Shortly after Glenn Thibeault was appointed Ontario Energy Minister, he was at an Ottawa press conference. When asked about electricity service “disconnections” he feigned ignorance saying, “I continue to drink from the firehose” suggesting he couldn’t answer the question due to the complexity of the portfolio.
One and a half years later, it now appears he knows more than the folks at the Ontario Energy Board (OEB).
Minister Thibeault recently announced he is “launching a review” of the OEB via a panel headed up by Richard Dicerni, a former acting CEO of Ontario Power Generation (appointed to that position by Dwight Duncan when he served as Minister of Energy under Premier McGuinty).
The press release announcing the panel review noted, “The OEB is responsible for establishing energy rates and prices that are reasonable, setting rules for energy companies operating in Ontario, and making the energy system easier to navigate and understand for consumers.”
It also mentioned “The panel will have a broad mandate including reviewing how the OEB can continue to protect consumers amidst a rapidly changing sector, support innovation and new technologies, and how the OEB should be structured and resourced to deliver on its changing role. The panel will seek feedback from the public starting in spring 2018, examine best practices from other jurisdictions and report back to government by the end of 2018.”
OEB under government’s thumb
The OEB was stripped of its authority by Premier Wynne and Minister Thibeault when they decreed, under the Fair Hydro Act, that electricity rates for residential ratepayers would be reduced by 25%. That decree followed 18 directives and letters of instruction to the OEB by a variety of Ontario’s Energy Ministers since 2003. Five of those directives/letters were issued by the current Minister.
So, the question today is, what is the panel likely to find and what are they likely to recommend?
More to the point, what won’t they find out?
Ontario ratepayers expecting the panel to find the OEB was responsible for the rate increases we have experienced will be disappointed. If ratepayers expect the panel to recommend the OEB be given back their regulatory authority as one would hope, that won’t happen either, or at least not before the 2018 election is over. The panel, as noted above, has been instructed to report by the end of 2018 or about six months after the upcoming election in June 2018.
As an observer of the electricity portfolio, I think the objective of establishing this panel is it to give the Ontario government talking points to deflect mismanagement. Minister Thibeault’s quote in the press release carried this message: “Utilities and regulators need to respond by renewing their focus on efficiency, reliability, affordability and looking at new cutting-edge ways of keeping electricity consumers as their top priority.”
Never mind that the “focus” of utilities and regulators over the past decade has been to execute policies dictated by their masters—the various Energy Ministers who have arbitrarily decreed their views via directives, specific acts and regulatory changes on how the electricity sector should function.
Down a very long road
When Liberal candidates are questioned about the energy file by media and voters leading up to the election day in June next year, they will surely say we need to wait for the panel conclusions later in the year, and that the government expects the OEB to help us move to an equitable and “fair” price for electricity in the province. They will claim they have told the utilities and the regulators they need to focus on the electricity consumer and that they expect “fairness” will be the outcome!
The panel could become a very useful deflection tool ward off criticism and escape allegations of the harm caused to ratepayers and the Ontario economy.
It is clear the Minister of Energy has learned a lot since his appointment.