Hydro One shareholders happy with Avista purchase denial

Avista shareholders, not so much

The Hydro One press release immediately following the decision by the State of Washington’s regulator denying them the right to acquire Avista Corporation was short but expressed “extreme disappointment.”

“TORONTO and SPOKANE, WA, Dec. 5, 2018 /CNW/ – Hydro One Limited (“Hydro One”) (TSX: H) and Avista Corporation (“Avista”) today received a regulatory decision from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), denying the proposed merger of the two companies. The companies are extremely disappointed in the UTC’s decision, are reviewing the order in detail and will determine the appropriate next steps.”

How did investors view the denial? Avista shareholders were definitely in the “extremely disappointed” crowd as their shares tumbled, but Hydro One investors were probably “extremely happy” as their shares had one of their very best days ever!

Remember, Hydro One offered to purchase Avista shares well over book value and at a high multiple to earnings ratio.  While the prior Board of Directors of Hydro One and then CEO Mayo Schmidt, along with Glenn Thibeault, former Minister of Energy, were excited about the offer to purchase Avista, it certainly appears that shareholders weren’t!

Some media blame “political interference” by Premier Ford as the principal reason for the denial! One such individual was quoted in CBC article stating: “Ontario Liberal finance critic Mitzie Hunter said Ford’s “reckless conduct” at Hydro One continues to damage the province’s interests.” Apparently Hydro One’s investors are not buying Mitzie’s claim!

There will, however, be a cost to Hydro One. When the purchase was negotiated, they agreed to a “termination fee” of US$ 103 million (CAD$ 139 million) and will have to pay that to Avista for distribution to their shareholders.  Hydro One will also have to unwind foreign exchange forward contracts and accumulated acquisition costs which will be expensed.  They also have to deal with the large convertible debenture issue ($1,540 million) which has a 10-year maturity and interest payments above market rates prior to conversion.

I assume we ratepayers will have to sit on the sidelines until Hydro One’s year-end report in early 2019 is issued before we get an estimate on the costs of the denial by the State of Washington’s regulator.

We can then hope our regulator, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), doesn’t grant a rate increase to Hydro One to cover the costs of their ill-considered attempt to acquire a company 3,200 kilometres away at an inflated price.

Only time will tell.

PARKER GALLANT

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Former Ontario Liberal energy ministers: your turn to eat crow

More enlightening facts from the Lennox gas plant, and how billions have been wasted

There have been a few problems with wind power, former Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault told a business audience almost two years ago. We had no idea how bad.

My earlier article briefly described my recent tour of the Lennox natural gas power facility in Bath, Ontario, and also provided the costs of wind power generation—including what was “curtailed” (wasted; paid for but not used).

The period covered was nine years (2009 to 2017) during which grid-delivered wind power generation was 53.1 TWh* (terawatt hours) and its costs (including 6.9 TWh curtailed) were approximately $8 billion.

What I didn’t note earlier was, as we were paying for power generated by wind turbines and curtailed power, we were also paying for spilled hydro and steamed-off nuclear which added additional costs to the GA (Global Adjustment) pot, driving up electricity costs. We started paying for “spilled hydro” in 2011 when the OEB (Ontario Energy Board) allowed OPG to establish a “variance” account.  Since that time 18.7 TWh have been spilled by OPG and the cost of $875 million (4.7 cents/kWh) was placed in the GA and paid for by Ontario ratepayers.

Likewise, the cost of 2 TWh of steamed-off nuclear was (about) $140 million (7 cents/kWh) and also became part of the GA. Adding that to the $8 billion costs of wind power in those nine years brings the total to slightly more than $9 billion, as the hydro spilled and nuclear steam-off were due to “surplus baseload generation” (SBG)!

In 95 percent plus of the surplus events, SBG conditions were caused by wind power generation because it is granted “first to the grid” rights.

So, you might ask on reading this, is, how does/could Lennox fit into this situation?

Well, the fact is Lennox is treated as “the leper” in generation sources within the province and is called on only when something untoward or unusual happens, despite its ability to generate power at relatively low cost. Examples of Lennox doing more than idling include this past summer’s Lake Ontario algae problem which caused the shutdown of a Pickering nuclear unit (the water intake was clogged) and the winter of 2014 when we experienced the “polar vortex” causing gas prices to spike.  As it happens, wind wasn’t there for either event and Lennox was called on to provide the power necessary to keep our electricity system functioning.  (Wind turbines cannot be turned on when demand suddenly increases when the wind isn’t blowing.)

