FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Sept. 27, 2016
QUEEN’S PARK – Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett, during legislative debate, highlighted new terminology has been added to the English language.
“There seems to be a new expression in the province of Ontario: energy poverty,” Barrett said in the Ontario Legislature on Monday during debate of the Ontario Rebate on Electricity Consumers Act. “Why is that? Again, it’s 13 years of failed policy with respect to electricity.”
Barrett’s concern is that high energy prices are not only creating energy poverty for citizens struggling to pay bills, but also for businesses that have to compete against counterparts in jurisdictions with lower electricity prices. He heard that message while touring businesses across Haldimand-Norfolk this spring.
“We have an energy policy that is obviously diminishing our inherent competitive advantage with respect to—I think of the small businesses,” he said. “Whether welding or an ice cream shop down in my riding, they are all very dependent on electricity.”
A petition on electricity rates is available on Mr. Barrett’s web site at https://tobybarrett.com/electricity-poverty/
For more information, contact MPP Toby Barrett at 519-428-0446 or [email protected]
ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
Monday, Sept. 26, 2016
Mr. Toby Barrett: I welcome the opportunity to address Bill 13, the electricity rebate act. It really does confirm in many people’s minds the importance of voting in a by-election. We saw the results of the vote. We just heard a very brief presentation by the member from Scarborough–Rouge River. Why is he here? I think Raymond Cho can say why he’s here. Well, it’s because of the electricity issue. People voted to put Raymond in. They sent a very clear message to this government and, after many, many years, 13 or 14 years, perhaps this government is finally seeing the misdirection they have taken on the—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I apologize to the member for Haldimand–Norfolk and ask the government to please come to order so I can hear the member for Haldimand-Norfolk.
The member for Haldimand–Norfolk has the floor.
Mr. Toby Barrett: Thank you for that, Speaker. I guess it would be important to point out that since this government has taken office, the average electricity bill for people in Ontario now actually sits at $1,000 more than it was when these chaps and ladies first came in. There seems to be a new expression in the province of Ontario: energy poverty. Why is that? Again, it’s 13 years of failed policy with respect to electricity.
The other very worrisome concern—and this can only contribute, essentially, energy-generated policy and poverty—is the loss of business in the province of Ontario and the movement of investment out of the province even with a low Canadian dollar.
It’s certainly something I see in my travels down in my rich riding of Haldimand–Norfolk. I did about 50 visits this spring, primarily welding shops, light manufacturing, people who redo truck bodies, things like that, people who use a lot of electricity. Many are doing well because they can sell in Ohio and elsewhere because of the Canadian dollar. That’s kind of one inherent advantage we have right now, but it is having trouble competing with the high electricity prices.
We have an energy policy that is obviously diminishing our inherent competitive advantage with respect to—I think of the small businesses. Whether welding or an ice cream shop down in my riding, they are all very dependent on electricity.
With Bill 13, the province’s pledge to provide a hydro rebate equivalent to the provincial share of the HST—it’s something like 36 cents a day, on average. But it does nothing at all to remedy the damage that has been done over the past number of years.
This government is still signing the contracts for highly subsidized power, power that we don’t need. We’re still paying the US and Quebec to take our surplus power and, instead, the solution—and here’s the kicker, really—is to essentially borrow about $1 billion annually on behalf of the taxpayer, who is already tapped out, and to dole this money out to the electricity ratepayer. Really, it’s all about appearing to do something rather than actually doing something to drill down on some of the core problems that have been created. Essentially, it’s an approach of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Peter is not happy about this. He is getting hit with a double whammy on his taxes and on his electricity bill. Even Paul, who receives the money, has come to realize this isn’t right. This isn’t sustainable. This isn’t appropriate.
One other thing, Speaker: We recently found out we now have yet another dubious distinction. For years we have been talking about having among the highest energy rates in North America. Now it’s official. Ontario conclusively does have the highest rates. Medium-density customers pay 22.6 cents a kilowatt hour. The low-density price has hit 25.9 cents a kilowatt hour, and that’s before HST. We have now surpassed Hawaii. Hawaii was the previous record holder at 22.6 cents per kilowatt hour.
