Wind Concerns Ontario is a province-wide advocacy organization whose mission is to provide information on the potential impact of industrial-scale wind power generation on the economy, human health, and the natural environment.
Andre Marin, Ontario’s Ombudsman, hosted a press conference March 11th on the investigation into Hydro One’s billing practices, and the monopoly’s aggressive tactics of threatening to cut power to their customers during the coldest winter ever recorded in Ontario!
The Ombudsman said this: “We’ve seen absurdly high bills and atrocious customer service. We’ve seen the same astounding errors over and over again – people charged $10,000, even $20,000 at a time, when what they really owe is closer to $100.”
Hydro One countered with a press release: “ ‘We have come a long way. In the past year we have restored service levels at our call centre and performance of our billing system to levels higher than before the transition to our new billing system two years ago,’ said Carm Marcello, President and CEO, Hydro One.”
The Ombudsman said complaints are still arriving at an average of a dozen a day, or more than 4,000 annually. Marin’s observations don’t dovetail with Hydro One’s CEO’s comments and their press release, which claims:
“At this time, Hydro One’s customer service operations and billing system are performing well. As of today, the Company has: Reduced the number of customers who have not received a bill for a prolonged period of time: less than 0.1%: improved from 5%; (475 from 53,495)Reduced the number of customers who have received only estimated bills for a prolonged period of time: 0.4% from 3%; (4,681 from 30,899).”
Wow! The fact they had over 84,000 billing problems would indicate 7 to 8% of their customers have had to engage in negotiations, or suffer indignities including threats of having their power cut off. One wonders how many simply bit the bullet and paid up?
This continuing bad news is something Bay Street investment bankers will shy away from so from the perspective of this writer (a former international banker), I would suggest to Premier Wynne, the time is not right to sell off any part of Hydro One … unless you are willing to have Ontario’s taxpayer at the ready to pay investors to take the problems away!
And why hasn’t Sandra Pupatello, appointed as Chair of the Hydro One Board by the Wynne Liberals a year ago, fulfilled her promised to “fix it”?
These are important issues for Energy Minister Chiarelli and Premier Wynne.
Update: While Hydro One claims it doesn’t cut power during the winter months, the same cannot be said for municpally owned Westario Power with 23,000 ratepayers as noted in the Kincardine Record yesterday.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Wind Concerns Ontario policy.
Leading doctors have called on the Government to reduce the noise levels of wind turbines — which they claim are four times that recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
The Irish Doctors’ Environmental Association also said the set-back distance of 500m is not enough, that it should be increased to at least 1,500m.
Visiting Research Professor at Queen’s University, Alun Evans and lead clinical consultant at Waterford Regional Hospital Prof Graham Roberts have both expressed concerns over the current noise levels and distance of turbines from homes.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly is currently reviewing the wind energy planning guidelines and the group is calling for both issues to be examined closely in the interest of public health.
The association has called for the introduction of a maximum noise level of 30 decibels as recommended by the WHO and for the set-back distance from inhabited houses to at least 1,500m from the current 500m.
Prof Evans said the construction of wind turbines in Ireland “is being sanctioned too close to human habitation”.
“Because of its impulsive, intrusive, and sometimes incessant nature, the noise generated by wind turbines is particularly likely to disturb sleep,” he said.
“The young and the elderly are particularly at risk. Children who are sleep-deprived are more likely to become obese, predisposing them to diabetes and heart disease in adulthood. As memory is reinforced during sleep, they also exhibit impaired learning.”
Prof Evans said adults who are sleep-deprived are at risk of a ranges of diseases, particularly “heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke, and to cognitive dysfunction and mental problems”.
Prof Evans, attached to the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s, said the Government should exercise a duty of care towards its citizens and exercise the ‘precautionary principle’ which is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty.
“It can achieve this by raising turbine set-back to at least 1500m, in accordance with a growing international consensus,” said Prof Evans.
In a statement, the Department of the Environment said that in December 2013 it published draft revisions to the noise, set-back distance, and shadow-flicker aspects of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines.
