Parker Gallant: Hydro One and Ontario Energy Ministers–smarter? You judge

Hydro One and our Energy Ministers:  Getting Smarter? You be the Judge!


Three bills in three weeks from Hydro One and a new line on the bill: “Miscellaneous Adjustment” got this writer wondering, why?  The first bill came with an insert with the heading “Important Information about your enclosed Hydro One bill” and went on to explain that after they had “changed the meter at your premises, we experienced an issue which prevented the data from your meter from being processed in a timely manner in our system.”   The meter they changed was a “smart meter” Hydro One installed a few years ago, so I assume this is a “smarter” meter.  Calling the number on the insert allowed me to confirm with Hydro One  that the meter change was due to a “communication problem.”

The upsetting part of the final bill is that when the all-in price of my power is calculated (including the costs of electricity, delivery, regulatory and debt retirement charge) it turned out to be 29 cents a kilowatt hour (kWh) and when I looked at my bill from November 2008 the all in charge was 16.5 cents a kWh.  So in less than five years, the price had risen by 81%.

We’re doing our best to be responsible power consumers: we consumed less power than before and 71% of the billed electricity was in “off-peak” hours.

If one looks back this is what then Premier McGuinty said in his Throne speech of October 12, 2005 about smart meters: “Consumers can look forward to getting smart meters that will help them save money by telling them when they can pay less.”

An 81-% increase? Sounds like another broken government promise!

Those who have Hydro One as their local distribution company (LDC) will recall that only a few months ago, they sent another insert about a “new billing system”  which allows them to bill on a “real time” basis.   In effect this was a $160-million grab from ratepayers, perhaps to ensure their profits grow and that they can continue to pay dividends to the Province ($370 million in 2012).  Profitability however, doesn’t cover off employee pension and benefit requirements as noted by DBRS, the Canadian bond rating agency, who listed Hydro One as # 8 on their recent list of worst funded pensions in Canada. Perhaps they should be funding their pension fund instead of making big dividend payments to the Ontario Ministry of Finance, but that might force Finance Minister Sousa to make some tough spending decisions.

My comments on “smart meters” are not new: back in July 2010 I pointed out that in a 3,400-page submission by Hydro One for a rate increase, the installed cost per smart meter was $700.54. That was confirmed by an exchange with a Hydro One officer.  Now, the smart meters are having to be replaced? And not for the first time: Hydro One has needed to replace smart meters back in 2010 when the Newmarket Era carried an article about meter replacement in Keswick, Sutton and Mount Albert. My suspicion is that the form letter in our recent bill wasn’t the only one: who else in Prince Edward County and other parts of the province got it?

So, now,  one wonders about the promises made for those smart meters. At $700.54 cents per meter the cost of replacing the old analog meter at our place is now $1,400.00; the Hydro One 2012 Annual Report indicates they are charging $1.52 per month as a recovery cost.  At that rate, it will take them 76 years to recover their costs. Will Hydro One be spending hundreds of millions each year on “smart meters” instead of upgrading the important infrastructure such as transmission lines, transformers, etc.?

An interesting story recently came out of Germany: the German Federal Ministry of Economics published a study by Ernst & Young which basically concluded, no rollout for smart meters.  Why? Ernst & Young did a cost/benefit study and concluded:

“The study comes to the conclusion that smart meters in particular for small consumers are not cost-efficient, as the potential savings would be well below actual costs of smart meters and their operation.”

In Ontario we seem to do things differently as was pointed out by the Auditor General in his 2011 report. Jim McCarter said that the initiatives behind the Green Energy and Green Economy Act were not based on a cost-benefit analysis.  While not speaking directly to the issue of “smart meters” and their installation throughout the province this writer believes that the conclusions of a cost-benefit analysis would have reached the same endpoint as the Ernst and Young study completed for Germany.

When the McGuinty government gave its Throne Speech in 2005, the Ontario Energy Minister (Dwight Duncan) had already issued a directive to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) dated July 14, 2004 to Howard Wetson, Chair, of the OEB (the Ontario Power Authority did not exist at that time) which instructed them to “implement a plan to achieve the government’s objectives for the deployment of smart electricity meters.”

No cost-benefit study was considered and Minister Duncan’s directive  to the OEB simply had to be “formalized” before the media picked up on the government’s manipulation of the electricity sector without going through the legislature or a hearing before a legislative committee! With a single signature Duncan committed Ontario’s ratepayers to pick up a bill for at least $2 billion!

Several years after that 2005 Throne Speech and the Dwight Duncan directive, Tyler Hamilton (the “expert” commentator as noted by Alicia Johnston in e-mails recently released by the government and commented on by Tom Adams) wrote an article for the October 7, 2010 Toronto Star.  The article was all about “smart meters” and the wonders they would perform for all of the ratepayers in Ontario.  It contained quotes from an IBM “technology consultant” including this one:  “ ‘Right now, Ontario is a world leader in the smart grid and smart meter systems,’ he explained. ‘Dozens of utilities around the world are watching what’s going on here. In a way, we have become a micro lab for the rest of the world.’ ”

Later on in the article Hamilton makes this comment:  “With smart meters…we have a tool that helps us to at least manage our electricity bill and help offset electricity rate increases.”

Did Tyler Hamilton, the “expert” commentator, really understand what he was endorsing? I believe most ratepayers in the province have received absolutely no benefit from either “smart meters” or the “smart grid” –neither one has done nothing to improve the aging infrastructure in the Province or “help offset electricity rate increases.”

Germany, whom we copied on the FIT and MicroFIT programs apparently didn’t see it with the clarity of Tyler Hamilton or that IBM technology consultant.

Mr. McGuinty is now at Harvard and presumably living in Massachusetts where the average cost of power is about half of what I am being charged. I wonder if he and former Minister Duncan now appreciate the “green” mess they created.

Worse, power utilities around the world must now be laughing up their sleeve at the wasted money Ontario’s ratepayers are forced to absorb.  The “microlab” referenced by the IBM technology consultant has turned out instead to be an incinerator for our hard earned dollars!


Parker Gallant,

September 7, 2013


Next time, we will look at the “smart grid”

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent policies of Wind Concerns Ontario.