When I hear figures like a retail rate paying well over 22 cents a kilowatt hour, I hearken back to 13 or 14 years ago when we were in government, Speaker. At that time, the retail rate for the consumer was 4.3 cents a kilowatt hour. So back then, under the Mike Harris-Ernie Eves government, people in Ontario were paying 4.3 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity. It was being generated at something like 2.5 cents or three cents a kilowatt hour. Now we are sitting at 22.6 cents a kilowatt hour.
Very clearly, there is a crisis in our electricity system. For Vic Fedeli, MPP, I think that was a title of his recent Fedeli Focus on Finance. We have a crisis, not only home by home within the home; we have a crisis provincially. In his 2011 report, the Auditor General laid this out, and it’s been confirmed. It is now reflected, and has been reflected for a number of years, in the onset of energy poverty amongst the people that we represent.
Speaker, like many down in my riding of Haldimand–Norfolk, I heat with electricity. I built my house on the farm in the early 1980s. When you build your own house, it takes many, many years. At that time, I installed a forced-air electric system. This was back when the government of the day was encouraging people to “Live Better Electrically.” It made economic sense at the time. We have a number of gas wells on our farms; it’s wet gas. I don’t get gas into my house from that source of natural gas. It would just be too expensive to pay to run a gas line down the road and up the laneway. I’m a fair bit up a hill, back from the road.
What am I left with? I’m heating my home, in many ways, the same way my great-grandfather heated his home. Each fall, my wife and I have to put up about 20 cords of wood. My father didn’t heat with wood; he heats with natural gas. My grandfather didn’t heat with wood; he heated with coal. Come to think of it, my great-grandfather heated with coal as well. So I guess it’s my great-great-grandfather, who I’m pretty sure darn well heated with wood. You’ve pushed me back 130 years just within our family. Twenty cords of wood—sometimes it’s more than that. Last winter, it was a little milder.
I enjoy cutting wood. We have bush. I buy some wood as well. Cutting wood, heating with wood, is good for the soul. Not everybody can do that. When you’re living on the 29th floor of a high-rise in Toronto, you cannot heat with wood. There’s a kind of a false sense of security with many people who pay rent. They don’t get a separate charge for their electricity. Many people in my riding—and I have visited them—who do pay rent do have to pay for their electricity as well.
I think the real kicker is that, for well over 100 years, electricity has served us very well in the province of Ontario. It’s a wonderful invention. I use it in spite of trying to heat with wood—sometimes I can’t meet the demand just with a couple of wood stoves. I use a fireplace in the fall and the spring, but that’s not effective in the deep of winter. The real problem here is that the wrong people have gained control of this precious resource. They have destroyed the economic advantage of what I consider a wonderful invention.
People know this. They’re coming to realize this, not only out in northern Ontario and rural Ontario, where many of us now heat with wood again, but in urban Ontario as well. Hence the tremendous backlash to this government’s recent proposal that those who have natural gas—which I don’t have—are encouraged to replace natural gas with electric heat. I have experience. I have been heating with electric heat for 30 years. At this point in time, given the prices, you don’t want to go there. You don’t want to walk away from natural gas heat and go with electricity.
There is another worry—and we are getting calls from people, as many here will be getting from their constituents—for those who have central air conditioning, those who are now opening their electricity bill after one of the hottest summers on record.
Despite this throne speech and this rebate announcement, there was a Globe and Mail investigation that revealed that rural hydro customers will see yet another increase in rates due to the rejigging of the delivery charge system, again to the detriment of those of us who live outside the city. So much for Adam Beck’s 100-year vision of power to the people.
Speaking of Adam Beck and his connection with water power, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance recently released data showing that—here’s one example—Cornwall’s local utility has the lowest average bills in the province. Why is that? They buy their electricity from Hydro-Québec, not from an Ontario generator. The chart that they use shows Hydro One bills as the most expensive for low-density, medium-density and seasonal rates. Hydro One’s urban rate isn’t far behind—only surpassed by Toronto Hydro.
