Another billion-dollar Liberal government boondoggle might be in the works. Think e-health and gas plants. The problem is, we might never find out about this one.
Fears are starting to emerge regarding business and residence green energy producers who feed Ontario’s hydro grid. It’s just another sad chapter in the incompetence of the provincial government in managing the energy portfolio.
Producers are being paid between 20 and just over 80 cents per kilowatt hour. With new technology emerging they can increase their output by an extra 40 per cent whether the grid needs it or not. How do we know they are not abusing the system? Well, we don’t.
If these producers feed excess power, they are overbilling the system, the system being you and me. To make matters worse, when we have an oversupply we have to shed it, which means giving it away or selling it under cost to other energy-starved jurisdictions. In 2016 alone, this cost us a whopping amount, between $384 million and $675 million according to the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. Hydro One says it monitors the production and payouts to the producers, but will provide scant details, because legally it’s not obliged to. Trust us, they say. Sure.
With Hydro One’s track record of public service, we should be very weary.
How can this lack of accountability be possible? It’s a direct result of privatizing Hydro One in 2015 by Premier Kathleen Wynne and then Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli and their decision to remove the oversight jurisdiction of independent officers of parliament and neuter statutes such as the freedom of information laws. This, despite the fact the government still owns almost half of Hydro One’s shares.
The overly simplistic rationale for removing outside oversight is that it’s not the way the private sector works. Plus, Hydro One has its own internal Ombudsman. (We all know how well that works.)
Public ombudsmen oversee private sector consumer organizations all over the world – there is ample precedence. Even at the federal level, Canada Post, structured much like a private company with a President, Chair and Board of Directors, is subject to the federal Access to Information Act.
But Hydro One, with a reputation of overpaying its employees, offering shoddy treatment to its customers and under-delivering on its promises, managed nonetheless to carve out its own zone of oversight and statutory immunity, thanks to Wynne and Chiarelli.
The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), one of the governing players in the energy sector, rarely tracks the amount of money paid to producers to check whether they are over producing. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) has no role in the monitoring.
A poorly informed spokesperson for Energy Minister Glen Thibeault offered this misleading reassurance: “We have confidence in both the IESO and the OEB to ensure that our renewables contracts are being managed appropriately.”
The resulting lack of proper checks and balance was an entirely predictable result. In my last report as Ontario’s Ombudsman in May 2015 titled “In the Dark,” I warned the government not to remove Ombudsman oversight over Hydro One given its historical record of not living up “to principles of good public administration.” It was the only one of 66 recommendations rejected by Wynne and Chiarelli. (Mind you, even if the government had preserved jurisdiction, Hydro One would have little to fear from invisible Ontario Ombudsman-light Paul Dubé.)