The trial of two aides of former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty is likely to lay bare some inner workings behind the politicized management of Ontario’s power system over the past 10 years
On Monday, the criminal trial of David Livingston and Laura Miller, who served former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty as chief of staff and deputy chief of staff respectively, convenes in Toronto. They face charges of breach of trust and mischief in relation to the alleged destruction of government files dealing with power plants originally contracted for the Greater Toronto Area. The trial is sure to attract media attention, particularly since another trial related to alleged Election Act violations by prominent Ontario Liberals — Pat Sorbara, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s former chief of staff, and Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed — is going on at the same time.
The IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) released their July 2017 Monthly Market Report several days ago, including Class B ratepayer consumption levels along with the cost of electricity by MWh (megawatt hour) and kWh (kilowatt hour).
Compared to the July 2016 report, it shows Ontario’s ratepayers used 910,000 MWh less (down 7.2%) in 2017 than 2016 (enough to power 100,000 average residential homes for one year) yet the cost* of the electricity generated jumped, from $106.47/MWh (10.6 cents/kWh) to $126.41/MWh (12.6 cents/kWh) or 18.7%!
To put this in context, Ontario’s Class B ratepayers reduced their consumption from 10.495 TWh (terawatt hours) in 2016 to 8.858 TWh (down 15.6%), while Class A ratepayers increased their consumption from 2.284 TWh to 3.062 TWh (up 34.1%). The cost of power consumed by both Class A and Class B ratepayers increased substantially year over year.
The impact on Class B ratepayers is being tempered by the debt being accumulated under the Fair Hydro Act that will eventually result in a new and higher debt retirement charge. Some of the additional costs can be attributed to losses on our export of surplus power increasing its cost from $88 million in 2016 to $105 million in 2017. Wind curtailed (21.3% of potential generation in 2017) costs also increased from $13.2 million to $14.4 million in 2017.
What it means: despite a reduction in consumption of 15.6 %, total costs increased!
Looking at the IESO’s “Global Adjustment Components and Costs” for July 2017, you see that dividing the published Class B costs of the GA for July of $913.4 million by the consumption figure of 8.858 TWh results in a GA cost of $103.11/MWh (10.3 cents/kWh). That cost is $9.71/MWh less than the GA Monthly Market Report of $112.80. The difference of $86 million** in additional costs was allocated to Class B ratepayers for the month of July.
When I saw that apparent difference, I inquired why. What I got back was this:
“Regarding the discrepancy you’ve identified on the Global Adjustment Components and Costs web page, the reason for the difference is because of adjustments between Preliminary Settlement Statements and Final Settlement Statements for previous months. Page 28 of Market Manual 5.5 explains this. The rate as posted in the monthly market report, is not the Class B GA amount divided by TWh. Rather, it is set to cover all payments made through GA including those held in the variance account.”
The “variance account” referenced in the response from the IESO spokesperson is cleared every six months when the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) set future rates and would have been cleared when they reset the new rates under the Fair Hydro Act that applied to Class B ratepayers as of May 1, 2017. As a result of the reply, I undertook similar calculations for other months as a test and all of them wound up within pennies … not the almost $10/MWh difference for July 2017.
What I get from all this is, transparency may not be all it is claimed to be when a mistake is made, or alternately $86 million for one month being billed to ratepayers is considered a rounding error! What is obvious is that “conservation” costs Class B ratepayers a lot of money.
September 3, 2017
* GA (Global Adjustment) + HOEP (Hourly Ontario Energy Price).
Parker Gallant: Thibeault and Wynne believe it’s wrong for the province to borrow $4 billion to reacquire Hydro One shares, but OK for Hydro One to borrow $5.1 billion while diluting the province’s interest in it
By Parker Gallant
On March 28th, a few weeks after Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault held their press conference about the “Fair Hydro Plan,” Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP, delivered a motion to the Ontario legislature calling for a buy-back of Hydro One. The motion failed and later resulted in Thibeault calling the NDP motion “short on details and long on hollow promises.” He noted that many of the NDP’s proposals “rely on a vague and yet-to-be-determined ‘expert panel’ that will be convened in the future.” Buying back $4 billion in Hydro One shares is costly, the energy minister added, and “will not take one cent off electricity bills. What it will do is send billions to the stock market instead of making much needed infrastructure investments in communities across Ontario.”
