Questions unanswered on northern Ontario transmission project

A much needed connection for remote First Nation communities brings questions about funding

What connection is there between Dutton Dunwich township in Southwestern Ontario and Deer Lake First Nation of Northern Ontario? Deer Lake First Nation is 180 km north of Red Lake, or 1,915 km from Dutton Dunwich by road, so the two communities are far apart. What connects them is how the Ontario government manages the electricity sector.

Ontario’s Energy Minister issued a directive to the Ontario Energy Board or OEB on July 29, 2016, stating “the construction of the Remotes Connection Project, including the Line to Pickle Lake, is needed as a priority project.”

Deer Lake First Nation and three other of the 16 First Nation communities to benefit from being connected to the recently announced $1.6-billion Wataynikaneyap (Watay) Power grid, are also named as partners in the Strong Breeze Wind Farm (57.5MW) in Dutton-Dunwich. They were brought into the project by U.S.-based Invenergy LLC which resulted in a points advantage in the procurement bid process administered by the Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO.

The Watay Power Project is a different story: it will be a much-needed connection for 16 First Nations to the Ontario power transmission grid. The 16 First Nations represent a population of over 14,000 who currently rely on diesel for power generation. It will be owned by 22 First Nations.

Who is putting up the cash, and is it a loan or a grant?                                                                                                                    

There appears to be a disconnect on the announcements associated with the $1.6-billion project as MP Bob Nault’s website stated: “Today, the Honourable Bob Nault, along with the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, announced $1.6 billion in federal funding for Wataynikaneyap Power to connect 16 First Nations to the provincial power grid.”

The CBC’s report had a different view of the funding, however: “Premier Kathleen Wynne and Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault along with the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, Jane Philpott, announced an investment of $1.6 billion dollars to connect 16 First Nations in Northwestern Ontario to the electrical grid.”

The report quoted Ontario’s Premier, who said “We are putting the money up front and then the federal government is coming in and back filling that money, so the province is putting up over $1.3 billion in order to facilitate the project … in order for the project to get going, someone had to take the risk.”

There is a lack of clarity for taxpayers in the federal and provincial statements. Who is really providing the money? And is it $1.6 or $1.3 billion? Is it a loan or is it a grant? Taxpayers should be told.

Delivery costs

Grid-connected electricity for the 14,000 residents of the 16 First Nations communities works out to about $114,000 each and (assuming 3.5 residents per household) $400,000 per household. If one assumes a lifespan of 40 years* for the transmission system the delivery cost annually is $10,000 per household, without factoring in either electricity or interest costs on the debt (if it is debt).  Somehow, I doubt the 14,000 residents of the 16 First Nations will get the bill; will it fall on the taxpayers or ratepayers in Ontario, or all Canadian taxpayers to pick up the bill?  If it is Ontario ratepayers, should not the cost of this initiative properly be part of an indigenous support and development program, rather than adding to already beleagured ratepayers’ bills? Clarity on this issue would be appreciated from both the federal and provincial governments.

Environmental and health impacts                                                                                                 

An IESO “Panel Discussion: Engagement at the Local Level indicated grid connection to Ontario’s remote First Nation’s communities would: “Save $1 billion compared to diesel generation (PWC Study)” and that $472 million of the social value includes the “present value” of 6.6 million tonnes of avoided CO2 equivalent and $304 million of “adverse health impacts” over 40 years in the $1 billion reputedly saved, according to the PWC report of June 17, 2015.

What Watay Power won’t provide                                                                                                  

The website for Watay Power has a “Frequently Asked Questions” page, where two interesting questions posed. One concerns future power outages and the other asks whether the $1.6-billion transmission system will connect to the undeveloped Ring of Fire?

The first intriguing question was, “What options do communities have for back-up power during outages?” The answer was “A back up study is being prepared to develop options on how each community local distribution plans to address outages. The Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project is solely responsible for transmission.”

The second question was: “Will this line connect to the Ring of Fire?”** The answer to that question was, “The Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project is not proposing a connection to the Ring of Fire at this time.”

So, it would appear no backup plan is included in the estimated $1.6 billion cost, nor is a connection planned to the Ring of Fire which is regarded as “ Ontario’s version of the Oil Sands, the deposit has been said to contain $60-billion in mineral wealth.”

The Watay Power project poses many questions for Ontarians and Canadians. While the project is worthy in connecting remote communities to the power grid, Queens Park and Ottawa need to provide more details on who is really paying for it.

Parker Gallant                                                                                                                                 April 16, 2018

* “Studies have shown that building the transmission infrastructure to these remote communities would save over $1 billion compared to continued diesel generation over the next 40 years.”

**”Ten years after a large chromite deposit in Ontario’s James Bay lowlands was first discovered and declared a “game-changer” for the Canadian economy, the Ring of Fire mining development is flaming out in a dispute over who is talking to whom.”