Ontario without wind

If the then Liberal Ontario government had decided not to proceed with the GEA (Green Energy Act) which focused on wind and solar sources, one could justififably wonder how the cost of electricity might have been affected.   If we had instead focused on reliability and reasonable costs, Lennox coupled with our other sources, could have easily replaced the intermittent and unreliable generation from wind turbines.

The math: Taking the wind power generation of 53.1 TWh over the nine years out of the picture would have meant those 18.7 TWh of spilled hydro and the 2 TWh of steamed-off nuclear could have reduced the net contribution of wind to 32.4 TWh. That would have saved ratepayers $1.8 billion i.e., (cost of 20.7 TWh of IWT generation @ $135 million/TWh = $2.8 billion, less the cost of 18.7 TWh of spilled hydro @ $46 million/TWh [$875 million] and less the cost of 2 TWh steamed off nuclear @ $70 million/TWh [$140 million])

The remaining 32.4 TWh of wind power generation could have been provided by generation from the OPG Lennox plant (capacity of 2,100 MW). It would have eliminated the $800 million cost of the 6.9 TWh of curtailed wind as it would have produced power only when needed.  Now if it ran at only 20 percent of its capacity (gas or oil,) it could have easily generated the remaining 32.4 TWh generated by IWY and accepted into the grid.

Note: No doubt much of that 32.4 TWh wind power generation was presented at times IESO were forced to export it at a substantial loss. For the sake of this calculation we will assume Ontario demand would have required it.

More math: As noted in the earlier article “idling” ** costs for Lennox are fixed at $4.200 per MW per month, making the annual idling costs about $106 million or $8.8 million per month. Running at 20 percent of capacity would result in idling costs per MWh of generation of about $30/MWh.

Adding fuel costs*** of about $40/MWh would result in total costs (on average) of approximately $70/MWh or 7 cents/kWh.  Generation at 300,000 MWh per month on average would have generated 32.4 TWh over those nine years (2009–2017).  The cost of that generation would be approximately $2.3 billion whereas the 32.4 TWh generated by IWT in those same nine years cost ratepayers about $4.4 billion.

So, without any wind power generation at a cost of $8 billion over the nine years, Ontario ratepayers would have saved almost $4.9 billion:

  • $1.8 billion using spilled hydro
  • $200 million using steamed-off nuclear
  • $800 million paying for curtailed IWT generation and
  • $2.1 billion by utilizing Lennox

Beyond the dollar savings, the lack of subsidized wind power would also have other effects like:

  • zero (0) noise complaints, instead of the thousands reported,
  • elimination of the slaughter of thousands of birds, bats and butterflies
  • prevented the possible disturbance/contamination of well water

Again, that cost-benefit study might have proved useful!

PARKER GALLANT                                                                

*1 TWh is about the amount of energy 110,000 average households in Ontario consume annually.

**Idling costs of the TransCanada gas plant next door to Lennox is $15,200 per month per MW or 3.7 times more costly than Lennox.

***Lennox has the ability to generate electricity using either natural gas or oil meaning if a fuel priced spikes, as natural gas did during the “polar vortex” in 2014, Lennox can shift to the cheaper fuel.

Hydro One’s curious third-quarter results (and why you should worry)

Hydro One’s third quarter earnings fall     

                                                                            

Ontario ratepayers should be worried about bad planning and whether the Ontario Energy Board will protect us from more rate increases

Why is the title above practically the opposite of Hydro One’s November 8, 2018 press release headline which claimed “Hydro One Reports Strong Third Quarter Results”?

While gross revenues for both the distribution and transmission businesses were up—quarter over quarter, by 6.1% ($63 million) and 4.7% ($22 million) respectively—Net Income for the quarter was actually down 11.4% or $25 million compared to the same quarter in 2017.

The revenue gains were a reflection of prior rate application approvals by the OEB (Ontario Energy Board) coupled with increased demand and the revenue was provided by the ratepayers of the province.

So, if revenue was up, what caused net income to fall?