These draft revisions proposed: 1. The setting of a more stringent day and night noise limit of 40 decibels for future wind energy developments; 2. A mandatory minimum setback of 500m between a wind turbine and the nearest dwelling for amenity considerations; 3. The complete elimination of shadow flicker between wind turbines and neighbouring dwellings.
A public consultation process was initiated on these proposed revisions to the guidelines, which ran until February 21, 2014.
“The department received submissions from 7,500 organisations and members of the public during this period. In this regard, account has to be taken of the extensive response to the public consultation in framing the final guidelines,” the department said in the statement.
“However, it is the department’s intention that the revisions to the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines will be finalised in the near future and will address many of the issues raised in that bill.”
The study results were released in a summary (no peer review, no actual report or paper) last November, but the brochure was not sent out until February 2015, by Canada Post Unaddressed Admail.
The timing is unusual, coming so long after the study results release, and coinciding with Ontario’s new procurement process for large renewable power projects. It is also very unusual for a research team to create and release a brochure.
That brochure is misleading, Wind Concerns Ontario president Jane Wilson said in the letter to the Minister. “It’s not true, as the brochure says, that there are no health effects from the wind turbine noise and infrasound–there are, and the study summary* says that. It says 16.5 percent of people studied who live within 1 km of a turbine were experiencing distress,” Wilson said.
Wind Concerns Ontario met with Health Canada/Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety staff the day after the study results were released, and advised that the draft brochure not be released. “We told them that the disclaimer on the brochure, which explained that the study results were ‘preliminary’ and unreviewed, was not prominent enough,” Wilson said. “We also asked why they weren’t going back into the study communities in person, as is normal practice for scientific research teams, rather than sending a brochure.”
Wind Concerns said that the study summary, and now the brochure, strain the credibility of Health Canada and the federal government in Ontario.
“The fact is, the conclusion being promoted in the brochure from this study–that there are no health effects–does not coalesce with the real-life experience in Ontario communities,” Wilson said. “The people of Ontario were hoping that their federal health department would pull out all the stops to find a reason for the many, many reported health problems related to wind turbine noise—instead, they got short shrift in this study, and now an unnecessary and misleading, taxpayer-funded promotional brochure that functionally supports the wind power development industry.”
The brochure has been revised from the original version to now say Health Canada has had it reviewed by its own panel, but the study results have yet to be published.
*the 16.5% figure (actually 25% at 1/2 a km) appears in a PowerPoint summary given to WCO by Health Canada
The wind power development industry and its well-funded lobby group(s) continue to push forward the idea that anyone claiming to experience problems with the noise/infrasound/sensation produced by utility-scale wind turbines is either emotionally unstable, or influenced by “anti-wind groups.”
The current mythology is that with improved public participation, opposition (which really has no foundation) will disappear, or at least diminish.
And then, there are the facts.
Here is a very telling history of experiences with large-scale wind turbines. Note the research done by Nussbaum in 1985, which is relevant today.
As if skyrocketing power rates, due in part to “renewables” like wind, wasn’t enough, billing system woes continue at Ontario’s power monopoly Hydro One, despite promises to fix the situation. Here is an update from Parker Gallant.
A year ago, on March 7, 2014, the Ontario government undertook what the Toronto Star referred to as a “shake up” following “an over-billing fiasco and a scathing Auditor General’s report.” The former referred to Hydro One’s mess after implementation of their new billing system, and the latter referred to “nepotism” along with high wages and benefits at OPG. The government appointed Sandra Pupatello (runner-up to Kathleen Wynne in the Liberal leadership race) to right the wrongs as the new Chair of Hydro One. She was quick off the mark stating, “We are going to fix it” (the billing problems).
It’s not fixed but hopefully, Ms. Pupatello is enjoying her $150K stipend for acting as the Chair of Hydro One while retaining her position as Chief Executive of the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation which pays her about the same amount.
