Electricity planning in Ontario: bad and getting worse

Ontario Energy Minister Thibeault: he really believes this stuff?

From all appearances, Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault sincerely believes Premier Wynne’s plan to reduce our hydro bills is the right one and the opposition parties have got it all wrong.

Shortly after Premier Wynne and her loyal servant Glenn Thibeault announced the Liberals’ “Fair Hydro Plan” Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP, announced their plan. Thibeault had this to say about the NDP’s plans to repurchase Hydro One shares: “Buying back $4 billion in Hydro One shares is costly, he 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.’ ”

When PC MPP Vic Fedeli suggested diverting our surplus power to local businesses so they can create jobs, instead of exporting it to U.S. states at staggeringly low prices* Thibeault lashed out, saying that was  “back-of-the-napkin” thinking.  Thibeault did admit Ontario “doesn’t have sufficient electricity demand at home to use up the electricity we export to other markets.”

This begs the question: why does the Energy Minister not cancel contracts recently awarded (LRP 1) and permanently cancel plans (LRP 2) to add more renewables that will be surplus due to insufficient demand and plant closures.  In respect to the latter, demand will continue to be insufficient as the recent announcements about the closing of the Proctor and Gamble plant (500 employees) in Brockville and the Siemens plant in Tillsonburg (340 employees), just to name two, will further reduce demand.

The Siemens announcement undermines the Green Energy Act which the Liberals originally touted as destined to create 50,000 jobs, but fell miserably short of that goal. In fact it cost Ontario jobs as suggested by former Ontario Auditor General McCarter in his 2011 report.

Thibeault might also stop directing IESO to spend $400 million annually on conservation programs which further reduces demand, but at a cost that is added to ratepayer bills and negatively affects export sale prices.*

Now, when Minister Thibeault or Premier Wynne speak about the Liberal Plan, they revert to the main “Fair Hydro Plan” talking point which is “This is the largest rate cut in Ontario history”.  What Minister Thibeault always fails to note is Ontario’s ratepayers have experienced the largest rate increases in history thanks to the GEA’s passage in 2009!  He also fails to acknowledge the future costs due to the Fair Hydro Plan which will push rates up well past those before the “largest rate cut in Ontario history”.   That cost (subject to balanced budgets) according to the Financial Accountability Office will be $45 billion versus a benefit of $24 billion.  That $45 billion will easily drive up electricity rates and represents in excess of two years of current total electricity costs.

Amortized over 10 years we should expect annual rate increases well in excess of 10%.   At that time, all ratepayers will be exposed to the Ontario Liberal government’s incredibility bad planning!

Parker Gallant

* For the first six months of 2017 IESO report the sales price for surplus exports was $14.93 a megawatt hour (MWh) or 1.49 cents a kWh which is close to 10% of what it costs to produce. Ontario’s ratepayers pay for the losses via their monthly bills

 

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Wind power waste not healthy for Ontario

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!

Parker Gallant

* 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.

Ontario Energy Board news release: cherry-picked facts and conflicting information

Glaring omissions from the OEB about the “Fair Hydro Plan”

Hydro One’s “low-density” customers pay more —way more

 The June 22, 2017 news release from the Ontario Energy Board tells Ontario ratepayers about the wonders of the “Fair Hydro Plan” and how much rates would have increased without it.

But other related information on the OEB website discloses cherry-picked data and, on examination, reveals shortcomings. One small example is a chart comparing Ontario residential rates with other cities in Canada and the U.S. San Francisco is at the top; Hydro One low-density in fourth place; and Toronto Hydro is in sixth place. The lowest five cities on the chart are all Canadian cities including Montreal; comparing their cost of electricity shows Hydro One’s (low density) costs are 232% higher!

The average monthly cost for U.S. cities are converted into Canadian dollars at $1.3046, pushing them up the scale to create the impression that Ontario’s electricity rates are competitive. What isn’t disclosed is average household income and what percentage of the income is consumed by electricity bill(s) on a comparative basis.  In San Francisco, 1.3% of household income (US$104,879) goes to pay for the comparable “average” electricity bill, whereas in Toronto (household income $75,270) it consumes over 2% of household income.  Household incomes in rural Ontario are lower (20% or more) than large urban centres such as Toronto, etc., as Statscan noted in an extensive report.  Hydro One’s billings in some cases, for their serviced areas, represents 5 to 10% of pre-tax household income.

The news release said if the Fair Hydro Plan hadn’t kicked in, rates per household were scheduled to increase 3.2% May 1st or about $33 annually for the “average” residential ratepayer.  That would have increased total costs of power (COP) by almost $200 million over 12 months for just residential ratepayers, and another $3/400 million (estimated) for the rest of the Class A and Class B ratepayers.  That money will now be part of the 30 year refinancing flowing from the “Fair Hydro Plan.”  Many of those “refinanced” assets will have reached their best before date so ratepayers will be paying for assets with little or no value requiring replacement.

