We Just Overpaid $37 Billion For Electricity

By MPP Toby Barrett

If you heat with electricity – as I try and do – or run a farm or a business that uses a lot of electricity, you may be interested in Ontario’s recent Auditor General’s report.

Like a lot of bad news, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s report came out before Christmas – buried for many in the seasonal hustle and bustle. One of her determinations – we’ve paid $37 billion more than we should have for hydro over the past eight years.

And predictably it will get worse, as over the next 18 years we will be essentially overcharged $133 billion above and beyond what the electricity is supposed to cost to generate and distribute.

Examples of waste are glaring. We all see the industrial wind turbines and the solar panels as we drive the roads of Haldimand and Norfolk and much of rural Ontario – costing us all $9.2 billion more than the going rate. The cost of wind and solar will also get worse because Ontario’s Green Energy Act guarantees 20-year contracts – primarily to foreign-owned corporations – continuing at double the US market rate for wind, and three-and-a-half times the rate for solar.

As Lysyk pointed out, the biomass-burning Thunder Bay Generating Station, which imports product from Europe, produces electricity at 25 times the cost of other biomass plants.

Another example is the billion-dollar hydro-electric project on the Lower Mattagami that produces power at three times the cost of a similar project on another river.

Lysyk was critical because electricity is being generated when we don’t need it. As a result, Ontario continues to export power at a loss, and often pays neighbouring jurisdictions to take our surplus. Over the past five years, Ontario overproduced enough electricity to power Manitoba for a year. This will also get worse. Over the next five years, government will exceed demand by enough to power Nova Scotia for five years.

Another reason Ontario’s Auditor General describes Ontario’s electricity system as “broken” is Hydro One.

Hydro One has the unenviable reputation of being one of the least reliable, highest cost transmission systems in Canada. Between 2010 and 2014, Hydro One customers suffered 24 per cent more outages that lasted 30 per cent longer, during a time when maintenance costs shot up 31 per cent. Don’t expect it will get better – $4.5 billion worth of Hydro One assets are beyond their expected shelf life.

Our electricity system is a dysfunctional and overpriced embarrassment that has made Ontario the laughing stock of the industry. Why on earth has it gotten so drastically out of control – a system that, by and large, served us well for the past 100 years?

According to Lysyk, the Dalton McGuinty/Kathleen Wynne government deliberately intervened and side-stepped the legislated technical oversight that was put in place to ensure proper planning and management. Rather than adhering to regulation, Liberal Ministers of Energy have unilaterally stepped in with multiple ministerial directives overriding any semblance of check and balance.

As Lysyk reports, “We found no evidence that ministerial directives and directions were supported by public consultations or economic analysis disclosed to the public.”

Regrettably, now that Hydro One is being sold, Ontario’s Auditor General will no longer be permitted to audit its books.