The recent 2017/2018 budget speech from Finance Minister Sousa had this to say about the Fair Hydro Plan.
“People from across the province shared their concerns about rising electricity bills. We listened and we are responding. Recognizing that there needed to be a fairer way to share the costs of building a cleaner, more modern and reliable electricity generation system, we are taking action to reduce electricity costs. Through Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan, starting this summer, household electricity costs would be lowered by an average of 25 per cent. We are also capping rate increases to inflation for the next four years. Low‐income families, and those living in rural, remote or on-reserve First Nation communities, would receive additional relief as well.”
Impressive words signaling reallocation of charges to taxpayers previously paid by ratepayers as well as direct relief. The budget’s forecast however doesn’t jibe with the words contained in the speech from Premier Wynne when she announced the relief March 2, 2017 and said, “Although the refinancing occurs within the electricity system and is accounted for separately, the overall fiscal impact of this relief and restructuring will cost the province about $2.5 billion over the next three years.”
The Premier’s remarks suggest relief will cost about $833 million annually but the budget notes the “Electricity Rate Relief Programs” are forecast to cost $1.438 billion.
The budget estimate(s) presumably include the costs associated with the OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) for low-income families. Those “heat or eat” households were driven to that situation by climbing electricity rates caused by lucrative contracts handed out by the current and past energy ministers. As well, free delivery costs for First Nations communities will become standard and taxpayer supported as will the RRRP (Rural or Remote Rate Protection) in low-density regions. Also added to the pot is an “Affordability Fund” for households who can’t afford energy efficiency upgrades. Finance Minister Sousa’s budget obviously forecasts those costs to taxpayers at over $600 million more than the Premier! So what are Ontario’s taxpayers/ratepayers to believe?
Based on the foregoing we must assume the Premier’s $2.5 billion over three years are to only cover the programs moved to other ministries and will cost taxpayers about $4.5 billion if the relief ends three years hence. Based on the record of this government we shouldn’t expect the relief programs to end in three years!
The other part of the Premier’s statement was: “In addition, this rate relief is designed to last. After we bring bills down by 25% we will hold them there with rates rising only with inflation — or roughly 2% — for at least four years.” Once again the Premier avoids telling us the whole story. Other associated documents the general public have a difficult time locating tell another story. One such document was the “Technical Briefing” appendix attached to a directive dated March 2, 2017 sent to the OEB by Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault. Under a heading labeled “Refinancing the Global Adjustment” we find: “Under current forecasts, the immediate reduction (i.e., the financed portion) in the GA would be about $2.5 billion per year on average over the first ten years, with a maximum annual interest cost of $1.4 billion.”
What that means is, they are “kicking the can down the road” by refinancing $25 billion of contract and adding $14 billion in interest costs. At some point in the not too distant future (year 5?) electricity rates will need to jump to accommodate the $39 billion of accumulated debt within the portfolio. What is being refinanced are those 20-year contracts for wind, solar and gas generation, yet the contracts will have expired and should, yet we don’t know if they will still be operational!
Interestingly enough, if we include the taxpayer-related relief costs of at least $4.314 billion ($1,438 million X 3 years) “kicking the can down the road” will labour taxpayers/ratepayers with $43.3 billion in costs. That $43.3 billion exceeds what was supposed invested in electricity generation ($35 billion) and is only $6.7 billion short of what they claim has been invested in the electricity system as this quote from the “Technical Briefing” notes: Between 2005 and 2015, government invested more than $50 billion in the electricity system, including $35 billion in electricity generation to restore reliability, replace coal and meet environmental objectives.
So what are taxpayers and ratepayers seeing when they look ahead? First, a new debt associated with the electricity system will burden us with an additional $43.3 billion on top of the reputed $50 billion the Premier Wynne led government claims has been invested. That accumulated debt will require payback which will drive rates and taxes higher. Secondly many of the $35 billion investments in electricity generation and the $15 billion of investments in the electricity system will have reached their end of life and will require replacement.
The forecast for ratepayers is they should expect to see a new charge on their future hydro bills. Logic suggests the new charge should be referred to as the LDRC (Liberal Debt Retirement Charge)!