Instead of the rate increase that would have occurred, the average household will see a monthly reduction of almost $22 ($263 a year) commencing July 1, 2017. The foregoing monthly decrease reflects the reduction in time-of-use (TOU) rates taking effect on that date based on the OEB’s standards of usage calculations.  The decrease includes prior announcements moving the OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) and the RRRP (Rural or Remote Rate Protection) allocation to the provincial treasury, instead of on the backs of ratepayers.  This was contained in the directive given to the OEB by Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault April 10, 2017.  The latter (OESP + RRRP) are estimated (by the writer) to have cost ratepayers about $5/600 million in 2016, and will increase as the OESP and the RRRP have both been expanded.  Those costs will become the responsibility of Ontario’s taxpayers.  Taxpayers will also bear the burden of the foregone revenue previously generated from the 8% provincial portion of the HST on electricity bills, removed as of January 1, 2017 the same time as “cap and trade” charges began.

More conflicting information in the OEB news release was the sentence: “With the new RPP prices that will start to apply on July 1, the total bill for the proxy customer described under the Fair Hydro Act, 2017 will be about $121. That is about $41 or 25% lower than it would have been without the following mitigation*”  That suggests the “proxy customer” was paying $162 per month, yet the “chart” referenced in the second paragraph contains what is shown as a “Median Ontario Utility (OEB regulated)” with a monthly bill (as of November 2016) of $130.46.  The OEB does not clarify what a “proxy customer” is and the “Fair Hydro Act 2017” contains no reference to a “proxy customer”!

With all this conflicting information from the OEB, it is hard to understand how they are fulfilling item number three in their “Mission” statement which reads: “Making the consumer’s own usage, and the broader energy issues, easier to understand”.

If the OEB was attempting to add clarity to the messages from Premier Wynne and the Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibeault about the Fair Hydro Plan, they have failed!

Parker Gallant

* “Mitigation” includes the OESP, RRRP, removal of the 8% provincial portion of the HST and the “refinancing of a portion of the costs of the Global Adjustment”

Wynne spin and the Fair Hydro Plan, Part 3

The recent 2017/2018 budget speech from Finance Minister Sousa had this to say about the Fair Hydro Plan.

“People from across the province shared their concerns about rising electricity bills. We listened and we are responding. Recognizing that there needed to be a fairer way to share the costs of building a cleaner, more modern and reliable electricity generation system, we are taking action to reduce electricity costs. Through Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan, starting this summer, household electricity costs would be lowered by an average of 25 per cent. We are also capping rate  increases to inflation for the next four years. Low‐income families, and those living in rural, remote or on-reserve First Nation communities, would receive additional relief as well.”

Impressive words signaling reallocation of charges to taxpayers previously paid by ratepayers as well as direct relief. The budget’s forecast however doesn’t jibe with the words contained in the speech from Premier Wynne when she announced the relief March 2, 2017 and said, “Although the refinancing occurs within the electricity system and is accounted for separately, the overall fiscal impact of this relief and restructuring will cost the province about $2.5 billion over the next three years.”

The Premier’s remarks suggest relief will cost about $833 million annually but the budget notes the “Electricity Rate Relief Programs” are forecast to cost $1.438 billion.

The budget estimate(s) presumably include the costs associated with the OESP (Ontario Electricity Support Program) for low-income families. Those “heat or eat” households were driven to that situation by climbing electricity rates caused by lucrative contracts handed out by the current and past energy ministers.  As well, free delivery costs for First Nations communities will become standard and taxpayer supported as will the RRRP (Rural or Remote Rate Protection) in low-density regions.  Also added to the pot is an “Affordability Fund” for households who can’t afford energy efficiency upgrades.  Finance Minister Sousa’s budget obviously forecasts those costs to taxpayers at over $600 million more than the Premier!  So what are Ontario’s taxpayers/ratepayers to believe?

Based on the foregoing we must assume the Premier’s $2.5 billion over three years are to only cover the programs moved to other ministries and will cost taxpayers about $4.5 billion if the relief ends three years hence.  Based on the record of this government we shouldn’t expect the relief programs to end in three years!

The other part of the Premier’s statement was: “In addition, this rate relief is designed to last. After we bring bills down by 25% we will hold them there with rates rising only with inflation — or roughly 2% — for at least four years.”  Once again the Premier avoids telling us the whole story. Other associated documents the general public have a difficult time locating tell another story.  One such document was the “Technical Briefing” appendix attached to a directive dated March 2, 2017 sent to the OEB by Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault.  Under a heading labeled “Refinancing the Global Adjustment” we find:  “Under current forecasts, the immediate reduction (i.e., the financed portion) in the GA would be about $2.5 billion per year on average over the first ten years,  with a maximum annual interest cost of $1.4 billion.”

What that means is, they are “kicking the can down the road” by refinancing $25 billion of contract and adding $14 billion in interest costs. At some point in the not too distant future (year 5?) electricity rates will need to jump to accommodate the $39 billion of accumulated debt within the portfolio.  What is being refinanced are those 20-year contracts for wind, solar and gas generation, yet the contracts will have expired and should, yet we don’t know if they will still be operational!

