Yes Minister, its been an interesting 6 months
It has been 6 months since the Liberals were returned to power in Ontario with a “major minority” and almost 6 months on the job for Minister of Energy, Chris Bentley. Since his appointment a lot has happened in the energy sector that may not have received the attention it deserved, having been overshadowed by the ORNGE scandal which, in terms of costs to Ontarians will look like a rounding error when compared to the Energy Ministry. In no particular order here are some of the events that Minister Bentley has faced:
Pay Freeze for some, Frozen Daiquiris for Others:
The Executive Pay freeze that Premier McGuinty announced back in March 2010 apparently doesn’t apply to several of the Crown Corporations such as OPG nor does it apply to the Municipally owned local distribution companies such as Toronto Hydro despite McGuinty’s appeal back then when he said, “I would invite the municipalities to take a long hard look at what we are doing here.” When the 2011 sunshine list came out the five top executives at OPG collectively received 21% more ($846,000) then they were paid in 2010. This huge raise came despite OPG’s revenue decline of 5.7%, profit decline of 36% ($233 million) and market share drop of 2.5%. In the case of Toronto Hydro’s CEO he had to contend with only a 12.4% ($94,000) increase bringing his compensation to $851,983 which means he earns 5 times Mayor Ford’s salary and $330,000 more then the CEO of Hydro Quebec. Raises at the other crown corporations like Hydro One were much more modest and generally less then 2%. The Ontario Power Authority CEO, Colin Andersen, received no increase.
Auditor General’s Report:
The Auditor General’s Report was a scathing rebuttal of the Energy Ministry when it was released in December 2011. Under a barrage of questions from the opposition parties in the Legislature Minister Bentley had little outward respect for the report except for; “I very much thank the Auditor General for his report and for his good advice. We’re already acting on the recommendations to improve the approach.” and the other responses were generally as follows: “We made the choice to get out of coal. They disagree with that. There’s a cost to stay in coal: $4 billion-plus a year, human suffering, illnesses. At the height of the recession, we made a choice to create jobs for Ontarians and accelerate the cleanup of the air. The 20,000 jobs, billions in investment—it’s all about the choices you make. We stand for clean air, good health, jobs for Ontarians and a brighter future for this province.”
Bentley clearly ignored the elephant in the room!
Minister Bentley was the recipient of the two year FIT review mid March that was prepared by Fareed Amin, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and took only three days to bless the recommendations. The review called for minor adjustments to the pricing offered for wind (15% reduction) and solar generators (20% reduction). This has left Ontario with subsidized prices for these two sources well above all countries in the G20 including Germany, the poster child of the existing and prior Ontario Ministers of Energy. Germany recently announced significant cutbacks on their solar tariffs which will reduce payments for solar generators to as low as 18 cents a kWh versus Ontario’s lowest at 35 cents a kWh. The bankruptcy of the largest German solar company, Solar Millennium also impacted the US as their US subsidiary filed for Chapter 11 financing despite being the beneficiary of a US$2.1 billion guarantee provided by the US Energy Department. China has become the solar king and Ontario has no hope of ever becoming a force in the manufacture of solar panels. The same applies to any major inroads in producing wind turbines. Any hope is faint hope, if the Liberals believe they can replace some of those good manufacturing jobs lost in Ontario because of high energy prices.
That gas plant in Mississauga that was cancelled during the election campaign, to ensure the re-election of the Liberal MPP, also returned to haunt Mr. Bentley as a $300 million law suit was launched against the Province. Bentley had this to say: “ A statement issued Friday by Energy Minister Chris Bentley said the province would vigorously defend against the claims, but declined further comment because the case is before the courts.” Another $1 billion law suit was also launched against the Province for the Province’s imposition of a moratorium on offshore wind farms and Minister Bentley had this to say:
“Energy Minister Chris Bentley says SouthPoint did not have a contract with the province, and the government intends to defend the lawsuit.” Mr. Bentley also has to deal with an earlier law suit of $2.25 billion launched by Trillium Wind Power. So far no lawsuit has been launched by TransCanada Corporation in respect to the cancelled gas plant in Oakville, a 1000 MW capacity plant for which TransCanada had a firm contract. No details of settlement on this cancellation have been released but with the plant expected to contribute 10 cents a share to TransCanada’s annual income we should expect that an agreement is being negotiated for the lost revenue. The Liberals treatment of the Energy Ministry has clearly placed the ratepayers and taxpayers of Ontario in the position of having to pay for their mistakes.
