides the Class B weighted average of both HOEP (hourly Ontario energy price) and the Global Adjustment for the first nine months of the current year, representing the commodity cost.  For the first nine months of 2016, the raw commodity cost’s “weighted average” was $110.93 per megawatt hour (MWh) compared to $98.88/MWh in 2015.

So, that would be up: that signals a 12.2% increase year over year in the electricity1. generation cost.

The IESO has also been posting the consumption and costs of the HOEP and the GA for each of the two customer classes A and B; if you calculate the difference between Class A and Class B consumption and costs for the same period as noted above you discover this.

  • Class A ratepayers increased consumption by 2 terawatts (TWh) from 19 TWh to 21 TWh whereas Class B ratepayers decreased their consumption from 87 TWh in 2015 to 86 TWh year over year.
  • Class A ratepayers paid $70 million more for the additional 2 TWh which was at the bargain price of 3.5 cents per kWh. The raw commodity cost for Class A ratepayers declined from $65.42/MWh in 2015 to $62.50/MWh in 2016 for a 4.4% reduction.

Class B ratepayers may have reduced the electricity consumption (by 1 TWh or 1 billion kWh) but they paid an additional $893 million over 2015.   The extra cost for Class B ratepayers of 1.04 cents per kWh is equivalent to just over $90 a year for the “average” household.

That cost will presumably find its way to the next announcement in mid-April 2017 when the OEB tells us what households will be paying for the six months commencing May 1, 2017.

The Class B to Class A shift will increase further (implementation date has not been announced) in the future, based on Energy Minister Thibeault’s announcement in a press release on September 15, 2016, granting an additional 1,000 plus companies access to the Industrial Conservation Initiative (ICI) program.

The balancing act of trying to retain jobs while greening Ontario’s energy generation via the Class B to Class A subsidy (now approaching $1 billion annually) appears set to create more energy poverty in the Class B group despite removal of the 8% provincial portion of the HST.

The Spring forecast? Increased electricity rates.

Parker Gallant

1. This does not include transmission, regulatory, distribution, etc. costs.

How to reduce Ontario electricity bills with a minimum of pain

Much has been written recently about what’s wrong with Ontario’s electricity sector and the rising costs of a “necessity of life” to most Ontarians.   The pundits have generally failed, however, to offer a solution. The criticisms correctly point out the mistakes that have been made, including the Green Energy Act and the goal to cleanse Ontario of coal power generation. The result has taken a toll on our pocketbooks and Ontario’s attractiveness as a place to invest in. We now see a sizable increase in people living in “energy poverty.”

I will offer the Ontario Liberal government options that could alleviate rising electricity bills, with little impact on the budget deficit. As some of my suggestions/recommendations impact ministries other than Energy, it may be important for the government to review ministerial responsibilities.