Here is a partial explanation from Hydro One’s quarterly financial statement:

“The increase of $35 million or 30.7% in financing charges for the quarter ended September 30, 2018 was primarily due to the following: • an unrealized loss recorded in the third quarter of 2018 due to revaluation of the deal-contingent foreign exchange forward contract related to the Avista Corporation merger”. [emphasis added]

It appears previous management believed finalizing the Avista purchase would occur sooner and that the Canadian dollar would remain where it was when the purchase offer was originally accepted by Avista’s shareholders. That would suggest poor planning!

As ratepayers in Ontario, we should be concerned about Hydro One’s financial results and how their spending impacts us via rate increases.

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) on an annual basis sets the acceptable RoE (Return on Equity) for all distribution and transmission companies. The current RoE is 9% and Hydro One expects it will remain at that level. Right now, Hydro One has two pending transmission and one distribution rate application(s) before the OEB, and will file one transmission and five distribution rate application(s) later this year and into early 2019.

Here’s the question we ratepayers should ask: will the OEB protect us by ensuring we will not be picking up any of the costs associated with the Avista purchase such as the “foreign exchange forward contract” loss or the “financing charges” referenced above? Ratepayers should not be penalized for bad planning!

Hydro One’s quarterly statement under the heading ‘Risk Management” notes:

“Market risk refers primarily to the risk of loss which results from changes in costs, foreign exchange rates and interest rates. The Company is exposed to fluctuations in interest rates, as its regulated return on equity is derived using a formulaic approach that takes anticipated interest rates into account. The Company is not currently exposed to material commodity price risk.”

The “increased financing charges” and the “foreign exchange forward contract” costs related to the Avista merger were clear “risks” management should have foreseen!

On the surface, they could suggest part of the fall in net income is attributable to Canada’s inability to sell its oil at market prices which had a detrimental effect on the Canadian dollar’s exchange rate. But that claim would ignore the fact it was Hydro One’s management decision (blessed by former Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault) that led to the “foreign exchange forward contract” loss and the increased “financing charges.”

The blame should be shouldered by past management decisions.

Many said, at the time the planned acquisition of Avista was announced, that it made no sense. With that in mind, one would expect the OEB will indeed make the right decision and not allow rate increases that fail the test of bringing value to Ontario ratepayers.

We can only hope.

PARKER GALLANT

 

Calculating the costs of Ontario’s electricity: which sources add the most to our bills?

More transparency in the Ontario Energy Ministry  would reveal important facts, sooner 

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) took more than nine months to compile and release what they label Ontario’s System-Wide Electricity Supply Mix: 2017 Data, a one-page document identifying the Electricity sources and the “Electricity Mix.”  The data includes both TX (transmission-delivered electricity) and DX (distributor-delivered electricity), but only in percentage terms. In order to determine the amount of electricity actually generated by the “Supply Mix” one must go through a mathematical exercise.

Lagging transparency

If one wonders why it takes nine months and why the OEB won’t supply the amount of electricity delivered by each of the “Electricity sources” you wouldn’t be alone.  Why have we spent billions on “smart meters” and the “smart grid” (developed by IESO) and the data can’t be provided within, say, the first Quarter of the following year?  That question should be raised by our elected politicians as the ratepayers of the province would like to know that all those billions weren’t wasted.

Digging deeper

Going though the math exercise isn’t unduly onerous; if one uses nuclear as the base (generating 60.1%) and the IESO “2017 Electricity Data” the information shows nuclear generated and delivered 90.6 TWh (terawatt hours), so the other percentages can be used to calculate the actual electricity delivered.  As all of nuclear generation is grid-connected, the total electricity generated (DX + TX) for 2017 was 150.7 TWh.  From that it is easy to determine solar with 2.2% generated 3.3 TWh, wind 10.85 TWh, hydro 38.6 TWh, biomass .6 TWh, natural gas 6.0 TWh and other .45 TWh. Add those figures to nuclear generation of 90.6 TWh and it comes to 150.7 TWh

The next step is determining the costs of those generation sources so we ratepayers can judge if they are giving us value for money. That is easier said than done; however, there are enough clues and information available to give us some reason to believe we will come close to disclosing costs.