Interestingly enough, if we include the taxpayer-related relief costs of at least $4.314 billion ($1,438 million X 3 years) “kicking the can down the road” will labour taxpayers/ratepayers with $43.3 billion in costs. That $43.3 billion exceeds what was supposed invested in electricity generation ($35 billion) and is only $6.7 billion short of what they claim has been invested in the electricity system as this quote from the “Technical Briefing” notes:  Between 2005 and 2015, government invested more than $50 billion in the electricity system, including $35 billion in electricity generation to restore reliability, replace coal and meet environmental objectives.

So what are taxpayers and ratepayers seeing when they look ahead? First, a new debt associated with the electricity system will burden us with an additional $43.3 billion on top of the reputed $50 billion the Premier Wynne led government claims has been invested.  That accumulated debt will require payback which will drive rates and taxes higher.   Secondly many of the $35 billion investments in electricity generation and the $15 billion of investments in the electricity system will have reached their end of life and will require replacement.

The forecast for ratepayers is they should expect to see a new charge on their future hydro bills. Logic suggests the new charge should be referred to as the LDRC (Liberal Debt Retirement Charge)!

 

 

 

Energy ministry dodges questions on hydro bill relief

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.

Ontario Energy Minister Thibeault: not forthcoming with the facts on electricity bill "relief"
Ontario Energy Minister Thibeault: not forthcoming with the facts on electricity bill “relief”

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.

►Northern spin

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.

►Total spin

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.

 

Premier Wynne’s mistake: no real fixes ahead

November 25, 2016

A recent press release from Environmental Defence announced the launch of yet another effort to “green” Ontario via an organization formed by the usual cadre of environmental non-government organizations (ENGO).

This one, the 100% RE or Renewable Energy, pushes the insanity of suggesting Ontario’s “next energy plan should empower citizens and communities to join the global movement toward 100 per cent renewable energy.” It suggests Ontario “should follow the lead of communities, such as Oxford County, that are transitioning to clean and healthy 100 per cent renewable energy”.

It is apparent that the people at Environmental Defence — the same ENGO that was a participant in the creation of the Green Energy Act — somehow believe they are superior energy planners than those with qualifications. Beyond Environmental Defence, the 100%RE group includes the usual suspects such as the David Suzuki Foundation, Pembina, Greenpeace, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Physicians for the Environment, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and several lesser known names, including the Toronto Environmental Alliance and TREC. The latter were responsible for the Toronto Exhibition Place wind turbine used by countless Ontario Liberals as a photo-op but which generates almost no usable power and whose control now rests in the hands of Toronto Hydro. TREC have placed a plaque at the base of the turbine with the names of the people who invested in the turbine and have no hope of ever seeing a return on their money.  One of the names on the plaque is Dianne Saxe, the current Environmental Commissioner.  (It appears supporting industrial-scale wind turbines that kill birds and bats did not deter the Ontario Liberal government from appointing Ms. Saxe as commissioner of the environment.)

Now, with Premier Wynne’s recent mea culpa at the Ontario Liberal Party convention when she referred to Ontario citizens having to choose between heating their house or buying food, one has to wonder:  exactly why did it take her so long to admit to her mistake?  Maybe it’s because the Ontario media has recently noted rising electricity bills are causing energy poverty; the hard-luck stories in print and on TV are often heart-wrenching.  Those stories, and the relentless arrival of the monthly hydro bill, has had a lot to do with recent polling results showing that 67% disapprove of the job Premier Wynne is doing.

One of the obvious “mistakes” Premier Wynne made was not paying attention. When she was confronted by communities back in August 2013 declaring themselves “unwilling hosts” to industrial wind turbine developments, her response, as reported in the Ottawa Citizen, was to shrug it off: “Wynne has asked the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association to raise awareness in communities slated for the turbine projects about the benefits of hosting, including the financial gains that can come from being power generators in a cash-strapped economy.”

Was she so naive that she didn’t realize those “financial gains” would come from the pockets of average households, and that OSEA claimed responsibility for developing the Green Energy Act that had a role in rising electricity bills?

Her announcement on the repeal of the 8% provincial portion of the HST is at best comparable to sticking her finger in a dike to stop the flood.  It has apparently slipped her mind she was part of the team that placed the tax on our energy bills, while simultaneously blessing a 10% rebate known as the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit.

The net gain to households from those actions was a 2% reduction, at the same time as the Ontario Energy Board was approving rate increases for both the electricity and distribution lines on our bills that were multiples of the 2% net gain from the Liberal government actions.

The upcoming plan to add a “cap and trade” tax to households will quickly negate the latest 8% reduction.  On top of the new tax, Ontario Power Generation, which generates about 60% of the power we consume in the province, has submitted a rate application to the OEB that could add $63 to the average bill.

Premier Wynne’s “mistake” will continue to drive up our bills for some time. If she pays any attention to the dreamy musings of Environmental Defence and their ilk in the drive for 100% renewables, those heart-wrenching stories will become a daily occurrence.

Creating the Green Energy Act based on faulty ideology, and with no comprehensive cost-benefit analysis in place was a big mistake — one that remains fundamentally not corrected.