Parker Gallant is an independent commentator on energy issues

 

Multi-million-dollar power contracts IESO style

Or, how the IESO could have saved Ontario ratepayers more than $400 million by cancelling one wind power project, but didn’t 

Surplus power in Ontario: why not get out of a contract if you could?[Photo: IESO]
February 6, 2018

On March 10, 2016 the Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO announced the outcome of the “Competitive Bids for Large Renewable Projects” via a news release which, among other issues claimed, they said they would award “five wind contracts totalling 299.5 MW, with a weighted average price of 8.59 cents/kWh”. The news release also described the contracting process: “The LRP process was administered by the IESO and overseen by an external fairness advisor. Robust and transparent public procurement practices were followed throughout the process, and each proposal was carefully evaluated for compliance against a list of specific mandatory requirements and rated criteria.”

Fast forward to October 26, 2017 and the release of Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault’s “Long-Term Energy Plan 2017 Delivering Fairness and Choice,” which offers some context for power contracts currently.

“Due to the substantial decline in the cost of wind and solar technologies over the last decade, renewables are increasingly competitive with conventional energy sources and will continue to play a key role in helping Ontario meet its climate change goals.”

and

“Ontario is Canada’s leader in installed wind and solar power.”

Economics of power procurement

Further on in the Plan are examples of how the Ministry, via the institutions under it, is working with communities. This one suggests the IESO is cognizant of the costs affecting ratepayers: “Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Gull Bay First Nation (GBFN) are in the early stages of building an advanced renewable microgrid on the GBFN reserve on the western shore of Lake Nipigon. GBFN has an on-reserve population of 300 people and is one of the four remote First Nation communities that the IESO has determined to be economically unfeasible to connect to the provincial grid at this time.”

IESO recently issued their 18-Month Outlook for the period January 2018 to June 2019 and this report also noted the situation in respect to surplus power: “Conditions for surplus baseload generation (SBG) will continue over the Outlook period. It is expected that SBG will continue to be managed effectively through existing market mechanisms, which include intertie scheduling, the dispatch of grid-connected renewable resources and nuclear manoeuvres or shutdowns.”

Those manoeuvres or shutdowns in 2017 caused over 10 TWh (terawatt hours) to be wasted, but their costs were added to ratepayers’ bills and included 3.3 TWh of curtailed wind.

So, the province has a surplus of power, and the costs of wind and solar have become more competitive. Why would the IESO then not seize upon the opportunity to deal with a high-cost industrial-scale wind power project, when they had the ability to cancel it due to non-compliance with the original contract? At the very least shouldn’t they have renegotiated the contract to reduce the impact on ratepayers?

They did neither.

The White Pines story is a curious exercise in contract law, to be sure. A successful appeal* to the Environmental Review Tribunal by the community group the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County** resulted in the project being reduced from 59.45 MW to 18.45 MW last fall. IESO could have simply canceled it because it was clearly unable to meet a condition requiring delivery of 75% of the capacity agreed to in the contract. At the very least, IESO could have renegotiated the terms of the contract to fulfill the Energy Minister’s claim that “renewables are increasingly competitive”.

But the IESO amended the contract for the reduced project, and granted waivers to the original conditions of performance, it was learned in a Belleville courtroom recently.

Cancelling would save millions

If IESO had canceled the contract, the Ministry could have claimed they reduced future rate increases saving ratepayers $21 million annually or $420 million over the full 20-year term. Even if IESO had only renegotiated the contract to the 8.59 cents/kWh achieved via the competitive bidding process instead of the 13.5 cents/kWh of the original contract, the Ministry could have claimed savings of about $5 million over the full term of the contract based on the currently approved 18.45 MW of capacity.

Has the IESO forgotten this line in in its Mission Statement ?

“Planning for and competitively procuring the resources that meet Ontario’s electricity needs today and tomorrow”

Cancelling just this one project*** would have helped to reduce surplus baseload and therefore the costs kicked down the road under the Fair Hydro Plan to be paid for in the future.

 

 

*The appeal was one on the grounds that the project would cause serious and irreversible harm to wildlife

**Disclosure: I am a member of the community group

*** The IESO has five contracts for more wind power projects totaling $3 billion, for power Ontario does not need.

Numbers don’t lie: intermittent wind and solar surplus to Ontario’s energy needs

The IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) released 2017 data for grid-connected* generation and consumption and, surprise! The data reveal that power from wind and solar is surplus to Ontario’s  energy needs.

IESO reported Ontario’s consumption/demand fell 4.9 TWh (terawatt hours) in 2017 to 132.1 TWh. That’s a drop equivalent to 3.6% from the prior year.

Nuclear (90.6 TWh) and hydro (37.7 TWh) power generation was 128.3 TWh, making up 97.1% of Ontario’s total demand (without including dispatched power from either nuclear or hydro). The cost to Ontario ratepayers for the 128.3 TWh was approximately $7.6 billion or 5.9 cents/kWh.

Spilled hydro (paid for by Ontario’s ratepayers but not used) reported by Ontario Power Generation or OPG was 4.5 TWh for the first nine months of 2017. Out that together with 511 nuclear manoeuvres and the number is 959.2 GWh (gigawatt hours) wasted but paid for by Ontario’s ratepayers. Add in three nuclear shutdowns and it means Ontario’s nuclear and hydro generation alone could have easily supplied more than 136 TWh of power or over 103% of demand.