Fast forward to July 19th, when Thibeault was beside himself with excitement because Hydro One will be paying US$5.3 billion ($6.7 billion) to purchase Avista, a much smaller electricity and natural gas utility headquartered in Spokane, Wash., 3,200 kilometres from Toronto. Hydro One offered a 24-per-cent premium on the traded value of the stock price over its July 18th closing and, based on Avista’s 2016 annual profit, it will take Hydro One 38 years to recoup the $6.7-billion price tag. Thibeault’s press release announcing the takeover carried this obtuse claim: “It is to the shared benefit of Hydro One’s customers, employees and shareholders to see the company strengthened and growing.” He also stated that, “In particular, we welcome the fact that this proposed acquisition will not impact the rates that Ontario customers pay. Neither will it have any impact on local jobs.”
The privatization of Hydro One and dilution of the province’s shareholding keep its debt off of the province’s balance sheet
Based on that press release, and the requirement to get shareholder approval, we must assume Thibeault gave his blessings to the acquisition and dilution of the province’s holdings, which will decline from 49 per cent to 44 per cent. He presumably also blessed Hydro One’s borrowing program, which will add US$2.6 billion ($3.7 billion) in new debt, not including another $1.4 billion via a convertible debenture paying 12 per cent per annum in interest prior to its conversion to common shares.
Thibeault and Wynne believe it’s wrong for the province to borrow $4 billion, as the NDP suggested, to reacquire Hydro One shares, but OK for Hydro One to borrow $5.1 billion while diluting the province’s interest in it. The privatization of Hydro One and dilution of the province’s shareholding keep its debt off of the province’s balance sheet.
So, is the acquisition all that Thibeault and Hydro One’s CEO, Mayo Schmidt, claim it is or is the spin meant to distract ratepayers into believing the takeover will lessen pressure on future rate increases? Let’s examine a few facts:
— The acquisition of Avista will result in Hydro One’s debt (short and long term) increasing by 46 per cent, or $5.1 billion, to reach in excess of $16 billion. Should interest rates increase Hydro One will submit an application to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for a rate increase, an accepted OEB process.
— Hydro One’s 2017 first-quarter report notes it currently has five rate applications awaiting approval by the OEB and plans to file another nine rate applications over the next four years.
— Washington, where Avista’s electricity ratepayers are located, pays the second-lowest rates of any state on average, with all-in residential rates of 9.43 cents/kWh as of April 2017. Only Louisiana can claim lower rates at an average of 9.35 cents/kWh (U.S. rates expressed in U.S. currency).
— Based on the information in Avista’s 2016 annual report, it appears the all-in cost of a kilowatt-hour delivered to its ratepayers was 8.68 cents/kWh.
— Hydro One, on the other hand, has the highest rates in Canada and in most of North America. It is difficult to see how Washington ratepayers will see any benefit from this acquisition. Based on the data supplied by Hydro One to the OEB for 2015, its average cost of a kilowatt-hour was almost double Avista’s at 17 cents/kWh.
It is difficult to believe several of the claims in Hydro One’s news release
It is difficult to believe several of the claims in Hydro One’s July 19th news release. As an example, it states the acquisition of Avista “will be accretive to earnings per share in the mid-single digits in the first full year of operation.” Politicians and regulators in Washington may be tougher than those in Ontario when Hydro One seeks a rate increase! It gains increases in Ontario from the OEB and via political tampering, which recently resulted in a requirement that taxpayers pick up a part of Hydro One’s bad debt allocations via the Ontario Electricity Support Program.
Another quote is also a stretch: “Efficiencies through enhanced scale, innovation, shared IT systems and increased purchasing power provides cost savings for customers and better customer service, complementing both organization’s commitment to excellence.” This claim comes from the company that had the distinction of being singled out by Ontario’s ombudsman for issuing over 100,000 faulty hydro bills. Moreover, last October Global TV found Hydro One had almost 226,000 clients in arrears, which represented 20 per cent of all its residential clients and 40 per cent of all ratepayers in arrears in the province.