The Green Energy Act when passed in 2009 carried provisions that require OPA contracted parties to ensure Ontario content in their projects. That provision was quickly challenged by Japan and the EU via the World Trade Organization (WTO) and their arguments were recently put forward to the WTO’s dispute panel. The principal arguments were: “The FiT programme and its related contracts confer a benefit to the FiT generators since the OPA guarantees above-market rates for the supply of electricity,” the EU argued before the panel and “That excess is best confirmed by examining the difference between the FIT rates and HOEP [Hourly Ontario Energy Price], as HOEP represents the entire rate that these generators would have received” under normal market conditions, Japan added. While a negative ruling won’t directly affect the Ministry, if Canada loses, it will impact all Canadian taxpayers via any penalties imposed by the WTO. It surely must be of concern to Minister Bentley as he will be saddled with the results and that could impact any thoughts he might have of running for the leadership of the Liberal Party when Dalton McGuinty steps down.
Integrated Power System Plan II:
When the Liberals were first elected in 2003 their war of words in respect to the Ontario electricity sector incessantly blamed the previous governments for not creating a long term energy plan. They created the Ontario Power Authority as a temporary agency to fulfil that gap. Eight years have passed and they still haven’t produced what they apparently noted both the NDP and the PC party failed to do during their time as the ruling parties. The second version (Smitherman killed the first one) of the IPSP was presented to Minister Bentley pre-Christmas and has been with him for that period but nothing has emerged from his office for review by the OEB. Bentley managed to turn the 2 year FIT review around in three days but he has been sitting on the IPSP for over three months. One can only assume that the recommendations in the IPSP II fail to dovetail with the Liberal beliefs as expounded in the Long Term Energy Plan that Minister Bentley’s predecessor, Brad Duguid, released back in November 2010.
Ontario Power Authority Annual Report:
The “sunshine list” disclosed that the CEO of the OPA did not receive any increase in 2011 and perhaps the several law suits (see above) launched against the Province have something to do with that. One telling KPMG auditors note is this one: “Negotiations related to this matter are ongoing. A
reasonable estimate of any settlement amount cannot be determined at this time.” and it applies to both the cancelled Oakville and Mississauga gas plants. OPA’s 2011 annual report makes no mention of the Trillium Wind Power law suit for some reason despite the fact that Trillium claims it holds a contract (see above “Law Suits”) with the OPA. The annual report also discloses that the OPA has signed contracts for 8,030 MW of wind, solar and biomass as of December 31, 2011 versus signed contracts as at December 31, 2010 of 4,873 MW. If one assumes the target for renewables is 10,700 MW as laid out in the LTEP then the OPA is only 1,770 MW short of what Minister Duguid had planned.
IESO Data Collection Rate Increase:
The Environment Commissioner of Ontario released his report on conservation in the energy sector in December and had this to say; “The ECO is disappointed that data collection and analysis to track the actual reduction in peak demand due to TOU pricing is just beginning now.” By next year the Environment Commissioner, Gordon Miller should be happy as the IESO has just asked the OEB for a rate increase to cover the cost of a “meter data management repository to collect, manage, store and retrieve information” and that will cost the ratepayers $252 million and add annual costs of $9.62 to the bills of 4.7 million ratepayers. In a review of the application submitted to the OEB by IESO the following stands out; “42. The total costs presented in the table above differ from the Ministry-approved budget of $89 million.” So the Ministry of Energy budgeted $89 million for what will cost ratepayers $252 million for a cost overrun of $163 million or 183%. For this expenditure the ratepayers will get no benefits, only higher delivery costs and IESO will gain no additional benefits that will enable them to manage the grid. The Environment Commissioner will presumably be able to garner information that will allow him (and the associated Liberal Ministers) to claim credit that TOU pricing is actually working and Ontario’s ratepayers are shifting their usage. With a forecast cost overrun of $163 million Mr. Bentley may have a difficult time convincing voters that this is a good thing.