That doesn’t include spilled hydro in the last quarter of 2017 which will probably exceed at least one TWh.

Nuclear and hydro does it all

Nuclear and hydro could also have supplied a large portion of net exports (exports less imports) had all the generation potential actually been delivered to the grid. Net exports totaled 12.5 TWh in 2017.  Grid connected wind (9.2 TWh) and solar (0.5 TWh) in 2017 supplied 9.7 TWh and their back-up generation: from gas plants, supplied 5.9 TWh.  In all, the latter three sources delivered 15.6 TWh or 124.8% of net exports.  Net exports were sold well below the average cost of generation. Exports brought in revenue of about $400 million, but here’s the kicker: that surplus power cost Ontario’s ratepayers $1.4 billion, which is really a loss of $1 billion.

Grid-connected wind, solar and gas generation collectively cost approximately $3.5 billion for the 15.6 TWh they delivered to the grid, included curtailed (paid for but not used) wind power generation of 3.3 TWh. The cost of the wind power was more than $220 million per TWh, or 22 cents/kWh. That’s almost double the Class B average rate of 11.55 cents/kWh cited in IESO’s 2017 year-end results.

The 9.7 TWh generated by wind and solar was unneeded. If it had been required, it could have been replaced by gas power generation at a cost of only around two cents per kWh. Why? Gas generators are guaranteed payment of  about $10K per MW (average) of their capacity per month to be at the ready and if called on to generate power are paid fuel costs plus a small markup.

Price tag: $2 billion

In other words, if no grid-connected wind or solar generation existed in Ontario in 2017 the bill to ratepayers would have been about $2 billion** less! Grid-connected wind generation (including curtailed) cost ratepayers in excess of $1.7 billion and grid-connected solar added another $250 million!

That $2 billion, coincidentally, is about the same cost estimate of the annual amount to be deferred, and paid by future rate increases via the Fair Hydro Plan! In other words the current government could have easily saved future generations the estimated $40 billion plus cost of the Fair Hydro Plan by having never contracted for wind and solar generation!

The IESO results for 2017 sure makes me wonder: why hasn’t the Ontario Ministry of Energy canceled all the wind power projects that have not yet broken ground?

 

*   Distributor connected solar (2,200 MW) and wind (600 MW) added over $1.4 billion to the GA.

** The first 6 months of the variance account under the Fair Hydro Plan in 2017 was $1,378.4 million.

 

Abracadabra! Now you see it, now you don’t on Hydro bills

No, wait: you’re never going to see it

[Getty images]
On December 12, 2017, Yvan Baker, Liberal MPP for Etobicoke Centre introduced Bill 190, An Act to amend the Consumer Protection Act, 2002. After the first reading he provided a short statement:

Mr. Yvan Baker: Speaker, we all know how terrible it feels when you expect to pay one price for something and end up paying a price that’s much higher than that. Consumers feel confused, misinformed and sometimes misled.  This bill, known as the What You See is What You Pay Act, amends the Consumer Protection Act by adding a new section that requires all suppliers of goods or services to ensure that any information provided to a consumer regarding the price of a good or service includes the all-inclusive price. The all-inclusive price is a total of all amounts that a consumer will have to pay for the good or service, including tax and other charges or fees.

This will ensure that consumers don’t have to worry about hidden taxes or fees and that they can make more informed choices. It will ensure that what you see is what you pay.”

So, a question: what will happen to our electricity bills in the future?

According to Hydro One they will have “A fresh new look to serve you better”.  Hydro One appears to be in the process of spending $15 million dollars to make that happen, as explained on page 2032 of one of the dozens of documents filed with the OEB seeking several rate increases. Those will cost $141 more per average ratepayer over the next four years.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault spoke to the billing issue in the Legislature December 12 stating:  “We have an LDC working group with the Electricity Distributors Association, which represents all local utilities across the province. They’re working with us, as part of the long-term energy plan, to create a bill redesign. They understand what needs to be done and how we need to ensure that we make it as clear as possible, for people to understand how our electricity system works and how our electricity bills work as well.”

A quick look at the sample “fresh” bill posted by Hydro One doesn’t show much difference from those currently used, although it promises we ratepayers will “Understand more about the electricity use, delivery and regulatory charges that make up your statement.”

I suspect there is much we won’t be told. The Yvan Baker bill will presumably bury the breakdown of what is in the key three lines “Electricity used,” “Delivery” and “Regulatory Changes” so we shouldn’t expect to be enlightened.

Here are several samples of what we won’t see as a breakdown on our bills:

  1. Cap and Trade costs—they are not allowed to appear on either our electricity or natural gas bills
  2. Fuel costs for water both running through turbines and being spilled when IESO instructs OPG to do the latter. Costs/fees paid to the province annually are in excess of $350 million.
  3. Costs for curtailed wind generation of over $400 million annually.
  4. Costs for spilled hydro of 4.5 TWh (terawatt hours) at a cost of about $200 million annually.
  5. Costs for various conservation programs estimated at $400 million annually.
  6. Costs for line losses of 5/6 TWh annually representing a cost of at least $500 million.
  7. Costs for steaming off Bruce Nuclear—annual costs unknown but believed to be $50/100 million annually.
  8. Costs for “gaming” the system by gas plant and coal plant operators estimated to be in excess of $350 million by the Auditor General of Ontario over a period of several years.
  9. Costs absorbed for exporting surplus generation annually in excess of $1 billion.
  10. Costs associated with the Class A to Class B transfer estimated to be around $1 billion annually.
  11. Interest costs (unknown) on borrowed funds related to the Fair Hydro Act’s 25% reduction.