Ratepayers and taxpayers should view the Hydro One takeover of Avista as negative. To re-purpose Thibeault’s comment to the NDP leader, this action “will not take one cent off electricity bills.”
Parker Gallant is a retired bank executive who looked at his power bill and didn’t like what he saw.
A few days ago (July 11, 2017) Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Dr. Eric Hoskins issued a press release saying 131 hospitals would receive $175 million for “repairs and upgrades”. That’s an average of $1.3 million per hospital to be doled out, apparently because the Wynne government finally produced a “balanced budget”.
The press release states: “Funding from the province allows hospitals to make critical improvements to their facilities, including upgrades or replacements to roofs, windows, heating and air conditioning systems, fire alarms and back-up generators.”
One wonders if Minister Hoskins ever chats with Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault who doles out money to industrial wind turbine (IWT) developments at a pace that would make his $1.3 million per hospital look like small potatoes! In the first six months of 2017, the bill to Ontario ratepayers was approximately $1.089 billion for accepted and curtailed industrial wind. That works out to approximately $475,000 per turbine … for six months! (That assumes there are about 2300 turbines with an average capacity of 2 MW or megawatts currently operating in the province.)
Also in the first six months of 2017, grid-connected and distributor-connected IWT collectively generated 6,143,000 MWh and curtailed 1,906,000 MWh* according to IESO data and curtailed estimates by Scott Luft. That means the cost per grid-accepted MWh was about $177 or 17.7 cents/kWh! If the next six months are similar to the first six, each average 2-MW wind turbine will cost $950,000** generating or curtailing the intermittent and unreliable power they are famous for.
Those wind turbines require back-up by gas plants and frequently cause the spilling of hydro power and the steam-off of nuclear plants. The costs of these grid managing activities to ratepayers easily drive the costs per turbine well past the hospital repair allocations.
Kicking the can down the road under the Fair Hydro Act will see the foregoing incredible waste of ratepayer dollars accumulate within OPG, and result in rate increases as high as those we have experienced over the past 10 years, once 2021 arrives.
Try to imagine how much better our health care system would be with that estimated annual waste of $2 billion ($40 billion over the 20-year terms of the contracts) allocated towards health care instead of handing it over to mainly foreign industrial wind developers.
The time has come to stop signing those contracts!
* The average curtailed wind for the first 6 months of 2017 was 23.6% and for May was 43.8%.
** This assumes accepted generation is paid $140/MWh and curtailed wind is paid $120/MWh.
Five months ago, Premier Kathleen Wynne admitted to the delegates at the annual Ontario Liberal Party convention her government “made a mistake” allowing electricity rates to rise so high. Those rates have actually soared, increasing by 80.9% from 2009.
Comparing Ontario electricity rates to other indicators such as inflation, shows just how bad the situation is. Comparing the IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) Monthly Summaries for January and February 2009 with the same two months in 2017, the combined costs of HOEP (hourly Ontario energy price) plus the Global Adjustment (GA) show costs per kilowatt hour (kWh) have increased from 5.85 cents/kWh to 10.58 cents/kWh. That is an 80.9% increase. Average inflation over the same time-frame has increased about 14%. (The reader should note the 2009 and 2017 costs are before HST so the 8% reduction commenced January 1st has had no effect on contracted or regulated electricity rates.)
So how bad? The cost of the basic commodity has increased by almost six times the inflation rate!
Commodity cost is way up
Reviewing the IESO Monthly Summaries for the two-month periods in 2009 versus 2017 also shows Ontario demand fell by 7% or 1,713,000 MWh (1.7 TWh). The Summary reports indicate the 24.43 TWh representing Ontario demand in 2009 cost $58.49 million/TWh or $1,429 million for January and February. The 22.7 TWh of Ontario demand in 2017 cost $105.78 million/ TWh or $2,330 million for the same two months. That represents an increase in the commodity cost of electricity of $901 million for 7% less electricity — an average monthly increase of $450 million.
