Wynne spin and the Fair Hydro Plan, Part 3

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)!

 

 

 

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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.