Do the quick math on the above you will note the annual costs of what we won’t see itemized on our bill comes to $4 billion. Most of it represents no value to residential or small business ratepayers. The only value accrues to the Class A ratepayers and all the costs will be paid by residential and small business ratepayers.

A rough estimate of the costs of the above to the average residential ratepayer who consumes 9 MWh (megawatt hour) annually is approximately $27.00 per/MWh (2.7 cents/kWh) and represents $243.00 annually ($27,00 X 9 MWh) for no benefit!

For Ontario ratepayers “What You See is What You Pay” has been a fact of life under the current government. Hydro One’s $15-million spend to give us a bill without a proper breakdown will do nothing to “to ensure that we make it as clear as possible” despite Minister Thibeault’s claim!

Transparency will continue to elude the Energy Ministry and ratepayers will still feel misinformed.

Ontario summer day means low power demand, high costs for consumers

A windy, sunny August day: sounds nice? In Ontario, that costs you. [Photo: Dorothea Larsen]
August 5 2017 was an interesting day: the wind was blowing and the sun was shining, in part of Ontario, anyway.

Unfortunately for Ontario ratepayers that weather will cost them a lot of money.

Why? The cost stems from the fact Ontario’s demand for electricity on that day was only 317,000 megawatts (MWh),* according to the IESO Daily Market Summary, probably due to conservation efforts and mild temperatures.  Low demand doesn’t save money: in fact, it will cost Ontario ratepayers millions of dollars due to bad management of the electricity sector by the current government.

I was curious about this windy, sunny day, which led me to contact Scott Luft, a master at using IESO data to give us a real picture of market demand and its costs.  Scott occasionally produces “Daily Ontario Supply Estimates” which provide a picture of both our demand and generated sources, what it cost, how much was exported, how much was curtailed/spilled (wasted), etc., and even how much of the costs were picked up by Class B ratepayers versus Class A.

Scott also estimates curtailed wind, spilled hydro, etc., using a conservative approach; they are generally confirmed months later by IESO.

Scott’s daily estimate for August 5, 2017 confirmed my suspicions!   Emissions-free nuclear and hydro generators alone supplied the 340,000 MWh of power Ontario needed easily, even exceeding Ontario demand by 23,000 MWh.  The cost of that generation was $21.1 million. After allowing for the value of the surplus 23,000 MWh as exports at the average hourly Ontario energy price (HOEP) of $4.94/MWh the cost per MWh comes to $66.34/MWh or 6.6 cents/kWh.**

Double the cost — and you’re paying it

Part of Scott’s daily estimate includes additional costs in the form of all the other generation sources, plus curtailed wind and solar, spilled hydro, biofuel and idling costs of gas plants. When those are added to the $21.1 million of nuclear and hydro, the price billed to ratepayers for the day jumps to $37.8 million — $119.24/MWh or 11.9 cents/kWh.  The Class A to Class B subsidy results in the cost per kWh for the “B” Class (that’s you and me) jumping to $131.10/MWh or 13.1 cents/kWh.

The other generation sources on Scott’s August 5 daily estimates include transmission (TX) and distributor (DX) connected generation, along with curtailed/idled, etc. costs with gas at 9,123 MWh (cost $4.1 million), wind at 49,088 MWh (cost $6.3 million), solar at 13,002 MWh (cost $6.1 million), biofuel at 701 MWh (cost $368,000) and imports of 8,563 MWh (cost $52,000).

The costs to you are mounting

Are you with me so far? What this means is, those other generation sources (including curtailed wind, etc.) of 85,000 MWh cost $16.7 million — $196.47/MWh or 19.5 cents/kWh) and are billed to … you, Ontario’s ratepayers.

Approximately $8.1 million of the day’s costs will be allocated to the Fair Hydro Plan and wind up on future electricity bills. If August 5 was a typical day, the amount kicked down the road for the next four years by the Premier Wynne-led government will amount to $3 billion annually (plus interest).  (The $8.1 million estimate for this day comes from the use of what is referred to as the “Global Adjustment Modifier” set by the OEB at $32.90/MWh from July 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018 and will be reset at the later date. The $8.1 million was obtained by simply multiplying Class B consumption — 246,000 MWh — by the $32.90 “Modifier”.)

Mismanagement of the energy portfolio by the Wynne-led government on August 5 generated a cost for Class B ratepayers that was excessive. It will continue, and lead to an explosion of households living in “energy poverty”*** when the Fair Hydro Plan comes to an end in four years.

The Minister of Energy needs to recognize the problems caused by intermittent and unreliable renewable energy!  Once he understands the latter he should immediately cancel any wind and solar contracted projects that have not commenced construction, along with any in the early planning stages.