Let’s start with the HOEP average for 2017 which was $15.81/MWh (megawatt hour) or $15.81 million per TWh meaning the 150.7 TWh of generation represents a cost of $2,282.6 million. The GA (Global Adjustment) inclusive of Class A and B for 2017 total was $11,851 million making total generation costs $14.233 billion for the 150.7 TWh.   Other costs such as transmission and wholesale market service charges add another $1.8 billion to total costs.  Adding the latter brings total cost to $16.033 billion.

If one than examines total Ontario demand for 2017, it would be the 132.1 TWh that IESO claim in their year-end report plus generation within the DX sector of 4.45 TWh making Ontario demand 136.55 TWh.

Finally, If one estimates the revenue generated from “net exports,”* reported as 12.471 TWh at the HOEP value of $15.81 million per TWh, the net revenue generated was $197 million reducing total electricity costs to $15.826 billion.

Putting total Ontario demand (136.55 TWh) in context, nuclear generation of 90.6 TWH and hydro’s 38.6 TWh together provided 94.6% (129.2 TWh). In 2017 OPG was forced to spill 6 TWh and Bruce Nuclear steamed off 1 TWh meaning those two generation sources could have supplied almost 100% (99.7%) of Ontario’s total demand.  Gas generation (10,548 MW capacity) could have easily supplied the balance including peak periods as they operated at only 6.5% of capacity.

So, what did wind and solar cost? 

Wind generated 10.85 TWh so at $135/MWh cost $1.465.000,000 + curtailment of 3.3 TWh at $120/MWh, added $396 million, making the total cost from wind generation $1,861,000,000. Solar generated 3.3 TWh so at an average of $448/MWh would add costs of $1,478,400,000

The two together — without including spilled hydro or steamed-off nuclear or gas back-up — totalled $3.339 billion.

The math calculation to get the actual cost of 2017 Ontario consumption therefore is simply dividing total electricity costs of $15.826 billion by 136.55 TWh, giving a per kWh cost of 11.6 cents kWh!

Without the total costs of wind and solar of $3.339 billion the costs of electricity consumed by Ontario electricity customers would have been $12.487 billion or 9.14 cents a kWh. That would have been 2.5 cents a kWh less than we experienced with wind and solar as generation sources.

The additional costs of wind and solar in 2017 added approximately $220.00 per average household to their electricity bills. Should wind and solar contribute similarly over the next 20 years the costs to Ontario ratepayers will be in excess of $66 billion.

The time has come to demand more transparency and to re-evaluate the details in long-term wind and solar contracts.

PARKER GALLANT

PS: Scott Luft has created pie charts that highlight much of what is contained in the foregoing article and they can be found here: https://twitter.com/ScottLuft/status/1050045294287745024/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Eembeddedtimeline%7Ctwterm%5Eprofile%3AScottLuft&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fcoldair.luftonline.net%2F

*exports less imports

 

Hydro One’s profit engineering and the Fair Hydro Plan

Who gained the most under the Fair Hydro Plan? Not you. Hydro One comes out the winner

That baby is still not happy… who comes out on top with the Fair Hydro Plan?

In the section titled ”Other Regulatory Developments” in the “Management’s Discussion and Analysis” chapter of Hydro One’s financials for the year ended December 31, 2017, is this interesting note. (The emphasis is mine.)

“In March 2017, Ontario’s Minister of Energy announced the Fair Hydro Plan, which included changes to the Global Adjustment, the Rural or Remote Electricity Rate Protection (RRRP) Program, the introduction of the First Nations rate assistance program, and improving the allocation of delivery charges across the rural and urban geographies of the province. Hydro One worked collaboratively with the OEB on the First Nations rate assistance program, and was a key stakeholder in providing solutions that address both the Global Adjustment and RRRP elements. The Fair Hydro Plan came into effect on July 1, 2017 and resulted in a reduction of approximately 25% on electricity bills for typical Ontario residential customers. The Province also launched a new Affordability Fund aimed at assisting electricity customers who cannot qualify for low-income conservation programs. Additional enhancements were also made to the existing Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP).

Hydro One customers saw the full benefits of the Fair Hydro Plan for all electricity consumed after July 1, 2017. A typical rural residential customer using 750 kWh per month will see savings on their monthly bills of 31% on average, or approximately $600 annually. These changes did not have an impact on the net income of the Company.