  1. Reduce the Water Fuel Tax imposed on OPG’s hydroelectric units. This fuel tax is applied to both hydro generation and to spilled water (i.e., water not run through turbines). Reducing the tax would generate increased earnings by OPG mitigating further applications for increased revenue via Ontario Energy Board application for rate increases and should generate additional PIL (payments in lieu of taxes). It should reflect itself as a “net-zero” cost to the treasury but mitigate rate increases.   I recommend the fuel charge be reduced by 50% or approximately $170 million annually, based on 2015 fuel charges levied on OPG of $345 million. If applied to residential ratepayers their bills should drop about $40 annually for the average ratepayer.
  2. Move the Ontario Electricity Support Program or OESP: this was created to support low income households and commenced January 1, 2016. The estimated cost of the program was in the $200-million range and required both a staffing increase and advertising budget that will partially consume the budget. The program is funded by other ratepayers via the Global Adjustment pot, reflecting in increasing electricity costs. The program rightly belongs with the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services who have existing relationships with funding agencies such as the United Way and could easily accommodate the program as they do for LEAP (low-income energy assistance program). That would help reduce administration costs and place the program where it would be more effective. Cost savings for ratepayers would be $200 million, but would presumably increase the budget of the Ministry of Community and Social Services by only $180 million. Moving this program to where it belongs would drop the average residential bill by approximately $44 annually
  3. As noted in my letter of August 16, 2016 to Energy Minister Glen Thibeault I suggested a tax on wind generation due to two factors: wind turbines frequently provide electricity at times when it’s not needed and developers are paid above market rates and also for curtailment.   Taxing wind is a concept that could generate $150/$200 million annually (based on generation for the first six months of 2016 and a tax levied per megawatt hour [MWh]). The proposed tax could cost the owners of the wind developments $200 million or more, and reduce annual residential bills by $45.
  4. One of the easiest ways to mitigate future rate increases would be to cancel all of the 400 MW of older wind power contracts that have passed their key contract dates. That would save future rate increases over 20 years, from the addition of $3 billion to hydro bills. Future increases would be reduced by $35 annually
  5. Cancel the LRP II (large renewable procurement) immediately: the 600 MW of wind it seeks is not needed and would add annual costs (estimated) of $200 million and almost $4 billion to future electricity bills. The 300 MW of contracts handed out under LRP I should also be canceled and would save ratepayers another $100 million (estimated) per annum and $2 billion over 20 years.   Cancelling the 900 MW would mitigate future rate increases on the average residential bill by about $65 annually.
  6. Cancel 1,300 MW of wind power (600 MW of new + 300 MW from LRP 1 + 400 MW of projects past their key contract dates) would result in less steaming off of power from Bruce Nuclear.  IESO reported this occurred 472 times in 2015 and represented 897 GWh at a cost of about $60 million. Avoiding that would have meant an annual saving per average residential ratepayer of $15.
  7. Cut back surplus power generation: Cancelling the 1,300 MW of wind capacity would considerably slow the generation of “surplus” power meaning less water spillage of hydro (3.4 TWh) by OPG which cost ratepayers about $150 million in 2015, and resulted in an annual cost per average residential ratepayer of about $30.
  8. Should surplus generation flatten or reduce because of the cancellation of the 1,300 MW of wind capacity it would affect the market price (Hourly Ontario Energy Price or HOEP) favourably reducing subsidies. If the HOEP price increased, say, $20/MWh, it would reduce subsidies and generate additional revenue of $450 million (based on 2015 exports) and reduce average residential electricity bills annually by $100.
  9. Cancel spending on conservation: save more than $400 million a year on TV ads and mailers. Most ratepayers know if we conserve more it causes electricity bills to rise as happened with the recent rate increase announced by the OEB in April 2016. A halt in conservation spending would translate to annual savings per ratepayer of almost $90.
  10. Negotiating “Net Zero” wage settlements provided the Power Workers Union and the Society of Energy Professionals at Hydro One and OPG a wage settlement handing them a lump sum payment for the first two years of their contracts and annual awards of Hydro One shares equal to 2.7% of their wages. The annual awards of Hydro One shares alone will extract the value from their sale that should have gone to the province for “infrastructure” spending or deficit reduction. The value of the “Net Zero” contracts was approximately $250 million. The next contract should be “Zero” and would annually save residential ratepayer about $55.

TOTAL potential savings for the “average” Ontario electricity ratepayer? $519 per year

If the Wynne government undertook these actions, immediate ratepayer relief would be approximately $265.00 annually, and mitigate future rate increases by $220.00 annually.   The PST could have been left on ratepayers’ electricity bills reducing the immediate relief to $135.00. The foregoing would have a marginal effect on annual Provincial revenue reducing the borrowing needs from $1.3 billion to less than $300 million to cover the costs of the OESP shift to the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the marginal drop in the water tax payments from OPG.

Why hasn’t the government done these things? Maybe it’s just easier to transfer $1.3 billion in costs to Ontario’s taxpayers. Or maybe promises were made to those who lobbied the Premier and some of her ministers at special access fund-raising events.

Time will tell.

Parker Gallant

September 18, 2016