Cutting Ontario’s electricity bills: promise made, promise (partly) kept

How the Ford government is cutting electricity costs, and some suggestions on how they might do better

A month or so before the 2018 Ontario election, the Ontario PC Party made a promise to reduce electricity bills for Ontario’s residential ratepayers by 12% or specifically: “Putting $173 back in the taxpayer pocket”.  The amount needed to achieve the $173 per ratepayer would amount to approximately $807 million annually, based on the 4,665,055 residential ratepayers Ontario had at the end of 2017, according to the OEB’s (Ontario Energy Board) “2017 Yearbook of Electricity Distributors”.

PC leader Doug Ford promised if elected, they would give ratepayers the dividends the government receives from the partially privatized Hydro One. For 2018, that would amount to $245 million as 47.4% (the province’s current ownership) of total dividends ($518 million) awarded to common shareholders by Hydro One.  The dividends of $245 million annually would translate to about $53 per residential ratepayer.

On July 13, 2018, the Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines announced the cancellation of 758 renewable energy contracts* which he said would save ratepayers $790 million over the life of the contracts. Assuming the bulk of the contracts were for 20-year terms, that would amount to about $40 million annually, costs that would have been borne by all ratepayers, not just “residential” ones.

Over the past several years, residential ratepayers consume about 32% of all grid-delivered electricity, so the savings to that group should be relatively small as 32% of $40 million only translates to annual savings of $13 million (rounded) or less than $3.00 per residential ratepayer. (Bob Chiarelli, when Minister of Energy would have suggested it would amount to “a large Timmies”.)

So, these two actions leave a shortfall of slightly more than $545 million or $117 per residential ratepayer — where will the balance come from?

Will “bold action” pay out the shortfall for ratepayers?

March 21, 2019 arrived and the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines issued a press release declaring: “Ford Government Taking Bold Action to Fix Hydro Mess.” It was full of promises, but were they enough to deliver the missing $117/per residential ratepayer?

Winding down the Fair Hydro Plan (FHP)

The press release specifically stated the Ministry would “wind down the Fair Hydro Plan” (FHP) and in the process save billions of dollars in borrowing costs.  They would do that by simply moving the borrowing process from the OPG “Trust” directly to the Province.  As noted in the report of the FAO (Financial Accountability Office) of early 2017, borrowing via the “Trust”, would increase interest costs by “about $4 billion in interest expense, because the interest rate on Provincial debt is lower than the interest rate on OPG Trust’s debt.”  The FAO noted the timeline required to both fund and repay the total debt under the FHP was 29 years, so the $4 billion in savings would amount to approximately $138 million annually.  As the FHP was all directed at residential ratepayers, $138 million would reduce future rate increases by $30 per residential ratepayer.

That reduces the missing $117 to $87 per ratepayer.

Reducing Conservation Spending

Another position in the recent press release was related to reducing conservation spending which has added about $450 million annually to ratepayer bills for the past 10 years.  The effect on residential ratepayers will be approximately one-third of that amount.  Those coupons your local distribution company handed out for the purchase of LED bulbs, and the rebates for installing energy efficient furnaces or air conditioners have been cancelled, which will reduce the bill to residential ratepayers by around $150 million annually.  The effect on ratepayers should be a reduction in future rate increases of $32 per residential ratepayer. So that means the $173 reduction is now $55!

Unanswered at this point is where the remaining $85 per residential ratepayer will come from. Perhaps Minister Rickford would like a suggestion or two to find the missing $400 million in annual costs needed to eliminate the missing $55 per residential ratepayer? Here we go.

Quick and easy savings                                                                                                                                                             Wyoming State has implemented a “wind tax” and a suggestion to do likewise in Ontario was put forward by the writer back in March 2018 as just one idea.  If that is seen by the current government as going “against the grain” of a conservative government, I have another suggestion which can be easily found in the regulatory pigeonholes!