One of the reasons was the drop in the market price as the HOEP fell from an average of $51.93/MWh in 2009 for the two months to $21.56/MWh in 2017 while the GA jumped from an average of $6.56/MWh in 2009 to $82.27/MWH in 2017. What that means is, the loss on exports from Ontario in 2009 cost Ontario ratepayers $13.1 million and in 2017 cost ratepayers $174.2 million as the GA costs are not included in the sale of exports via the HOEP.
OK, of that $900+ million increase, we have $174 million found … $727 million to go!
► Wind power
Another obvious cause of the big jump was generation and payment for curtailment of power from industrial wind turbines (IWT). Back in the early part of 2009, Ontario had approximately 800 MW of IWT capacity; in the early 2017 we have about 4,550 MW of capacity. According to my friend Scott Luft, who uses IESO data to estimate the generation and curtailment of IWTs, in 2009 the turbines delivered almost 395,000 MWh in January and February. In 2017, it’s a different story: generation and curtailment combined jumped to about 2,926,000 MWh.
The contracted wind power prior the passage of the Green Energy Act is estimated to be at the rate of $90/MWh, whereas wind power contracted for after the Act was at $135/MWh (plus a cost-of-living annual increase) meaning they currently are estimated at $140/MWh. The math on the 2009 generation therefore shows a cost of $35.5 million and the 2017 generation/curtailment cost becomes $409.6 million. The increased cost of wind from 2009 is ($409.6 million less $35.5 million) $374 million. Deducting the $374 million from $727 million leaves $353 million to find to get to $901 million!
Since 2009, more than 3,300 MW of gas plant capacity has been added to the Ontario grid. Its addition was basically to back up the wind and solar capacity (which is unreliable and intermittent) to ensure sufficient generation is available during renewables’ failure and high demand periods. The private sector companies investing in those plants are paid for their capital investments amortized over their life span. When generating electricity they receive fuel costs plus a nominal markup. Payments details are not available in the public domain, but it is understood payments contracted are per MW of capacity, and estimates given are $8/15,000 per MW per month. Assuming the 3,300 MW of capacity secured since 2009 is at the mid-range ($12,000 per MW) the cost to ratepayers is $79 million (3,300 X $12,000 X 2 months).
That $79 million means we are still looking for $274 million.
► Consuming less but paying more
IESO shows ratepayers consumed 1.7 TWh less in the first two months of 2017 than in 2009, but paid more. That is evident in OPG reports. As OPG has not released its 2017 1st Quarter report estimates are based on the 2016, 1st Quarter report. First we estimate spilled (wasted) hydro was 1.2 TWh at a reported cost of $44 million/TWh so that cost ratepayers $53 million. The 21.0 TWh produced by OPG in the 2016, 1st Quarter generated average revenue per TWh of $70.4 million. Estimating the first two months of 2017 generation at 14 TWh results in a cost of $985.6 million. In 2009 OPG generated 25.6 TWh at an average of $57.8 million/TWh. Again estimating the total cost of the 17 TWh generated by OPG in the first two months produces a cost of $982.6 million so adding the $3 million to the spilled water cost shows an increase of $56 million. Subtracting $56 million from $274 million means we are looking for the last $218 of the increase.
► Solar, conservation, bio-mass and sundry
We assume the balance of the increased 2017 versus 2009 costs came from solar and bio-mass with a portion from the conservation program. Based on Figure 23 “Total Global Adjustment by Components” of the IESO Summary report we can estimate the costs of each of those for the two months. It appears conservation spending (absent in 2009) represented about $50/55 million for the first two months of 2017 and bio-mass (incented by the FIT and MicroFIT programs) generated costs of around $40 million. Solar (low during winter months) generated a minimum of $100/$120 million in costs for the two months based on the IESO Figure 23. While those are “best” estimates to get to the increase of $901 million for the two months, we have not included increased costs from the IESO and OEB budgets which have both increased.
“No checks” in the system
An article recently appeared in the Globe and Mail written by George Vegh, former general counsel to the OEB. This paragraph is perhaps why Premier Wynne admitted to her “mistake”
“Generation procurements are determined entirely by the government. The system operator – the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) – implements government directives. Neither the Ontario Energy Board nor any other independent regulator reviews these procurements. There are no independent criteria, no cost-benefit analysis, no consideration of the need for the procurements, and no review of alternatives. In short, there is virtually no check on the power to procure supply.”