Kicking the can down the road via the Fair Hydro Act is anything but fair. Paying twice for non-emitting clean energy simply amplifies the bad management this portfolio has received from our government.

Parker Gallant

August 11, 2017

*   Some of the above MWh references are rounded to the nearest thousand.

** The 6.6 cent rate, coincidentally, is close to our new off-peak rate of 6.5 cents/kWh (previously 8.7 cents/kWh) which came into effect July 1, 2017. The lower rate is a result of the “Fair Hydro Plan” instituted by the Premier Wynne that kicked 25% of the costs down the road for four years.  The Off-Peak rate back on May 1, 2007 was 3.2 cents/kWh so even after the recent reduction it is still up over 103% in the last 10 years.

*** Energy poverty is generally defined as utilizing 10% or more of a household’s disposal income to pay for their electricity and heating needs.

 

Wynne spin and the “Fair Hydro Plan”

Re-reading Premier Wynne’s statement of March 2, 2017 on her announcement of Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan, one is struck by the avoidance of the truth, the sudden empathy displayed and her blatant claims.   As one example, she suddenly noticed “Electricity is not a frill — it’s an essential part of our daily lives.”

The Premier has obviously forgotten her party clearly treated it as a “frill” by taking advice from environmentalists who persuaded her (and predecessor Dalton McGuinty) that industrial wind turbines (IWT) and solar panels could easily replace the power generated by coal plants.  They were so taken by those claims the energy minister didn’t bother to do a cost-benefit analysis as noted by Ontario’s Auditor General (AG).  They also charged ahead installing “smart meters” at a cost of $2 billion (AG report) and instructed the OPA (Ontario Power Authority) to acquire 10,500 MW of renewable energy principally in the form of IWT and solar panels.

The year prior (2008) to the creation of the Green Energy Act, Ontario’s coal generation plants produced 23.2 TWh (terawatts) or enough electricity to supply 2.4 million (55%) average households .  In 2016 wind and solar* collectively and intermittently generated 14.2 TWh — 9 TWh less than coal plants generated in 2008.   The collective cost of wind and solar and their back-up (gas) in 2016 was approximately $3.8 billion or 27 cents per kilowatt (kWh,) whereas the cost per kWh of coal power generated in 2008 was 5.5 cents/kWh (OPG annual report).

Renewables: five times more costly

In short, the collective cost of electricity supplied by renewables and their back-up (gas) to replace coal generation turned out to be five times more which clearly raised the cost of the “frill,” but our Premier(s) and Energy Ministers were apparently unaware** costs were rising to that extent.

On the latter point the Premier in her statement claims: “But it’s not as if I’ve been unaware of the challenge. I have seen the rising rates. My family and I get a bill like anyone else.”  Premier Wynne’s salary in 2016 was $208,974.00 and in 2006 was $108,031.00 so she has seen a pay increase of 92% in 10 years.  It’s doubtful she was impacted by the $536,84 average annual increase she experienced in her cost of electricity as it represents less than one day’s pay at her current compensation level.

The Premier’s statement blames rate increases on past governments and claims since the Liberals regained power in 2003 they had to engage in “fixing a system that had been structured unwisely”.  Naturally, the 2003 blackout (caused by a fault in Northern Ohio) is blamed for the upgrade by the Premier to obscure their contracting of unreliable and intermittent wind and solar generation at above market prices.  The Premier now claims the “electricity grid” they created “is second to none.” And yet, the AG noted in  her December 2015 annual report that power outages increased 24% and lasted 30% longer!

Later in her statement the Premier notes “But the way we financed those investments was a mistake.”  The disturbing part of the statement about “those investments”, was Premier Wynne’s assertion “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.”

That part of the Premier’s spin will form the basis of Part 2, in this series, tomorrow.

 

* Wind and solar generation are classified as “base-load” generation whereas coal was strictly used for “peaking” (high demand periods) purposes.

** The writer has consistently sent Premier Wynne and her predecessor along with the various Energy Ministers a link to every article written no matter where it appeared.

Energy Minister Thibeault manipulates public health data

The reason given by the McGuinty and Wynne governments for their ambitious (and now seen as economically disastrous) green energy program, instituted without any cost-benefit analysis, is the need for clean air in Ontario.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault was interviewed in his home riding recently, and had this to say in defence of the program, and to boost his party’s record to voters: “There’s lots of positives that are happening that we need to start talking about. Even, for example, when I talk about energy, we don’t [talk] about the fact we haven’t had a smog day in three years. Our air pollution hospitalizations are down by 41 per cent, deaths are down 23 per cent.

Deaths down 23 per cent”?

That statement seemed dramatic to me and a few others who regularly analyze and comment on energy in Ontario. So, I queried the Minister in an e-mail about his source of the information.

What I received back was a link to a charity called “Toronto Foundation” and a 265-page report they called “Toronto’s Vital(R.) Report” which contained this statement:

“Premature deaths and hospitalizations as a result of air pollution have dropped by 23% and 41% respectively since 2004.[16]

The figures Minister Thibeault used during his interview were apparently taken from that line in the report and the referenced link “[16]” to the actual source of the information which was a Toronto Public Health (TPH) report of April 2014.