Enforce the regulations

Enforcement of regulations dealing with complaints surrounding wind turbines would reduce the generation they provide out of sync with demand or where they are curtailing their generation, but paid for doing so.

Enforcing regulations should be something the government should be onside with!

A recent article noted: “The Ontario government now has records of thousands of complaints dating back to 2006 regarding excessive noise and shadow flicker or strobe effect. The detailed files on these complaints, which contain notes by Provincial Officers with the ministry of the environment, also contain comments on adverse health effects stemming from exposure to the noise emissions.”

Needless to say, those “complaints” have been virtually ignored. If the regulations were enforced wind developers would be told to shut down their turbines thereby saving ratepayers considerable monies and as a wondrous side benefit, would reduce health issues (and costs to the healthcare system) related to the noise and strobe effects.

The Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines would quickly find the $260 million missing to help him reach the goal set by Premier Ford to reduce future bills by the $55 per residential ratepayer.

One should hopefully believe (unlike Kathleen Wynne, our previous Premier), Doug Ford was not suggesting the $173 per residential ratepayer he promised will turn out to be a “stretch goal”!

PARKER GALLANT

*One wind power project, the 100-megawatt “Nation Rise” in North Stormont south of Ottawa, escaped the guillotine, despite not being built and in fact, receiving its approval after the election while the defeated Wynne government was in “caretaker mode.” Cancelling this project would save Ontario ratepayers over $400 million for the 20-year contract, less any penalty for cancelling the contract.

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Time to tax the wind?

March 19, 2018

Ontario electricity consumers are already on track this year to pay more for wind, and for the cost of wasting (clean) power from other sources due to surplus power — is it time for some fairness in the electricity sector?

The science on using wind energy to generate electricity is branded as innovation, but it’s actually very old.

Power generation via windmills was technology developed by Scottish engineer James Blyth (1839-1906). “In 1887, while a professor at Anderson’s College in Glasgow (an ancestor of the modern Strathclyde University), he constructed a windmill attached to a dynamo to light his cottage in his home village of Marykirk.”

In Ontario, government brought us the Green Energy Act touted as a revelation to clean our air and create 50,000 jobs. The government claimed: “Ontario wants green energy business. These regulations will help ensure industry and municipalities that jobs will be created, investment is committed and that the renewable energy industry grows across the province.”

To try to make that happen, we were saddled with the FIT (feed in tariff) program offering payment for generation by wind and solar generators at multiples of power already in place. Additionally, to attract the investment in renewable energy, developers and operators were granted tax breaks. Examples follow.

Tax Breaks                                                                                                                                    The Finance Minister instructed MPAC to limit their assessment of wind turbines to $40,000 per/MW of capacity, meaning municipalities would receive meagre realty taxes and had no say in accepting or rejecting them. Subsequent to that direction it was changed for large installations (over 500 kW) of both wind and solar to: “10.7% to the industrial tax class.”

Additionally, the federal government granted wind developers the ability to allow them to accelerate deductions (depreciation) of the capital costs under “Class 43.2 of the Income Tax Act.” And those rights were recently extended by the federal government, as noted by CanWEA here to 2025.

So, wind and solar power developers are paid high prices for generation classified as “baseload” power meaning the grid operator, IESO, is obliged to accept and pay for the power. That’s a guarantee whether the sun shines or the wind blows they will be paid the contracted prices, or paid slightly less for curtailed generation. At the same time, developers walk away with the cash and pay almost no taxes except for meagre realty taxes.

Cashing in                                                                                                                                    Ontario’s ratepayers have been adversely affected by the continued addition of wind capacity as IESO and its predecessor, the OPA, follow[ed] ministerial directives and continue to contract for more and more capacity. As CanWEA notes, “Ontario remains Canada’s leader in clean wind energy with 4,900 MW of installed capacity.”