The same can be said for the spokespeople* at Hydro One who appear in several short videos on their website apologizing for the billing mess. On the same page is a letter dated October 14, 2014 from Hydro One’s CEO, Carm Marcello addressed to the Ombudsman, Andre Marin. In the letter he tells the Ombudsman he will shortly announce he is setting up a “Customer Service Advisory Panel” that consists of perhaps only one actualHydro One customer, former Chief of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, Randall Kahgee! Marcello also informs the auditor he plans to issue a draft “Customer Commitment” document!
Eighteen months after complaints started and eight months after the Ombudsman announced he was investigating Hydro One’s billing mess, the CEO suddenly became enlightened! The CEO of Hydro One, the provincially owned monopoly electricity distributor to 1.2 million ratepayers, with a 134-page Conditions of Service agreement, suddenly noticed they had tens of thousands of billing problems!
If you venture into their “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) page about the Ombudsman’s investigation they state: “approximately 3 per cent of our customers have received estimated bills for too long and about another 2 per cent have gone for more than 90 days without receiving a bill.”
If one does quick math on the 3% plus the 2% you will quickly surmise 5% of Hydro One’s customers have billing problems. Five per cent (5 %) of 1.2 million ratepayers represents sixty thousand (60,000) ratepayers. While there is no admission of screw-ups in the videos or in Marcelo’s letter; reading the answers to the FAQ sure makes one suspicious Hydro One is trying to hide something!
Here are a few examples. I invite the reader to judge Hydro One’s ability to obfuscate.
1.What are the Hydro One billing issues I’ve been hearing about? The move to the new system was required to improve customer service while replacing outdated and unsupportable technology.
2.What is Hydro One doing to fix this issue?We are manually reading over 11,000 two-tiered meters to correct bills that have been estimated.
3.Why do I keep receiving an estimated bill when I have a Smart Meter?The reason you have an estimated bill is that the meter is not communicating properly with our network.
4.Why is my bill so high? Unfortunately some customers have experienced inaccurate estimates. (So why does the answer to Q. 6 state: “billing issues you may have heard about in the media are not related to meter accuracy.”)
5.Will I get a bill for an actual reading soon? Right now Hydro One is manually reading over 11,000 two-tiered meters for customers who have been billed on estimates. If your meter is part of this program, you should receive an actual bill soon. (So, 60,000 bills messed up and only 11,000 meters being read!)
6. Is the accuracy of Hydro One’s meters causing the billing issues? Secondary tests are completed by Hydro One as they arrive from the manufacturer and then again we have sample testing of meters once they are ‘in service’.
7.Why has my meter been changed twice?There have been some cases where the meter is not communicating properly with our network.
8.I use baseboard heating in my home. What can I do to conserve energy? For homes that are heated with electricity, those heating costs make up to 60 per cent of your bill.
None of the answers admit to the screw-up with the new Customer Information System (CIS), nor to the purchase of “uncommunicative” smart meters. There is also no indication that any employee lost their job because of these mishaps!
A full year has gone by, and the billing mishaps continue despite the promise by Ms. Pupatello to “fix it.” The energy portfolio continues to be mismanaged without any consequences. If an error of this magnitude occurred at a privately owned company, shareholders would demand action— but that’s not how things work at the provincially owned monopoly that is Hydro One!
* Average annual salary of the four Hydro One spokespeople on the letter and videos from the 2013 “Sunshine List” is $315,323. Lowest is $151,405 and highest is $724,917. Hydro bills to these four are like buying a cup of “Timmies” coffee!
Editor’s note: The billing mess continues, as Parker says. In today’s Ottawa Citizen is a story of a couple who were billed $25,000 in error. A Hydro One “customer care specialist” is reviewing their account. The Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario has received 9,800 complaints about Hydro One, the Citizen reports, the most complaints ever received about a single organization.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Wind Concerns Ontario policy.
Perth County–Groups looking to stop a wind turbine project need to act fast said a member of a Western Ontario anti-wind group that successfully prevented 24 turbines from being constructed.
