Electricity and the Liberal Hansard History, Chapter 6

This is chapter 6 in a series by Parker Gallant:  Chapter 1;  Chapter 2:  Chapter 3Chapter 4; Chapter 5Chapter 7Chapter 8

My ongoing review of the Liberals pronouncements in the Legislature in 2004 and the results of those proclamations (with particular emphasis on the electricity sector in Ontario) continues, however, this chapter will wander off in a slightly different direction, for a brief period. In my review of Hansardfor May 5, 2004 the dissertations of Mike Colle, MPP for Eglinton-Lawrence caught my attention and were particularly noteworthy. Here is what Liberal MPP Colle had to say;

The provincial debt has been increased. If you include the hydro debt, it’s almost $140 billion of debt that they have on the books. Never mind the deficit; $140 billion. Do you know what it costs us to carry that deficit? It costs you, the taxpayers of Ontario, over $10 billion a year in interest payments on their debt. Next to health care and education, the third-largest bill we have in the province of Ontario is paying interest on the provincial debt. That’s what they left us with. They tell us, “You’re not holding up to your commitments.”

If one fast forwards to September 30, 2011 the debt that Liberal MPP Colle spoke about has increased to $251.9 billion, (an increase of 80% in the last 8 years) per the Ontario Finance Authority report. That debt doesn’t include the numerous contracts executed under the FIT and MicroFIT programs which will commit the ratepayers of Ontario to the payment of an additional $80/$100 billion over the terms of the contracts signed by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) with $20 billion of that just for Samsung. It is worth noting that the average annual increase in debt ($14 billion per year since the Liberals gained power) exceeds the deficit of $5.5 billion in the preceding year (2003) by a factor of almost three (3)! Interest on the debt is still the 3rdlargest budget item in Ontario and will be much greater in the event interest rates rise or Ontario suffers a rating decline. Both of these are likely events within the next year.

This day’s records from Hansard also has other self adulation comments from the Liberals and this exchange between Liberal MPP Mr Mario G. Racco(Thornhill) and Dwight Duncan is telling:

My question is to the Minister of Energy. Friday, April 23, was Conservation Day in Ontario, and I had the pleasure of visiting a company in my Thornhill riding that produces energy-conserving devices such as smart meters. These smart meters allow energy consumers to easily and accurately monitor and control consumption under the tiered rate structure.I understand that our government is trying to build a culture of conservation in our province so that Ontarians spend less on energy and rely less on polluting energy sources such as coal while preventing the potential of more dangerous power blackouts, as we did experience under the Tory government. Minister, what is your ministry doing to encourage the use of energy-conserving devices such as smart meters by homeowners and businesses?

The response from Hon Dwight Duncan Minister of Energy, to this question was enlightening:

On April 19 of this year, Premier McGuinty announced the most broad-ranging and sweeping energy conservation program in the history of Ontario. At that time, we announced our intention to put smart meters into every Ontario home by 2010, with an interim target of 800,000 meters in place by 2007.We’ve also given the Ontario Energy Board clear direction and authority to establish rates with more flexible pricing to allow Ontarians to save money if they consume electricity in off-peak hours (emphasis). We’ll be working with the Ontario Energy Board to develop and implement requirements for the installation of smart meters in homes and smaller businesses. Large consumers already have interval meters, a type of smart meter. We’ll allow local distribution companies to begin investing approximately a quarter of a billion dollars, the largest investment in conservation in the history of the province.This government is moving fast and solidly to build and improve a conservation culture in the province of Ontario.”

Minister Duncan did deliver on the installation of those “smart meters” which have added costs to all ratepayers bills under the “regulatory” line however the benefits of them are highly suspect. In my opinion all ratepayers in Ontario would find Duncan’s claim that smart meters would “save money if they consume electricity in off-peak hours” to be a lie as rates for “off-peak” have risen from 4.7 cents per kWh (all electricity no matter the time of use) on May 1, 2004 to 5.9 cents per kWh on November 1, 2011 which is a 25.5% increase (3.2% per annum) during a period of time when inflation prices increased at 2% per annum or less. The Duncan pronouncement wouldn’t even prove valid if all consumption was switched to off-peak. On-peak rates have increased since his dissertation on May 5, 2004, by almost 130%. Unless usage fell by 40% or more no one would “save money”!

Addressing the”conservation culture” that Duncan spoke of on that day is another dizzying array of spending to accomplish little as was evident from the Environment Commissioner’s reportannounced December 7, 2011 and the OPA’s report released on December 23, 2011.
The Environment Commissioner’s report had the following to say about electricity conservation: 

“By investing about $1.7 billion in conservation programs from 2006 to 2010, Ontario saved electricity ratepayers $3.8 billion in avoided electricity supply costs.”

The OPA’s report had this to say: 

From 2006 to 2010 Conservation programs have seen an investment of $1.7 billion and have saved ratepayers $3.8 billion in avoided costs.”

From all appearances it would appear that either the OPA agrees with the Environment Commissioner or vice versa. A nice co-incidence perhaps! If you actually examine where the reduced consumption occurred for both the overall ”average” and “peak” usage designations (claimed 1751 MW) you discover that the bulk (1000 MW) of the claimed conservation was due to reduced wholesale demand caused by the 300,000 manufacturing jobs that have disappeared in the province since the 3rdquarter of 2003. The savings of the residual 750 MW cost the ratepayers of the province $1.7 billion dollars which works out to about 26 cents a kWh but our high electricity prices may have cost the loss of many of those good paying manufacturing jobs which also reduced tax revenues and drove up the province’s debt. The ultimate cost of that conservation was considerably more than stated in either of those two reports. The Environment Commissioner did note that the “smart meters” were virtually useless in determining if time-of-use pricing played a roll in the conservation reported. Perhaps he should have said this has cost the ratepayers over $2 billion and no conservation benefits could be detected.

May 4, 2004 was “Opposition Day” and Mr John R. Baird (Nepean-Carleton)brought the following motion before the house: 

“Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly call upon the government, To recognize that the Premier ruled out raising taxes over the course of the last election — just six short months ago by saying the following: “We will not raise taxes one cent on Ontario families,” 

While the motion was about the health “user fees” that Premier McGuinty insisted were not taxes the response from the Liberals to this motion enlisted some interesting comments including this one from Brad Duguid.

We’re seeing political hacks being paid millions of dollars. We’re seeing billions in overpayments, billions of dollars of over-budgeting for projects in places like Pickering, $40 million spent on the so-called dream team. What did that get us? It got us an energy plan that is absolutely unsustainable right now. Thank goodness we were elected last October to get this problem cleaned up. Thank goodness we have a minister who understands that some tough decisions have to be made on the energy file, and we’re going to proceed proudly to make those changes.”

Looking back many would note that over-budgeting is probably NOT what MPP Duguid actually meant. What it appears he meant was spending exceeded the budgeted amount. This is something that the Ontario Liberals have delivered on in most portfolios and one of the reasons for the province’s current fiscal problems. It is also interesting that Duguid referred to “an energy plan” as we are still waiting for one to emerge from the Liberals despite all the rhetoric since their election in 2003.

This problem” that MPP Duguid referred to has not been cleaned up and in fact has grown worse and was caused principally by that esteemed “minister” he referenced, and by George Smitherman, when he was the Energy Minister and of course by Mr. Duguid himself during his tenure as Energy Minister.

Parker Gallant,
January 10, 2012

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