The cost of grid- (TX) and distribution-accepted (DX) wind and curtailed wind in 2017 was more than $1.6 billion, and that’s without factoring in the additional ratepayer costs of steamed-off nuclear, spilled hydro, subsidized exports of surplus generation or idling gas plants (built to back-up the wind and solar generation). So far in 2018, the costs of wind (generated and accepted plus curtailed) versus 2017 for the months of January and February are $447 million — $44.7 million higher than 2017.

Evidence clearly points to wind power generation occurring during low demand hours, days and months, rather than high demand hours causing waste of nuclear and hydro power, still paid for by ratepayers.

Time for a tax?

If industrial wind power plants can’t generate power when needed, maybe it’s time to reconsider the pricing model, or find a way to recover some of those additional costs. As noted, above the only tax paid by wind power operators is realty tax at a rate of about $4,000 per turbine annually (estimated) which collectively, returns tax revenue of about $2 per ratepaying household.*

That $4,000 tax, however, is really not much more than the taxes paid for an ordinary house in Ontario. For a home assessed at $300,000, for example, the average realty tax is $3,300. Not far off from a huge, industrial-scale wind turbine which is reaping hundreds of thousands in income each year for its owners.**

The state of Wyoming has found a way to increase tax revenue: it simply levies a tax per MWh (megawatt hour) of generation.  Wyoming is currently looking at increasing that tax from $1/MWh to $2/MWh and had considered levying it at the rate of $5/MWh.

If Ontario used the Wyoming model, for example, a $5/MWh tax for grid-accepted generation (9.2 TWh) and a $20/MW tax for curtailed generation (3.3 TWh) in 2017 would have generated approximately $60 million in tax revenue. Even at those rates, it would only represent 2.2% of what ratepayers are paying for intermittent and unreliable wind power.

Perhaps it would be more fair for wind power developers and operators to pay up for the constant subsidization by the ratepayers and taxpayers of Ontario, and bring more revenues to Ontario’s stressed municipalities — tax them!

© Parker Gallant

* Ontario has approximately 4.9 million households.

** From The Toronto Star: “A turbine with a feed-in tariff contract receives 13.5 cents a kilowatt hour, or $135 a megawatt hour for its output. A two-megawatt turbine running at full speed, 24 hours a day for a year, would therefore produce 17,520 megawatt hours of power. Assuming it operates at 35 per cent capacity, in the real world it will produce about 6,132 megawatt hours. At $135 a megawatt hour, that means revenue of $827,820 annually. Assuming a more conservative capacity of 27 per cent, it would generate revenue of $638,604.” There are capital costs of course, like the “rent” paid to the landowner which might be $15,000 to $40,000 per year.

How much does wind power cost us?

March 5, 2018

Ontario turbines near Comber: wind is not free

Being asked to do a presentation at Wind Concerns Ontario’s annual conference this past Saturday to describe the costs associated with industrial wind turbines was something I relished!

The presentation I developed used IESO information for 2017.

Discovered in the preparation of my presentation was the fact that nuclear and hydro power alone could have supplied over 100% of all grid-connected consumption for 2017, at a average cost of about 5.9 cents per kilowatt hour.

The cost for Class B ratepayers in 2017 however, was almost double, coming in at 11.55 cents per kwh.

So why the big jump? Have a look at the presentation to see why and look at Slide 6 in particular where you get an inkling of how IESO views the reliability of industrial wind generation in their forward planning process!

presentationparkerppt-final

 

Ontario’s IESO: keeping the lights on (and the champagne flowing for some)

Mild weather might mean lower power demand and savings for electricity customers … but not in Ontario

February 28, 2018

The IESO has responsibility for ensuring the electricity system in Ontario keeps the lights on. They must manage the flow of generated electricity and keep it within the confines of producing too much or too little which could lead to either brownouts or blackouts.