In 2011, Invenergy started leasing land in the Elma-Mornington area near Waterloo with the intention of building wind turbines. At first, 13 people signed up for the project. But, residents in the tight-knit community started talking amongst themselves and discovered they didn’t like the idea. After a community meeting, no one else signed up for a wind turboine lease, and nine of the 13 who did sign wanted out.
The project was cancelled just before Christmas last year.
“Your first line of defence is not to have people sign up for leases,” said Tim Martin, who milks 40 cows at his dairy operation at Alma and fought against the project.
After that, the group was busy looking at every document possible to find mistakes in Invenergy’s plan.
“We looked for mistakes the company was making along the way,” he said. “There are things companies have to do to move ahead with the REA (Renewable Energy Approval) and we found a lot of mistakes.”
One set of mistakes had to do with vacant lot receptors. Basically, in every piece of property purchased, land needs to be put aside to allow neighbours the space to do future construction. Invenergy missed some of that in their original agreements.
The group spent about $150,000 in the battle, including $45,000 paid to retain a lawyer. Since the project was cancelled, 30 of the people who each paid $1,500 will get a refund.
…There are 1,916 turbines already up and running in Ontario and there could be another 1,000 operating by the end of 2016. Eighty-seven of Ontario’s 444 municipalities have declared themselves as unwilling hosts to wind turbines, even though the designation has no teeth.
Martin said people were concerned that once a contract was signed, the company could do whatever it wanted. Martin knew of a farmer in his region who signed up for one turbine but when the site plan was released, was shocked to discover there were plans for three on his property.
“These contracts are really one-sided,” said Martin. “They really protect the wind companies and not the landowners. You basically lose control of your land once you sign these land leases. The wind company can really do anything they want with it at any time.”
Manitoulin Island— A farmer with a wind turbine on his property could be on the hook for the costs of putting up a turbine when there is a dispute among contractors of the project.
That’s what 24 property owners feared on Manitoulin Island near Sault Ste. Marie. Court documents show that R.M. Belanger, which installed transmission lines for 24 turbines in 2013 and 2014, was owed $2.25 million plus HST. But the main contractor only paid a small portion of the bill and $2.04 million was still outstanding.
$85,000 lien per property owner
R.M.Belanger filed court documents last year to put liens on the properties with the turbines. The conflict was resolved among the contractors but not before the property owners thought they would have to cough up $85,000 per turbine.
Eric Gillespie, a Toronto environmental lawyer who has handled wind power cases, said clauses in some contracts mean property owners are responsible when a company installing the turbines is not paid. Contracts do differ between wind farm companies, Gillespie said.
“Because of the work that our office does, we’ve looked at a significant number of these agreements, and the same problem could certainly arise in many cases that we’ve looked at so far,” said Gillespie. “From our experience, Manitoulin Island would no be unique. This could certainly happen elsewhere.”
A wind turbine contract can be anywhere from 10 to 40 pages with plenty of fine print, and a clause covering responsibility for costs might be buried in the fine print, said Gillespie, who encourages farmers to seek legal help to review contracts before signing.
They can do what they want on your land
Farmers can earn $25,000 annually to host a turbine but contracts might state the wind company can move the turbine site, access roads and transmission lines, he said. So, a farmer who thought a wind turbine was going at the back corner of the farm could see the location switched.
“You sigened an agreement that says in many cases, they can do whatever they want on your land,” said Gillespie. “That’s very disturbing.”
Shawn Drennan, whose home near Goderich, Ont., is a short distance from a 140-turbine project, said he was pleased the ruling has cut his bill to $25,000 from more than $200,000.
“I’m feeling relieved,” Drennan said in a weekend interview. “$25,000 is not a small number but it’s manageable.”
In a decision released late Friday, Divisional Court rejected arguments from the Drennans, Ryans, Dixons and Kroeplins that they should have to pay none of the companies’ legal bills.
But the court also rejected the companies’ contention that the families had been purely selfish in launching the turbine challenge.
“Although the appellants obviously had a private interest in the litigation, their appeals contained a strong public-interest component – raising, as they did, the constitutionality of part of the legislative regime governing the construction and operation of wind farms in this province,” the court said.