What we have in Ontario is a “mistake” that will continue to cost Ontario ratepayers and taxpayers billions for years to come.
Admitting a mistake is one thing, doing something about it is another: Premier Wynne needs to recognize the Ontario Liberal government’s error, kill the Green Energy Act, and halt continued procurement of power from unreliable and intermittent wind and solar generators!
Almost a week after Premier Wynne announced her plan to reduce our electricity bills by 25%, the wind was blowing! On March 8, six days after the cost shifting announcement (from ratepayer to taxpayer), potential power generation from wind was forecast by IESO to produce at levels of 80/95% of their capacity, for many hours of the day. IESO was concerned about grid stability and as a consequence, curtailed much of the forecasted generation.
When the Premier made her announcement about reducing hydro bills, she also claimed “Decades of under-investment in the electricity system by governments of all stripes resulted in the need to invest more than $50 billion in generation, transmission and distribution assets to ensure the system is clean and reliable.”
It is worth noting that much of that $50 billion was spent acquiring wind and solar generation and its associated spending on transmission, plus gas plants (to back them up because the power is intermittent), and distribution assets to hook them into the grid or embed them with the local distribution companies. It would have been informative if Premier Wynne had had Energy Minister Glen Thibeault provide an accounting of exactly what the $50 billion was spent on.
As it turned out the amount of curtailed wind generated on March 8 was 37,044 megawatt hours (MWh) was just short of the record of 38,018 MWh set almost a year ago on March 16, 2016 (estimated by my friend Scott Luft). The curtailed wind on March 8, 2017 cost Ontario’s ratepayers $120/MWh or $4,445,280.
The cost on March 16, 2016 was $4,562,160.
What does it mean? Curtailing or restricting power output but paying for it anyway means a portion of the $50 billion spent was simply wasted money. It went to the corporate power developers that rushed to sign those above-market contracts for renewable power.
The other interesting aspect of the surplus power generation on March 16, 2016 and March 8, 2017 is revealed in IESO’s Daily Market Summaries: the hourly Ontario energy price (HOEP) March 16, 2016 was negative at -$1.25/MWh and on March 8th, 2017 was also negative at -.49 cents/MWh. This meant ratepayers paid for surplus exports sold to our neighbours in New York and Michigan, etc. Net exports (exports minus imports) on March 16, 2016 were 52,368 MWh, and on March 8, 2017 were 37,944 MWh. Total costs of their generation (HOEP + GA) fell to Ontario’s ratepayers along with the cost of any spilled hydro, steamed off nuclear and idling gas plants.
Millions here, millions there = a whole lot of wasted money
So, bear with me here, if we price the cost of the net exports at $110/MWh for those two days, ratepayer costs were approximately $9.8 million with $5.7 million for March 16, 2016 net exports and $4.1 million for March 8, 2017 net exports, not including the $84,000 we paid our neighbours to take our power.
How much did it cost you? Two days out of 729 (2016 was a leap year) cost Ontario ratepayers about $18.1 million for power not delivered (curtailed wind) or needed (net exports).
I hope this helps Minister Thibeault in his calculations for a long overdue accounting to Ontario citizens as to where the other $49.982 billion went.
The government has promised to get the electricity bills down…but at what cost? Where is the money coming from? The answer is simple: taxpayers and ratepayers are picking up the costs.
Last fall, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault announced that the 8% provincial portion of the HST would be rebated to “residential, small business and farms as of January 1, 2017”.
The Energy Minister’s press release went further stating the government would be “Providing eligible rural ratepayers with additional relief, decreasing total electricity bills by an average of $540 a year or $45 each month”.
That was somewhat ambiguous in several areas so I looked for clarification from the Ministry.
After several phone calls and e-mails with messages left for the Ministry’s media spokespeople, and even a phone call to the Minister’s office, I received no response other than to confirm (via e-mail): I had “reached out to us [the ministry media contact] in regard to one of our September press releases”.
So, with no actual clarification, here’s what I get from the press releases, a mail insert from Hydro One, and a search on the Ontario Energy Board’s “bill calculator”.*
What is the real hydro bill relief?