That task has become more difficult as frequent Energy Minister directives, mandating the acquisition of more and more intermittent and unreliable wind and solar power generation, have made reliability an issue of concern, particularly during times of low demand. They are concerned with “surplus base-load” which in the past generally meant nuclear and “must-run” hydro. Wind and solar generation joined that latter group under those mandated directives pushing the potential “must run” power generation much higher.

Higher base-load on low demand hours/days could cause the system to fail.   And, it’s obvious that managing the system today has a much higher cost.

Example: February 25, 2018

The 25th of February saw higher than normal temperatures in Ontario, resulting in lower demand.  Demand in one hour was only 12,716 MW and the average was 14,390 MW/per hour for the day according to IESO’s daily summary.  Total Ontario demand for the day was only 345,000 MWh.  The IESO summary discloses the market valued all generation (including surplus exports) on that day at “0” meaning our net exports (exports minus imports) of 48,000 MWh were sold at a substantial loss.

Another issue facing IESO on the 25th was the fact it was a windy day. The forecast was for wind turbines to generate 89,100 MWh.  But only 49,500 MWh were accepted into the grid and the balance (39,600 MWh) were curtailed (paid for but not used).  Ratepayers pick up the costs for both accepted and curtailed wind.  It is worth noting our net exports of 48,000 MWh for the day, were only slightly less than the grid-accepted wind power generation.

Because of low demand and excess wind power generation, OPG were no doubt spilling water at IESO’s instructions. IESO don’t disclose spilled water, but a reasonable estimate for this day would be 45,000 MWh — which ratepayers are obliged to pay for.

Yet another source of power would have been our gas plants which receive payment(s) for idling at a contracted amount (payable monthly per MW of capacity). As one would expect, they were not called on to produce any power for the day which would have been cheap (fuel costs plus a small markup). Gas plants are essentially the back-up for the approximately 7,700 MW of intermittent wind and solar capacity now either grid- or distributor-connected in the province.

So let’s look at what ratepayers paid just for wind power for the day:

 

One day’s cost for unreliable intermittent wind!

Wind accepted: 49.500 MWh at $135/MWh =                                      $ 6,682,500.

Wiind curtailed: 39,600 MWh at $120/MWh =                                    $ 4,752,000.

Total wind costs:                                                                                $ 11,434,500.

Spilled Water (estimated): 45,000 MWh at $45/MWh =            $   2,025,000

Gas plant idling costs (estimated):                                                       $   2,500,000

Gross wind costs:                                                                                $ 15,959,500

 

Less: Recovered from net exports (estimated):                                  $     720,000

            True net wind generation cost:                                                     $ 15,239,500

 

Cost per MWh: $15,239,500/49,500 = $307.87/MWh or 30.8 cents/kWh

 

If all the days in a year were like last Sunday, annual costs would be well over $5 billion for unneeded high priced generation from wind power projects.

This all just goes to show, Ontario ratepayers were filling the pockets of IWT developers so they could sip the champagne while IESO kept did its best to keep the lights on!

 

 

NB: All of the numbers above are rounded to the nearest hundred.

A few dollars more: ordinary electricity customers pay for new conservation measures

Ontario’s Class B ratepayers will be digging deeper into their pockets to find more dollars to help universities, hospitals, court houses and other public buildings pay their electricity bills.

That fact has not been formally announced by the Ontario government; however, the IESO 18-month outlook said this about the Industrial Conservation Initiative or ICI.

“The changes to the ICI program this year have opened the door for participation from the commercial sector. Hospitals, office buildings, hotels, universities and other large commercial buildings with peaks greater than 1 MW can now minimize their electricity costs by shifting loads during the ICI peak day periods. The success of these changes from the perspective of the commercial sector comes back to their load flexibility and their ability to follow the system peaks. The commercial sector impacts are not visible to the IESO as all of these participants would be distributor customers. The ICI program is estimated to have reduced peak demand by about 1,300 MW in the summer of 2016 and with the changes to the program the expectation is that those savings will have increased in 2017.”