What it actually said had nothing to do with the Energy Minister’s spin.

Here is that section from the TPH report:

Findings

Based on the most current information available, TPH estimates that air pollution in Toronto from all sources currently gives rise to 1,300 premature deaths and 3,550 hospitalizations annually (see Table 1). These estimates include the impact of pollution originating in other parts of Ontario and the United States and represent a decrease of 23% in premature deaths and 41% in hospitalizations as compared with 2004 estimates. Air pollution in Toronto comes mainly from traffic, industrial sources, residential and commercial sources, and off-road mobile sources such as rail, air, and marine sources. Of these sources, traffic has the greatest impact on health, contributing to about 280 premature deaths and 1,090 hospitalizations each year, or about 20% of all premature deaths and 30% of all hospitalizations due to air pollution.

The report contained no reference to the coal plants or their closing as Minister Thibeault’s “energy” inference suggests as the source of either causing premature deaths or hospitalizations!

As Guelph University economics professor Ross McKitrick recently reported, “Turns out Ontario’s painful coal phase-out didn’t help pollution—and Queens Park even knew it wouldn’t”.

It is a very serious matter when the government of the day manipulates public health data to suit its public relations agenda.

Premier Wynne’s Easter basket full of rotten eggs

Count the eggs! $50 million plus, lost in just 3 days!

The nice weather on Easter weekend in Ontario disguised the fact that April 14th, 15th and 16th were really bad days for electricity customers.

Scott Luft’s daily reports detailed the bad news, even before the Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO got out their daily summary for April 12th.   Some of the information in Scott’s reports are estimates, but they have always proven to be on the conservative side. These three reports paint a disturbing picture of what’s going on, and how badly the Ontario government is mismanaging the electricity file.

Here are a few of the events that our Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault and Premier Wynne should find embarrassing. They also confirm what many of us have been telling them for several years.

First, Thursday April 13th saw a disclosure from the Energy Ministry that Ontario paid out $28,095,332 including about $240,000 in interest to Windstream Energy to satisfy the award made to them under the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) tribunal, due to cancellation of  a 300-MW offshore industrial wind turbine project.

Second, the HOEP (hourly Ontario electricity price) market, traded all of Ontario’s generation over the three days at “0” (zero) or negative value. While total demand for electricity was 1,031,448 MWh over the three days the HOEP market valued it at -$869,220 or an average of -.84 cents/MWh.  The “0” and negative values for the HOEP lasted 77 continuous hours, breaking a prior record of 62 hours.

Wasted, unneeded wind power

Third, during the three days, ratepayers picked up the bill for 99,109 MWh of curtailed wind which exceeded the transmission (TX) and distribution (DX) connected wind by 60.2%. Curtailed wind at an estimated $120/MWh alone cost ratepayers $11.9 million, driving the price of delivered wind (61,882MWh) to a cost of $335.34/MWh or 33.5 cents a kWh.  Total wind costs were $20.8 million.

Fourth, solar power over the three days generated and curtailed (1,124 MWh) 35,539 MWh at a cost of   $16.8 million, which works out to $472.86/MWh or 47.3 cents/kWh.

Fifth was the cost of gas which in three days produced 18,433 MWh, but the cost was $12.5 million and $676.56/MWh or 67.7 cents/kWh.  The 9,943 MW of IESO grid-connected gas operated at 2.6% of actual capacity during the three days.

Sixth was the generosity shown to our neighbours in New York, Michigan and Quebec who took delivery of 157,768 MWh of free power along with a payment of $132,525.

The quick math on the above indicates a cost of wind, solar and gas generation plus the payment for exported power comes to $50.2 million.

Nuclear and hydro was all we needed

That’s bad enough, but if you look at nuclear and hydro generation during those three days, clearly the $50.2 million was “money for nothing” paid for by Ontario’s ratepayers.  Nuclear (including steamed-off of 49,118 MWh) was 688,981 MWh and combined with hydro generation of 324,001 MWh of could have provided 1,012,982 MWh versus Ontario’s demand over those three days of 869,232 MWh leaving 143,750 MWh of surplus.  Three days of nuclear and hydro cost $61.9 million or 6.1 cents/kWh.

Bottom line? Ontario ratepayers picked up the bill for not only the $28.1 million paid to Windstream for a canceled offshore wind project, but also another $50.2 million, making the past four days very expensive for everyone.

The $78.3 million could have been better spent on health care or so many other pressing needs!

It’s time to kill the Green Energy Act and cancel any uncompleted wind and solar contracts before all our weekends turn out like this one!

Premier Wynne’s $50-billion elephant

Do a Google search of “premier wynne+elephant in the room” you get 1,140,000 hits while a search for just “premier wynne” only gets 486,000 hits. The word “elephant” has been used by Ontario’s premier on a number of occasions. For example, the “elephant” popped up at one of the expensive Ontario Liberal Party fundraising dinners a year ago where she declared, referring to the provincial deficit, “So while some want to characterize Ontario’s deficit as the elephant in the room, I think a panda is the more appropriate metaphor,” she said. “Truly, Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue [visiting pandas at the Toronto Zoo] were adorable. But the pandas are leaving Ontario in 2018, and in 2017-18 our deficit will be gone, too.”

