How to Beat Old Man Hydro

How we produce and manage electric energy is a contentious issue. Where it is produced, how it is produced, and what it costs are all fiercely debated.

In Ontario, the time-of-use rate ranges from 6.7¢ per kWh to 12.4¢ per kWh. According to the OPA, about 64% of residential use is billed at the off-peak rate. Across Canada, rates vary widely (May 2013) from 7.0¢ per kWh in Montreal to 8.1¢ in Winnipeg, 13.6¢ in Toronto, 12.8¢ in Calgary and 15.8¢ in Halifax. The average Canadian hydro bill is about $100. That’s still comparable to or better than many parts of the US. American electric bills averaged $105 per month in 2011 and ranged as high as $135 in some states.  The average American cost is 11.9¢ per kWh, 15.8¢ in New England states, 12.1¢ in North Eastern states, and 12.6¢ in Pacific states.

According to a CBC report (May 2013) our rates may begin to change:

“Between now and 2020, however, more than 100 new power plants are slated to be built and thousands of kilometres of new transmission lines erected. The costs will be borne by consumers, and the average household electricity bill will rise to more than $150. (Since 2000, by comparison, electricity rates have only nudged up 12 per cent after adjusting for inflation.)”

Theoretically, we could save on those transmission lines if plants were built closer to where electricity is needed but the cancelled power plants in Oakville and Mississauga illustrate what a political football that is. A recent press report noted, “OPA officials said Oakville and Mississauga had been identified because of growing demand for power, which was straining standards for power availability and reliability.“ We want access to plentiful and affordable power but resist the implication of building more plants.

Those who object loudly to current electric rates may have to consider literally empowering themselves as an alternative to “business as usual”. Toronto’s record setting rain storm and flooding suggests the wisdom of a back-up capability. There are several ways to accomplish this with renewable energy projects.

  • Those who are in single detached homes with suitably situated rooftops can make use of the micro-FIT program, which provides a guaranteed price for power fed into the grid. A 10 kW solar array may cost $30,000 to $40,000 but can be self-financed. One solar firm estimates a system can pay for itself in 7 years with revenue from generated electricity.
  • Neighbourhood residents might be able to form a cooperative in their area and share revenue from a solar installation.
  • And there’s another option called Net Metering. Unlike micro-FIT there’s no contract and no guaranteed purchase price, but much less paperwork. Power generated from a solar installation reverses the meter, effectively cancelling a corresponding portion of your bill. You only pay the ‘net’ amount used. Depending on how much power your household uses, a modest solar installation could significantly reduce your electricity bill.
  • Innisfil Hydro also provides assistance with conservation programs for residents (saveONenergy) and businesses to reduce their total energy consumption by upgrading lighting, water use, some appliances and insulation for qualified applicants.

previously: How to Beat Old Man Winter