“Any award of costs must reflect that strong public-interest component.”
At any rate, the court found, the amount demanded by K2 Wind, Armow, and St. Columban was unreasonably high. It also took the companies to task for failing to explain exactly how they had arrived at the amount they were asking for.
The families had argued Ontario’s turbine-approvals process was unconstitutional because it exposes citizens to a reasonable prospect of serious harm to their health. In December, Divisional Court rejected that challenge.
In asking for $340,000 in costs, the companies said the families knew the risks of losing. They also said the high-stakes fight had forced them to deploy considerable legal resources to defend projects they say are safe and properly approved.
The families’ lawyer Julian Falconer, who had denounced the companies’ initial bill as intimidation aimed at discouraging legal challenges, said the costs award captured the larger issues in play.
“The court ruling is very important because of the recognition that these cases are not all about money,” Falconer said on the weekend.
“What these families have on the line went well beyond protecting their backyards.”
The families are hoping Ontario’s top court will hear an appeal of the December ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the provincial rules and allowed the three wind projects to proceed.
The government of Ontario and Quebec-based Innergex must have thought this was going to work: choose a sparsely populated area, Crown land, and hand-pick a willing First Nation to be a “partner” in your power project.
Things aren’t going so well.
Friday, March 06, 2015
Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli was one of 12 representatives opposing the proposed Mattawa-area wind farm who spoke to a standing-room only audience at Mike Rodden Arena on Friday night. PHOTO BY LIAM BERTI
Some used humour, others were brought to tears.
But the message from three First Nation Chiefs, various Mayors and federal and provincial leaders was the same: the proposed wind farm for the Mattawa region will be fought to the end.
Area residents packed the second floor of Mattawa’s Mike Rodden Arena on Friday night to listen to the opposition leaders rally against Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.’s tentative plans for a 150-megawatt wind farm in the area.
Their respective arguments ranged from the Algonquin Land Claim agreement, the environmental toll, and the true economic impact, among many others.
The Nodinosi Project, as Innergex and the partnering Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation have named it, calls for anywhere between 50-60 wind turbines on crown land just north of the Mattawa River in the Olrig and Mattawan Townships.
Some of the turbines in the project are expected to tower at 80-120 metres in height, which would be some of the largest of their kind.
The Mattawa/North Bay Algonquin First Nation, Antoine First Nation and Shabot Obaadjiwan leaders took precedence on the evening, defending their land that they feel the government is destroying and exploiting.
“If you want to develop our lands, our consent is required,” said Dave Joanisse, Chief for the Antoine First Nation. “Going to court and fighting for title is one way the that the Algonquin Communities have to settle long outstanding Claims.
“The other way is for the government to conduct negotiation in good faith with Aboriginal Communities,” he continued.
Innergex has promoted the project in partnership with the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, who are situated over 200 kilometres from the proposed project site, near Pembroke, Ont.
But Joanisse continued to send his strong message to the fellow First Nation, whose integrity he questioned for entering the agreement and potentially jeopardizing the Algonquin Land Claim agreement-in-principle in the first public consultation.
“I am truly disappointed in the leadership from Pikwàkanagàn,” he said on Friday. “This unilateral decision made by them truly undermines the process we have all supported for the last 20 years.”
Nipissing Member of Provincial Parliament Vic Fedeli encapsulated the crowd with his arguments against the province’s wind power plans and, more specifically, the Mattawa proposal.
Fedeli, who was Ontario’s energy critic for two years, argued that the province’s Green Energy Act has been ideologically driven and lacks substance, which he said the new Innergex proposal is a prime example of.
He said the provincial government has spent $50 billion on green energy and paid $2.6 billion to Quebec and the United States between 2006 and 2013 to take the surplus energy made exclusively from wind.
“We got into this thing in Ontario by a mistake, forced into it by ideology, it caused your hydro rates to triple and cost 300,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario so far,” Fedeli said.
But François Morin, senior advisor of public affairs for the Quebec-based company, said that isn’t the whole story.