The “elephant” has returned for her government in the form of high electricity prices but instead of cute little “pandas,” Premier Wynne was forced to call them her “mistake”!

Let’s look at that elephant now.

The recent release of Ontario Power Generation (OPG) 2016 annual report provides enough information to allow one to figure out exactly what created the elephantine mistake and where to point the finger.   To do that we will compare the results of 2016 to 2009* and show the cause of the above market climb in electricity prices.

Price Comparison

IESO’s (Independent Electricity System Operator) data discloses the cost of electricity generation in 2009 was 6.22 cents/kWh or $62.20 per megawatt hour (MWh) or $62.2 million/TWh (terawatt hour) and in 2016 was 11.32 cents/kWh or $113.20/MWh or $113.2 million/TWh. The increase from 2009 to 2016 represents a jump of 82% in only seven years and in simple terms, is a jump of 11.7% annually.

Using the above prices to show the full cost of electricity generation in those two years is accomplished by multiplying total generation by the cost per TWh so:

Total generation 2009: 148 TWh X $62.2 MM= $9,205 MM

Total generation 2016: 149.5 TWh X $113.2 million = $16,923 MM

(Source: IESO)

That means an increase of $7,718 million (+83.8%) in the raw cost of the commodity-electricity.

Finding the “mistake”

Why did the cost jump 83.8%?

Let’s start with the generation produced by OPG who, according to their 2009 annual report generated 92.5 TWh and 78.2 TWh in 2016. Bruce Nuclear in 2009 generated 35.7 TWh and in 2016 they generated 46.1 TWh.  Collectively OPG plus Bruce generated 128.2 TWh in 2009 and that represented 86.6% of total generation (148 TWh) by all generators that year.  In 2016 the collective total was 124.3 TWh which represented 83.1% of all generation (149.5 TWh) in that year as reported by IESO.

Costing the generation 

2009

For OPG: The costing of generation coming from OPG is a relatively simple task requiring only their gross revenue for the year divided by the generation they reported.  For 2009 gross revenue was $5,640 million for the 92.5 TWh delivered making the all-in cost $61 million/TWh.

For Bruce Nuclear: The reported price paid to Bruce was $65.90/MWH.   So, for the 35.7 TWh they generated, the gross revenue generated was $2,352 million or $65.9 million /TWh.

The combined costs of $5,640 million from OPG plus the $2,352 million from Bruce was $7,992 billion to produce 128.2 TWh making the combined cost per TWh $62.34 million or 6.23 cents/kWh.

As noted above, total costs for all generation reported by IESO for 2009 was $9,205 million meaning $1,213 million ($9,205 million less OPG/Bruce combined of $7,992 million) was spent to acquire the 19.8 TWh generated by the other private generators, making their costs per TWh $61.3 million or 6.13 cents/kWh.  (Note: 9.8 TWh was generated by OPG’s coal plants in 2009.)

2016

For OPG: As noted above OPG in 2016 generated 78.2 TWh and their gross revenue was $5,653 million making their generation cost per TWh $72.3 million (7.23 cents/kWh).  Included in OPG’s gross revenue was a $207 million payment for hydro spillage of 4.7 TWh due to SPG2. (surplus base-load generation).

For Bruce Nuclear: Bruce in 2016 generated 46.1 TWh at a reported cost of $66 million/TWh making so gross revenue was $3,043 million including the cost of steaming off almost 1 TWh due to SBG.  

The combined costs of $5,653 from OPG plus the $3,043 million from Bruce was $8,696 million to produce 124.3 TWh making the combined cost per TWh $70 million or 7.0 cents/kWh.

Cost of the “other” generation

The all-in costs for generation for 2016 was, as noted above, $16,923 million. If one deducts the combined costs of OPG and Bruce Nuclear for their generation in 2016 ($8,696 million) the balance of $8,227 million went to pay for the 25.2 TWh produced by other generators.   Simply dividing the $8,227 million by the 25.2 TWh creates a cost per TWh of $326.5 million or 32.7 cents/kWh. ***

Had the 25.2 TWh cost ratepayers $70 million/TWh, or the same as the OPG/Bruce Nuclear generation combination (25.2 TWh X $70 million = $1,764 million), Ontario ratepayers would not be on the hook for the $6.9 billion in excess costs! ($8,227 million – $1,764 million= $6,932 million or the very high $326.5 million/TWh)

In just one year’s data, compared to 2009, we have located many of the reasons for higher electricity costs. The Premier now claims $50 billion was needed to invest in transmission and generation but her “mistake” was in not seeing the costs would go up more than 83%, principally related to the acquisition of intermittent, unreliable renewable energy from wind and solar!

There may be even more elephants in this particular room.

 

*The choice of 2009 is related to the Legislative passage of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEA) in the Spring of that year creating the FIT and MicroFIT programs and subsequent acquisition of renewable energy at above market prices.