Many of us have returned from the plowing match. Opposition leader Patrick Brown and I had a meeting with agricultural leaders, and what we heard was that expensive electricity was one of the biggest challenges on the farm.
The government has finally realized the impact of their electricity prices. They are touting a relief plan, as heard recently in the throne speech, right after the election of my colleague Raymond Cho. But in many ways, it’s a Band-Aid. Prices will continue to rise. Prices are going up again on November 1, as we know. The impact of this rebate taking HST off of electricity bills will be countered by a proposed carbon tax on natural gas and other commodities.
We have a Premier who claims to be listening to the people; she certainly has been saying that over the past several weeks, following the by-election in Scarborough–Rouge River. She indicated she did hear the reaction from people during her plowing match speech. Thanks to the media, most people have heard that reaction now to the plowing match speech, where she made mention of the rebate.
It’s understandable that people are booing. They’re booing as we now have something like 567,000 electricity users who are in arrears. They can’t pay their bills. That’s 94,000 more than in 2013. If you look at just Hydro One customers, close to 226,000 people are not paying their electricity bill; hence the term “energy poverty.” Hydro One has 1.3 million customers, 17% of whom cannot pay their electricity bills.
One of those in arrears is a farmer down in my riding. He got a bill for $21.12 in electricity, and he received along with that bill a charge of $1,301.73 for delivery. So a little over 20 bucks for electricity and well over $1,000 for delivery. Purolator doesn’t operate that way. UPS does not operate that way.
Another resident down my way has what I would consider a fairly modest home; it’s about 1,300 square feet. It’s got a brand-new high-efficiency furnace, a new air conditioner, a new natural gas dryer and a natural gas water heater. His $400 monthly bill is double what it was a year ago.
We have information from the IESO, the Independent Electricity System Operator. They have noted and explained to us a drop in electricity use, and certainly what I consider a startling decrease in the industrial use of electricity. But prices went up. As prices went up earlier this year, we were told it was because of the decreased demand. That really flies in the face of basic economic theory, where price is set by that tension between supply and demand. Normally, when the demand goes up, the price goes up. Normally, when there is excess supply, the price goes down. But in this case, we had a decrease in demand and the prices went up. That flies in the face of basic economics.
Again, why is that? Well, we do know that government continues to sign very expensive contracts with wind and solar companies. We also know that over 90% of the successful bidders attended these high-priced Liberal fundraisers we heard so much about.
Here again, there is good reason why so many people are afraid to open up their electricity bill. I really wonder if the members opposite, the cabinet and the Premier, are living in the same Ontario that the rest of us are.
As we see these electricity bills climb to absurd levels, we hear more and more outlandish ideas around energy from this government, and they’re countered by experts, in spite of what we hear across the way. In her December 2015 annual report, the Auditor General revealed, “Most of the increase in what consumers pay for electricity has come from generation-cost increases, which currently account for about 60% of the overall cost of electricity. Generation costs have increased by 74% over the last decade.” The Auditor General goes on to say, “Global adjustment fees have increased significantly, from $650 million in 2006 to $7.03 billion in 2014…. Electricity consumers have already paid a total of $37 billion, and they are expected to pay another $133 billion in global adjustment fees from 2015 to 2032.” Again, it’s the result of signing expensive contracts to generate power that we don’t need in the province of Ontario.
The IESO, the Independent Electricity System Operator, in its long-term outlook, has confirmed that the cost of delivering electricity has skyrocketed by $5 billion over the past decade. That’s a 32% increase. They note the drop in overall energy demand, which, inexplicably, in my mind, drives up the average unit cost of electricity. They talk about a 41% increase.
These outlooks reiterate the dramatic drop in industrial energy use. Companies have either cut production or have moved out of Ontario, in spite of the benefit of the low Canadian dollar. This, by extension—again, basic labour economics—does not bode well for the future of this province when we see the loss of something like—I think the figure is now up to 350,000 lost manufacturing jobs in the last decade.
So what do we have to look forward to, Speaker? More legislation, Band-Aid legislation like this one and long-term legislation like the climate change plan, which, again, will give a lot of people even more reason to be afraid to open up their electricity bill.