What does this change in the ICI program do? It allows public and private entities to pick the highest five peak demand hours in a year (or come close to the five highest) in order to receive subsidized electricity rates. The subsidy is basically a transfer of costs from the Class A ratepayers to the Class B ratepayers—Class B being ordinary folks like you and me.

Class B ratepayers are all residential households along with thousands of small businesses and franchised businesses (who are also struggling with how to manage the increase in the minimum wage which came into effect January 1, 2018).

In 2017, the ICI transfer added $1.2 billion to the costs of electricity for Class B ratepayers while reducing the Class A costs by the same amount. The addition of the business option to choose the ICI program is substantial and will increase the subsidy, but it doesn’t appear the Energy Ministry has bothered to provide that information, or completed a cost/benefit analysis to assess the effects.

Scott Luft noted the ICI cost shift for 2017 in a Tweet a few days ago:

Cold Air‏@ScottLuft Jan 6

yesterday I noted an ICI Hi5 hour being set – and noting the program shifted about $1.2 billion from large to small consumers in Ontario last year. Today’s hour 18 may also end up in the Hi5”

So, reducing “peak demand” by 1,300 MW for five hours is equal to 6,500 MWh and cost $1.2 billion, making the cost of reducing “peak demand” $184,615 per/MWh! ($1.2 billion divided by 6,500MWh).

We should expect this Class B to Class A shift to increase substantially in 2018 as the effects of lowering the ICI to the lower level of 1MW will provide an incentive to those who qualify.

If you happen to be in a hospital or university and notice the lights suddenly dimming you can guess it is probably one of the anticipated high five hours.

It also means, your electricity bill just went up.

Parker Gallant

OFA: lending support to Ontario’s new energy plan

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has published support for the new Long Term Energy Plan — but did they even read the numbers? Government spending seems to run counter to OFA goals

 

OFA in conflict?

About a year ago, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault told a community meeting in Sault Ste. Marie, “Since 2003, Ontario has invested more than $35 billion in over 16,000 megawatts (MW) of new and refurbished clean generation, including nuclear, natural gas and renewables – this represents about 40 per cent of our current supply and is the main reason why hydro bills will continue to rise in the future.”

That was followed on March 2, 2017 by Premier Wynne who put out a statement on Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan and how much had been spent:  “In the past few years we’ve invested more than $50 billion in electricity infrastructure”.

Now, to the release of Minister Thibeault’s 2017 Long-Term Energy Plan  (LTEP) “Delivering Fairness and Choice” which says this: “Nearly $70 billion has been invested in the electricity system since 2003. These investments have several benefits, including providing a clean, reliable electricity system.”

In just one year, Ontario’s Premier and Minister of Energy changed the claims made about spending on the electricity sector to the point where they suggest we have spent an additional $35 billion dollars in just one year!

In response to the LTEP, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture or OFA put out a very short paper that simply seems to buy into the government claims: $70 billion was invested in our electricity system over the past 15 years, much of these investments were for the shift to non-emitting generation sources.”

You might think Ontario’s farmers, who are very dependent on energy, would be far from happy with electricity prices. In fact, on their Issues page on their website, they say “OFA believes Ontario farms need competitively priced energy, including access to natural gas and reasonably priced electricity, to be able to compete and to contribute to the growth of our rural economy.”

They are no doubt concerned about the Fair Hydro Act and what will happen when the bill for its $40-billion cost falls due and electricity rates shoot up again. But you wouldn’t know that from reading their LTEP review: it suggests refinancing the Global Adjustment to defer costs was a good thing!

Perhaps Don McCabe, former President of the OFA, still plays a role in determining the OFA’s position on the electricity sector?   As people may recall, McCabe was one of several “environmentalists” who were members of the GEAA (Green Energy Act Alliance) who claim responsibility for bringing us the Green Energy and Green Economy Act. Back in 2011 the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA) awarded Don McCabe a trophy for that role! (The OFA continues to maintain membership in OSEA but the current representative is Ian Nokes.)