**Surplus Base-load Generation is simply anticipated “base-load less Ontario demand”.

***The per TWh cost reflects the FIT contracted generation for industrial wind turbines, solar panels, bio-mass along with curtailed wind, conservation spending, the cost of selling our surplus power to other jurisdictions at only 15% of its cost, etc. etc.

Hydro One: can it deliver on its dividend promise?

The headline on the Hydro One February 10 press release was:  “Hydro One Reports Positive Fourth Quarter Revenue and Operating Cost Trends.” Annual “revenues, net of purchased power” came in at $3,125 million, an increase of $37 million (.4%) over 2015, while Net Income rose from $714 million to $746 million, and “adjusted” earnings per share increased to $1.21/share up from $1.16/share.

If you believe the reporting by Hydro One, you are led to believe a small increase in revenue translated to an almost identical increase in after-tax income.

A closer look is necessary to determine how that happened. As it turns out, transmission revenue was up $48 million and distribution revenue was down $11 million, accounting for the revenue increase. Regulatory assets1. climbed $130 million while operations, maintenance and administration (OMA) apparently fell by $66 million. It is not clear how many millions of OMA expenses were placed into “regulatory assets,” but we should assume a portion of salaries, pensions and benefits were.

As a result, it is impossible to determine whether Hydro One has become more or less efficient, despite this claim in the press release: “Our fourth quarter results demonstrate favourable revenue growth and operating cost control.” We can quickly see “favourable revenue growth” was small potatoes!

There are ways of using information in that press release and annual report to allow for calculations. One area that affects ratepayers is “delivery” costs which is reflected in Hydro One’s “distribution” business line. The annual report indicates the amount of electricity distributed to their 1.3 million residential and business customers fell 8.6% from 28,763 gigawatts (GWh) to 26,289 GWh while distribution revenue fell by $11 million from $1,499 million to $1,488 million. Using simple division one is able to calculate the cost of distribution per megawatt (MWh) increased from $52.05/MWh to $56.60/MWh for an increase of 8.7% or $4.55/MWh.

Everyone pays

Not all of that increase was paid for by Hydro One customers, however, as Hydro One receives revenue from all of Ontario’s ratepayers via the OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) which presumably resulted in the year over year drop (at a minimum) of $26 million in Hydro One’s “Allowance for doubtful accounts” from $61 million to $35 million. As well, all Ontario ratepayers pick up the costs of the RRRPP (rural and remote rate protection plan) which was $125.4 million for Hydro One in 2016 and will increase in 2017 to $243.4 million. Adjusting the distribution revenue to reflect contributions to Hydro One by all Ontario ratepayers would reduce their distribution costs to about $54/MWh (5.4 cents/kWh) and bring it almost in line with the claim by Hydro One their distribution/delivery costs represent about 37% of their customer’s electricity bills before HST. If one does the calculation on the OEB’s website however the actual cost of the “delivery” line for a “medium density” Hydro One ratepayer is 43%!

Another asset that showed a big jump on Hydro One’s balance sheet in 2016 was “goodwill” which more than doubled to $327 million, despite their having recovered $60 million in goodwill from the provincial acquisition of Hydro One Brampton before Hydro One went public. This also occurred just before the arranged merger of Hydro One Brampton with PowerStream, Horizon and Enersource. Hydro One has been snapping up some of the small local distribution companies (LDC) such as Norfolk Power, Woodstock Hydro, Haldimand for the past few years and recently applied to the OEB for acquisition of Orillia Power. Hydro One also just completed acquisition of Great Lakes Transmission improving the monopolistic control they hold in this business line to over 98%.   The LDC acquisitions were made well above book value and many of them had their delivery rates frozen for five years.

With Hydro One’s success at being the second most expensive hydro distributor we should expect the ratepayers in the locales of the acquired LDC will see their future delivery rates jump significantly.

On the liability side of Hydro One’s ledger, 2016 saw the acquisition of about $1.7 billion of increased and mainly long-term debt yet, their negative working capital position only improved $716 million. The additional debt raised during the year caused their Debt/Equity ratio to rise from 1.45:1 at the end of 2015 to 1.52:1 at the end of 2016 and brought with it increased interest costs. A rising D:E ratio often precedes a credit rating drop!

Dividend promise impossible, unless …

All this points to a company whose future is dependent on the OEB granting their every wish to increase delivery/distribution rates. If not, the promise to dividend out 70/80% of their annual net profits becomes impossible unless they either: forgo proper maintenance of the infrastructure, or reduce OMA costs via either staff reductions or salary cuts, or sell off assets!

Dividends paid in 2016 on the 5,623,000 common shares were $577 million representing 80% of net income attributable to common shares with just over $400 million going to the provincial treasury leaving about $150 million2. in retained earnings for future investments in infrastructure repairs and refurbishment and the building and/or improvement to the transmission grid(s) and LDC infrastructure.

Something’s got to give, or future increases to Hydro One’s ratepayers will be even worse than the past!

 

  1. Regulatory assets “represent certain amounts receivable from future customers and costs that have been deferred for accounting purposes because it is probable that they will be recovered in future rates.”
  2. Capital spending in 2016 was reported as $1.6 billion.