Energy Minister Thibeault’s September 13th press release suggested an average savings of $130 per year for the rebate, and also announced “eligible” rural ratepayers would see “additional relief” amounting to $540 a year. My query to the Ministry asked, what were the requirements for “eligible” rural ratepayers, and how many were there? I also asked what the estimated overall cost of the 8% rebate would be for the province, and where the money was coming from to cover the lost revenue. Those questions remain unanswered by the government, so here are my estimates in respect to the anticipated costs of the 8% relief.
►Out of one pocket into the other
The Ontario Energy Board’s 2015 Yearbook of Electricity Distributors indicates Ontario had 4,564,835 Residential Customers and 434,999 General Service (50kW) Customers, 54,295 General Service (50-4999kW) Customer and 124 Large User (5000kW+). The “General Service” customers consist of farms and the small and medium sized businesses.
Gross revenue for the year including delivery costs was reported as $17,526 million, so rebating 8% would represent approximately $1.4 billion.
About $600 million would be earmarked for “Residential” Customers. Based on the specific information received from Hydro One, whose media team were responsive to my questions, the only group listed but not on the “rebate” list is the 124 Large Users who would consume (estimated) 5.2 terawatts (TWh) of the 124.6 TWh reported as “supplied” in the OEB report. Again, based on an estimate, the value of that 5.2 TWh would be approximately $735 million of gross revenues (including delivery) and reduce the rebate of the provincial portion of the HST by only $60 million to $1.340 billion. It is assumed the difference of $740 million would represent the rebate to the small businesses and farms.
The full $1.340 billion cost will be picked up by the Ontario taxpayers!
►Out of ratepayer’s pockets into ratepayer’s pockets
That same press release also said, “Providing eligible rural ratepayers with additional relief … by an average of $540 a year”. The Hydro One application filed with the OEB notes the total additional amount required under the RRRP (Rural or Remote Electricity Rate Protection Program) is $116.4 million (rounded) for 334,500 (rounded) Hydro One “low-density” customers. That works out to $29.19 per customer each month and annually to $350.28, not the additional $540.00 Minister Thibeault claimed in the press release. Even if you add the 8% PST rebate to the rural ratepayer relief it comes to $500.40 in total so is below the $540 claimed by Minister Thibeault.
The $116.4 million cost of the “additional relief” via the RRRP will be a part of the “regulatory” line on all ratepayers’ bills, increasing that cost. All ratepayers share in the payment of the RRRP which with this increase now totals approximately $280 million.
Thibeault’s quote at the end of the press release said “Many rural and northern customers would receive significant rate relief”. Yet there is nothing additional proposed in this press release for “northern customers.” The rate relief for them appears to be the same as the rest of the province, except for those who are “low-density” Hydro One customers.
The spin of the press release is captured in the first sentence: “Ontario is taking action to reduce electricity costs and intends to introduce legislation that, if passed, would rebate the provincial portion of the HST from the electricity bills”.
Very nice sentiment, except we know that funding to “reduce electricity costs” is from taxpayers who will pick up the costs of the 8% rebate and ratepayers who will pick up the costs of the “eligible rural ratepayers” reduction.
Almost $1.5 billion shifted to make government look good
The almost $1.5 billion was not obtained from a reduction in spending or by instructing the OEB to reduce the return on capital of the power generators or the local distribution companies—it’s coming from the pockets of taxpayers and ratepayers. The “action” being taken does nothing to defer future rate increases by canceling wind and solar contracts or by taxing them — it simply passes the costs to those who have been affected by the steady and unrelenting rise in the cost of electricity. To claim, as the press release does, that “consumers will be positively impacted” is pure spin!
Had the Wynne government been brave they would have reduced the TOU rates on the first 750 kWh of consumption by a significant amount. As it is those residential ratepayers who have been most impacted by the price climbs will not reap the monetary benefits of residential ratepayers who use more energy — 8% of a $150 monthly bill is $11 versus $24 for a $300 monthly bill.
This cost shift of almost $1.5 billion looks amazingly like another “mistake” by Premier Wynne.
* The OEB “Bill calculator” fails to note any reduction in the “delivery” line for Hydro One’s “low-density” ratepayers but does highlight the 8% reduction in the HST.