Now, fast-forward to the release of Hydro One’s 2018 2nd Quarter results and there is no mention of the Fair Hydro Plan, the Global Adjustment, the RRRP or the First Nations rate assistance program!

In the recent report, Hydro One simply brags about the big jump in its net income. That jump was supposedly due to approval of a substantial transmission rate increase and favourable weather noted as “higher energy consumption resulting from colder weather in April 2018”!*

The actual growth in revenue for the six months was only $24 million; however, after-tax net income** year over year increased from $284 million to $422 million, showing an increase of $138 million or 48.6% for the comparable six months.

Dreams come true … for Hydro One

If one looks at gross revenue less the cost of “purchased power,” Hydro One’s RoR (Return on Revenue) for the six months was 25.6% (after-tax). Any other service provider or retailer could only dream about growth like that!

So, was the $138 million improvement in net profit a reflection on the now retired, six-million-dollar man’s achievements or other factors?

Let’s look at a few aspects of the results.

As it turns out, the “substantial transmission rate increase” generated additional revenue of $123 million. The transmission revenue is paid for by all local distribution companies (LDC) and included in the “delivery” line on electricity bills. The result of the $123-million increase collected by Hydro One (and all LDC) in delivery costs should have increased that line on the bills, but for Hydro One customers, it didn’t!   The “delivery” costs for Hydro One customers is estimated to have decreased from about 8.2 cents/kWh to 5.4 cents/kWh and “distribution” revenue fell by $96 million despite increased demand of 5.4% (697,000 MWh) in the comparable six months.

Another significant item affecting the positive results is related to what Hydro One paid for the cost of power which fell (despite increased demand) by $113 million from $1.538 billion to $1.425 billion and also fell for “delivery” line items previously included on hydro bills.

The kickbacks, under the Fair Hydro Plan, resulted from moving the “purchased power” costs to future ratepayers and by moving costs of issues such as the OESP*** and “conservation” spending to current taxpayers.

Those cost shifts naturally had a positive effect on Hydro One’s earnings.

In addition, and as noted in an article in the Ottawa Citizen Hydro One is responsible for monitoring “the energy production and pay thousands of FIT and MicroFit producers across the province, it is no longer able to share any information about those contracts publicly.”

Worthy of our trust?

Hydro is simply required to submit a bill to the IESO for the generation produced for all the MicroFIT contracted parties on their distribution network. Those bills are submitted monthly without scrutiny by the OEB or IESO, and IESO simply writes them a cheque the cost of which is billed to all of Ontario’s ratepayers.

Should we trust Hydro One’s billing process for those thousands of FIT and MicroFIT producers, knowing that back in 2015 Ontario’s Ombudsman reported they issued more than 100,000 faulty bills to their customers? Privatization by the former Ontario Liberal government has resulted in a monopoly, now operating without oversight.

The Ottawa Citizen article about this issue had a fitting comment from Steve Aplin, an energy environment data specialist (website Emmissiontrak): “That’s what happens when you break up this system. Now, nobody is minding the store. It’s outrageous that the IESO, they send the cheques. You don’t just blindly send a cheque off to somebody. There must be some fiduciary responsibility.”

The results of Hydro One working “collaboratively” with the OEB reduced revenue in a positive way for them, as they shifted costs to future ratepayers and current taxpayers, generating higher profits.

Additionally, despite ratepayers picking up the billions in costs for “smart meters” and the “smart grid” neither the OEB or the IESO seem able to execute their fiduciary responsibility!

From all appearances, improving results for shareholders is more important now than containing costs for ratepayers and taxpayers for Hydro One, IESO and the OEB.

© Parker Gallant

*A quick estimate of additional April demand for Hydro One suggests increased distribution revenues of $10 million at say $50/MWh for the additional (estimated) 200,000 MWh their ratepayers consumed.

**Net Income before costs attributed to the planned acquisition of Avista Corporation.

***Hydro One has consistently had the highest percentage of dollar amounts in customer arrears. In 2016 they had almost 52% of all dollar amounts of arrears of $69.7 million.

 

Is the IESO finally trying to get it right?

The baby’s not happy… are his parents being scammed?

One of the IESO’s responsibilities is to ensure Ontario ratepayers are billed fairly. That’s been a challenge with more than 100 “directives” from the former Liberal government. First in a series

July 30, 2018

Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is responsible for monthly settlement (dollars in and dollars out) with all LDC (local distribution companies), transmission companies (Hydro One) and with thousands of generators of various stripes connected to the TX (transmission gird) and DX (distribution grid).