“In the energy sector, you have to plan 20-25 years ahead,” he added. “Maybe you have a surplus of energy now, but in a few years it could be very different. In Ontario, the projection calls for a deficit of energy in the next 3-4 years.”
The intermittent power source, Fedeli argued, is being forced on Ontario after the province stripped municipalities the ability to object to the farms and that they continue to unfairly incentivize their development to the private companies.
The crowd also heard from North Bay Mayor Al McDonald, Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Jay Aspin, John Kelsall of the Lake Talon Conservation Authority, and other area mayors.
Many in attendance said the standing room-only session was the biggest turnout they have ever seen for an event like that in Mattawa.
Mattawa Mayor Dean Backer brought the evening to a climax, rallying the crowd to their feet in his brief but powerful statements.
“Innergex, we mean no ill will, but you’re coming into our back yard and it’s not going to happen in our back yard, I can promise you that,” he said to a standing ovation. “Our municipality is 100 per cent against this stupid proposal.”
And it appears that, for now, those strong messages have gotten through to Innergex.
Morin said the responsibility is now on Innergex to redevelop the proposal around the concerns they have heard.
“Social acceptability is a cornerstone of our development and a vital part of any project, so for now, I can tell you, no we don’t have a project because we don’t have that social acceptability,” he said after the meeting.
“For now, the responsibility is with us to find a way to make a better project,” he concluded.
Morin said the company will now go back to the drawing board and redevelop new ideas for the Nodinosi Project.
The TEDDY award ceremony in Ottawa this week: Ontario wins!
Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli was fast off the mark when the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CFA) awarded his Ministry with a “Teddy” award granted for the “money-wasting boondoggle” the CFA attributed to smart meters. The Minister disputed the award by claiming “the devices are lowering electricity bills for consumers in part by allowing them to switch their electricity use to off-peak times when it costs less.”
The Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk was also a critic of smart meters when she released her report in December 2015, and specifically suggested how the rate differential between on- and off-peak rates wasn’t incentive enough for people to change their electricity usage. Minister Chiarelli also refuted the findings in her report in respect to the wasted cost. Minister Chiarelli apparently has now got the issue firmly in hand.
He was quoted in a recent Toronto Sun article: “We did have a higher price for peakNB: when we first introduced [time-of-use pricing] and there were a lot of consumer complaints about that,” Chiarelli said. “In response to consumers, we reduced the peak price and there was less of a differential and that created less of an opportunity to save more money on your electricity rates. We’re reviewing that decision at the present time.”
It is the last quote ratepayers should be concerned about! The Ontario Energy Board indicates off-peak rates have increased 120% since introduced in 2006, going from 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) to the current rate of 7.7 cents/kWh.
On-peak rates have increased from 10.5 cents/kWh to 14 cents/kWh, an increase of only 33%. The price differential has therefore compacted to an on-peak, off-peak ratio of 1.8:1. Based on the need to satisfy the contracted parties (wind, solar and biomass) under the feed-in tariff contracts, means a continuing increase in the ratepayer dollars needed to satisfy those contracts.
The conclusion and the “decision” that will come from the Ministry’s review of the TOU pricing may well mean that the initial ratio of 3:1 will become the objective. If that happens the on-peak rate will jump from its current 14 cents/kWh to 23 cents/kWh, raising average annual energy bills by about $300.001; annually.
Just another way for the Energy Minister to increase energy poverty for those with disabilities or seniors living on fixed incomes while telling us “the devices are lowering electricity bills for consumers.”
NB: TOU rates introduced in May 2006 set off-peak rates at 3.5 cents/kWh and on-peak rates at 10.5 for a 3:1 price differential. Today they are 7.7 cents/kWh for off-peak and 14 cents/kWh for on-peak.
1. Ratepayers currently consume an average of 33% of their electricity during on-peak times which translates to consumption of 3,100 kWh annually which, at an increase of 9 cents a kWh, would raise ratepayers’ bills by about $300.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Wind Concerns Ontario policy.