Recently, a friend, knowing I write often about the energy sector, told me he received a letter from Hydro One. He showed it to me: the two-page letter told him he was using an incredible amount of electricity this winter and was ranked in the highest percentile (91%) of electricity consumers in his neighbourhood. He told me his house has electric heat and this year was no different from any other. Unless he and his wife want to freeze or convert their heat source at great expense to propane, he was stuck with this shameful situation.
I found the letter offensive, and stupid: Hydro One was not aware my friend’s heat source was electric, and ignored his consistent pattern of use.
While researching another article I came across the Ontario Power Authority’s (OPA) “Conservation Fund” Portfolio. This somewhat dated report (it only covers to the end of 2013) lists over 150 projects the OPA has used ratepayer dollars to fund. I came across the following information from 2012, which explains my friend’s letter.
Proponent Project Title
Hydro One Networks & Opower Social Benchmarking Pilot Program Amount awarded: Confidential
Hydro One Networks and Opower are collaborating to deliver an opt-out program to 50,000 Hydro One customers. Central to the program is the Home Energy Report, a printed paper report that will be delivered to participating customers via the mail. These reports will include a normative comparison that compares that customer to efficient neighbours and other neighbours. In addition, customers will` have access to a website that enables them to explore their energy usage in detail and to receive energy efficiency information.
In other words, “shame” the customer.
Why the OPA deemed the “Amount Awarded” confidential seems strange: Hydro One is a publicly owned entity and the property of Ontario’s citizens. Is it because of the “Opower” involvement? It is also strange Hydro One requires an outside contractor to perform this task when they have all those “smart meters” and the data bank. This initiative was in the works before the flood of complaints to the Ombudsman, so was Hydro One concerned with their data-retrieval abilities even before the complaints reached epic proportions?
Another interesting item I located on the OPA list was a grant made in 2013 which indicates that perhaps internally, at least, Hydro One’s executive were concerned enough about “energy poverty” to launch a “test” in conjunction with McMaster University. The dissertation contained in OPA’s “Summary” is focused on “low income customers” and how they would feel about “thermal energy storage.” The following summarizes how almost $616K of ratepayer money is being spent to confirm what the rest of us laymen would assume, this is not a way to alleviate energy poverty!
Proponent Project Title
McMaster University, The Electric Heating Benefits of Thermal Energy Storage
Amount awarded: $375,443 (Total Budget: $615,943)
DeGroote School of Business
For the benefit of low income customers, McMaster University in partnership with Hydro One will examine the conservation and load shifting benefits of thermal energy storage (TES) under current time of use (TOU) rates. The pilot will test customer interaction with TES units and determine its potential as a next generation offering for low income customers.
In other words, let’s pretend we care. The fact is, “thermal energy storage” is expensive and takes many forms: solid state batteries, flywheels, compressed air, pumped heat, etc., none of which represents a cheap solution to continually rising electricity costs, and resulting energy poverty.
And now, Miller Time
Our Environment Commissioner Gord Miller has a solution to the problem, however, which mostly indicates his lack of a connection to reality. He blogged this: “Regrettably, in the last few years, the gap between on-peak and off-peak prices has got narrower and narrower so that we now pay an on-peak price that is less than double the off-peak rate. I called for this gap or the difference to be widened to perhaps five to one. I didn’t say prices should rise. Increasing the price difference means increasing on-peak prices while also decreasing off-peak prices. As one goes up, the other must go down and the gap widens. The hourly cost of using a kilowatt-hour of electricity can be seen in Ontario’s electricity market price, which is often less than 3 cents during the night, but can rise to 30 cents or more when our use peaks during the day.”
Mr. Miller has apparently forgotten about those 20-year contracts for wind developers that pay them no matter when they deliver their kilowatts; they get 13.5 cents day or night. Intelligent discourse seems to have escaped Commissioner Miller along with Hydro One, or, is Commissioner Miller saying people at home during the day (on-peak) should pay 30 cents per kWh?
The Ontario Liberal government has exacerbated energy poverty since coming to power in 2003 through legislation benefiting the few who have signed lucrative 20-year contacts for wind and solar.
When is Premier Wynne going to feel the “shame” of how her government has treated Ontario?
(C) Parker Gallant,
February 4, 2015