As an OFA executive, Mr. McCabe should step up and help the Premier and Minister to present a dollar amount to the public that is consistent, and doesn’t suggest spending jumped $35 billion in one year.

On the other hand, he and the other members of the GEAA could be blamed for increasing electricity bills plus the removal of the rights of rural communities to say yes or no to industrial wind turbines, and for the negative impacts on neighbours of any farmers who signed leases with wind power developers

Perhaps Mr. McCabe is content to keep a low profile as the spending claims keep growing!

Hydro One’s shopping list: new Smart Meters”!

Ka-ching! And, Hydro One is considering asking you to pay for electricity up-front …

Electricity: soon to be a luxury in Ontario? More families choose between heat, or eat

It was just a couple of years ago when then Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin issued his damning report about Hydro One’s billing errors. As quoted by the Globe and Mail, “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.”

The Office of the Ombudsman cannot now report on Hydro One due to partial privatization, so ratepayers obtaining their electricity from them should be prepared for this monopoly to do whatever it wants.

Prior to the release of the Ombudsman’s report the OEB said this:  “On March 26, 2015, the OEB issued a Decision and Order to amend Hydro One’s distribution license to include an exemption from the requirement to apply TOU pricing to approximately 170,000 Regulated Price Plan customers that are outside the smart meter telecommunications infrastructure. The exemption expires December 31, 2019.”

Those 170,000 RRP customers represented about 14% of Hydro One’s customer base. In December of 2015 the Ontario Auditor General in her annual report noted: “Hydro One installed 1.2 million smart meters on its distribution system at a cost of $660 million”. The math on that indicates a probable cost per meter of $550 each, including the 170,000 meters that aren’t working as they should. Now, Hydro One is back in front of the OEB seeking rate increases that will impact their ratepayers for the next five years. They are submitting thousands of pages of documents to justify their needs to increase distribution rates by 1.56cents/kWh for their rate-paying clients.

Looking at one of the Hydro One application documents, you find the following (untenable) claim related to smart meters: “There is a significant increase in projected spending in 2022, which reflects the anticipated commencement of smart meter replacement, as the current population of smart meters approach end of service life.”

This should alarm Hydro One customers—should we once again be concerned about billing problems? Will the replacements once again fall short of being able to communicate data?

Ontario’s record with smart meters is not stellar. A report issued in August 2016 by The Brattle Group report notes: “Besides Italy, Ontario is the only region in the world to roll-out smart meters to all its residential customers and to deploy TOU rates for generation charges to all customers who stay with regulated supply.” The old mechanical meters were much cheaper and longer lasting as an article from 2010 states: “Itron, which formerly produced mechanical meters and now makes smart meters, said that older instruments generally have a lifespan of about 30 years before they start to slow down.”

Another disturbing issue is found on page 2038 in yet another of the documents submitted for the rate increase discloses Hydro One’s plans when it comes to ratepayers who are slow to pay their bills:

“One method of enabling customer control of their electricity consumptions, while in arrears condition, and minimizing Hydro One Network’s financial risk, is through the use of pre-paid meters. Pre-paid meters are a type of energy meter that requires users to pay for energy before using it. This is done via a smartcard, token or key that can be ‘topped up’ at a corner shop, via a smartphone application or online. For customers who are high collection risk, the financial risk will be minimized by rolling out this type of meter. With a pre-paid meter, electricity is paid up-front. Once the pre-paid amount is used up, power is cut-off until the customer is able to load the meter with more credits.”

 If the OEB backs off on their muscle flexing and grants Hydro One’s wishes, ratepayers should expect they will have to prepay their anticipated electricity usage or have their power cut off.

Sad times for Ontario as power becomes a luxury, and many more households face the “heat or eat” dilemma!