The Auditor General’s report had this to say about our exports of electricity; “we estimated that from 2005 to the end of our audit in 2011, Ontario received $1.8 billion less for its electricity exports than what it actually cost electricity ratepayers of Ontario.” Despite the scolding from the AG the Ministry of Energy under Mr. Bentley brag about the fact that they sell electricity at a loss to our neighbours. For the first two months of 2012 Ontario exported 2.1 TWh (210,000 MWh) at a price of $25/MWh (2.5 cents per kWh) generating $52.7 million but those 2.1 TWh cost Ontario ratepayers $97.8 million. How Ontario ratepayers paying almost $100 million, in just two months, so our neighbours can purchase cheap electricity provides any benefit is unexplainable yet the Minister of Energy continues to issue press releases bragging about that, while our surplus of electricity continues to grow. How Mr. Bentley explains away this disdain for proper planning is an affront to the ratepayers and the qualified people at the various public entities that must execute their blind ambition to green Ontario.
Former supporters such as Ontario Nature on February 15, 2012 and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture on January 20, 2012 have both reversed their previous full support of industrial wind turbines. The former has called on the government to protect important bird areas (IBA) and OFA President Mark Wales said; “The onus is on our provincial government to ensure the interests of rural Ontarians are protected. OFA is speaking up to clearly outline the issues that must be addressed right now.” Those “issues” included the price paid, the inefficiencies of wind power, setback and noise issues related to health and the removal of municipal input. None of those issues were dealt with in the FIT Review (see above).
The OEB is set to announce the revised time-of use (TOU) prices later this month and they will be up again as more and more renewable energy enters the grid even as demand continues to fall. IESO has put a forecast out for the April 2012 Global Adjustment (GA) anticipating it will be in excess of $74/MWh (7.4 cents a kWh) while the hourly Ontario electricity price (HOEP) continues to decline (2.1 cents per kWh) generating bigger subsidies for exports, constrained power and causing OPG to lose revenue through spilled hydro. If the overall price of electricity is forecast to remain at the April 2012 level, the 9.5 cents per kWh (GA + HOEP) may generate a rate increase approaching 20% per annum for the next 6 months. That will result in additional conservation, meaning local distribution companies will rush in with rate applications for their lost revenue along with their applications for refurbishment. On the latter, Toronto Hydro sought a huge increase that was recently rejected by the OEB so are now in the process of challenging the OEB. For more on the latter a visit to Tom Adams website is suggested. Mr. Bentley had better brace himself for a plethora of negative feedback if the cost of electricity and its associated delivery costs soar as anticipated. He presumably is already feeling the heat from farmers and small and medium sized businesses as the Ontario budget brought in by his colleague on the Liberal benches, Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan, reduced the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit (OCEB) to those consuming over 3,000 kWh per month. While hoping to catch rich electricity consumers the reduction has instead caught businesses that are already struggling to operate.
Rural Ontario has demonstrated that they are basically against Industrial Wind Turbines (IWT) by protesting actively in their communities, generating local council interest (79 municipalities have passed bylaws requesting a moratorium on IWT installations), and by turfing out 10 Liberals from their riding’s in the last election. A major protest in Toronto April 3, 2012 brought together an estimated 700/1,000 protestors from across the province to challenge the economic, health, environmental and other costs of the FIT and MicroFIT programs and to bring the message to Toronto’s residents. Minister Bentley should expect these protests to gain momentum as the negative fallout from the flawed energy policies starts to be noticed on the electricity bills of the urban communities that put the Liberals back in power.
The Minister of Energy should brace himself for another 6 months of considerable turbulence unless the NDP join forces with the Ontario PC Party and either force an election or get the Liberals to rescind the Green Energy and Economy Act.
The time for action has passed and if allowed to continue will doom Ontario to the status of a “have-not” province for decades.
April 9, 2012