In order to capture the vagaries of what the monthly settlement encompasses, the IESO have a 164-page market manual entitled, “Settlements Part 5.5 Physical Markets Settlement Statements Issue 69”.  Its effective date was March 7, 2018, the fifteenth update of the manual over the last three years!

I’m confident the 15 recent updates were a result of directives emanating from the desks of former Liberal Ministers of Energy, namely Messrs. Bob Chiarelli and his successor Glenn Thibeault, and include the actions related to the Fair Hydro Act and the rebate of the 8% Provincial portion of the HST.

The directives and the changes they entail indicate the IESO is trying to “get it right” in their responsibility in dealing with the variables. Those variables were created by the Liberal government as it toyed with the energy portfolio over the last 15 years in so many ways via those directives (117 to OPA/IESO alone).  As an example, IESO in 2017 was responsible for settling about $16 billion related to the costs of generating electricity (what the public is charged for the combination of the HOEP (hourly Ontario electricity price) and the GA (Global Adjustment).

Ensuring ratepayers are correctly billed and generators are paid no more than they deserve places a lot of responsibility on IESO to ensure ratepayers are not being scammed!

On the latter point it is worth noting a CBC article from just seven months ago stated:  “Hydro customers shelled out about $100 million in ‘inappropriate’ payments to a natural gas plant that exploited flaws in how Ontario manages its private electricity generators”. The article said “gaming” of the system was discovered by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and contained this statement about the IESO: “the investigation found IESO did little checking into the details of Goreway Power Station’s billings.

Data not audited

That is somewhat disconcerting. When I recently asked IESO about the Fair Hydro Plan’s “variance account” for the month of May 2018 being very high ($309.9 million), they answered “Please note that settlement data submitted to the IESO by the LDCs is not audited by the IESO (audit responsibilities reside with the OEB) and is processed as submitted.”

In viewing IESO’s December 31, 2017 financial statements, their independent auditors (KPMG) attempt to capture their responsibilities, listing 30 of them as if they were simply the Ten Commandments. The one directing the activities associated with the money movement related to the FHP (Fair Hydro Plan) says: “engaging in activities related to making payments to and receiving payments as contemplated under the FHP and related settlement activities”.

The disconcerting part of this is that the Fair Hydro Plan alone will (according to the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario) amount to approximately $1,750 million on an annual basis — the 8% HST provincial rebate will add another $1 billion annually.  That certainly leaves the taxpayers and ratepayers of the future exposed to any one of the LDC “gaming” the system, or inadvertently submitting incorrect information.

Can we current and future ratepayers trust that Hydro One and all of the other LDC will submit correct “data” to IESO and that it will be properly audited by the Ontario Energy Board?

Stay tuned!

Second installment to appear tomorrow

Hydro One and “demonstrable consumer value”

Sorting out fact from fiction among Hydro One claims

The current media attention focusing on Hydro One and its executives is reminiscent of the not so distant past when Andre Marin was Ontario’s Ombudsman. In May 2015 an article in the Globe and Mail noted as a result of his report: “Hydro One issued faulty bills to more than 100,000 customers, lied to the government and regulators in a bid to cover up the problem, then spent $88.3-million in public funds to repair the damage.”

Hydro One installed Mayo Schmidt as CEO in 2015. Recent media reports have focused on why Mr. Schmidt was given a big raise ($1.7 million) to $6.2 million and how his termination (without cause) would cost $10.7 million. The current government signaled they were unaware of either the pay increases for the executives or the increased termination amount and the raises the Board of Directors gave themselves.

These issues were two of the items Hydro One’s Board of Directors had on the agenda for the Annual General Meeting (AGM) that required shareholder approval. As Andrew Willis of the Globe and Mail reported: “Shareholders voted 92 per cent in favour of Hydro One Ltd.’s executive compensation plan, which has faced intense scrutiny during the lead up to Ontario’s election campaign.” It appears that, of the shareholders who actually voted, only 8 per cent were against the increases.   But if the province had participated in the voting (they abstained) and used their 47 per cent shareholding, the motion could have been defeated with 55 per cent voting against it.

One wonders why they chose not to participate.

Christie Blatchford of the National Post was present at Hydro One’s AGM and took part in a short scrum after the AGM ended, with other reporters. The Chairman of the Board, David Denison, along with CEO. Mayo Schmidt represented Hydro One.  Blatchford’s article notes questioning from one aggressive reporter! Asked if he’d take a pay cut or resign, Schmidt said, “It isn’t about pay cuts.” The hellion reporter snapped, “Of course it is.” He then reminded the motley press that the company is committed to “building this high-performing champion,” that Hydro One has reduced costs by 31 per cent, and “turned the power back on for the desperate people.”

Now the only allusion Schmidt made to where those reduced costs came from at the AGM was reported by Andrew Willis who noted “management said the main drivers of earnings growth will come from consolidating local distribution companies in Ontario and cutting costs — the company got rid of 1,000 vehicles over the past year.”

While Schmidt (according to media coverage) was subdued and apolitical during the AGM, a couple of days later he lashed out as reported in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business in an article by Tim Kiladze. Mr. Kiladze reported that “Schmidt is warning that threats from politicians in Ontario’s election campaign are weighing on the business and will have consequences.” Later in the article reporter Kiladze noted: “Speaking to Hydro One’s latest quarterly earnings, he noted that profit was up by 33 per cent from the year prior, and that Hydro One has added 400 jobs while delivering $114 million in cost savings since its IPO. “Those are remarkable statistics for a company that’s in transition,” Schmidt is reported to have said.

Despite Mr. Schmidt’s claim of improving profits and generating cost savings, the market has moved Hydro’s One’s stock price in the opposite direction. It reached a new low of $18.93 and closed the week at $19.10.   It appears investors are not impressed with either the quarterly earnings jump or the reported “cost savings.”

Examining the first Quarter report tells some of the story.

As CEO Schmidt noted, profit was up by 33 per cent or $55 million above the first quarter of 2017. It appears almost all of the increase was related to rate approvals for the transmission part of the business which increased $54 million due to rate increases approved by the regulator — the Ontario Energy Board (OEB). Electricity transmitted in the quarter was up by only one tenth of one per cent!

Go further into the quarterly report to Note 10, the possible reason for investor concern is significant and relates to the OEB’s Decision and Order in respect to the “transition from the payments in lieu of tax regime under the Electricity Act (Ontario) to tax payments under the federal and provincial tax regime”.

The following comes from that note: “On November 9, 2017, the OEB issued a Decision and Order that calculated the portion of the tax savings that should be shared with ratepayers. The OEB’s calculation would result in an impairment of Hydro One Networks’ transmission deferred income tax regulatory asset of up to approximately $515 million. If the OEB were to apply the same calculation for sharing in Hydro One Networks’ 2018-2022 distribution rates, for which a decision is currently outstanding, it would result in an additional impairment of up to approximately $370 million related to Hydro One Networks’ distribution deferred income tax regulatory asset.”

The conclusion from the OEB’s decision is that they were simply doing their job and honouring their first listed mission statement which reads: “Strengthening the focus on demonstrable consumer value during a period of sector evolution.”

The decision is being challenged by Hydro One’s executives and (presumably) their Board of Directors who are upset the $885 million may not wind up in shareholders pockets. As a result, in October 2017 the Company filed a Motion to Review and Vary (Motion) the Decision and filed an appeal with the Divisional Court of Ontario (Appeal). On December 19, 2017, the OEB granted a hearing of the merits of the Motion which was held on February 12, 2018.

In both cases, the Company’s position is that the OEB made errors of fact and law in its determination of allocation of the tax savings between the shareholders and ratepayers. To put the $885 million in context; it exceeds the annual after-tax profit of Hydro One for a full year!  The results of the OEB hearing will determine whether Hydro One proceed with the appeal to the Divisional Court of Ontario.

Perhaps Hydro One’s Board of Directors and senior executives don’t comprehend they operate a monopoly that is regulated for the express purpose of ensuring their focus is “on demonstrable consumer value during a period of sector evolution.”

As ratepayers, we should hope the OEB continues to place an emphasis on “demonstrable consumer value.” Ordinary ratepayers do not enjoy the benefits Hydro One’s executive have awarded themselves.

Parker Gallant

May 22, 2018