UPDATE: One councillor, Richard Simpson, supported Mr. Daurio’s motion (below). Deputy Mayor Dollin suggested he was making the motion for ‘his friends’ at Alectra – an accusation Mr. Daurio attributes to the fact that he relied on financial figures provided by Alectra. Dollin also suggested that a $25 million charge was made to Barrie when joining Alectra – something Mr. Daurio describes as “an opportunity for Barrie to invest in the purchase of Brampton hydro and earn an additional $5m annually in interest and dividends forever!”. Daurio contends that “Alectra had promised a 14% rate reduction, and interest and dividends and other savings of $4m annually, while InnPower promised a rate increase and little/no dividends for the next 6 years — a loss to Innisfil of $8m annually, and $48m over the next 6 years.” Under existing procedural rules, the subject will not be revisited at Council for a year.
This Wednesday, June 7, Councillor Stan Daurio is moving a motion at Innisfil Council “that the Board of InnPower be requested to explore options to sell or partner with Alectra and/or other utilities…”.
The saga of missteps at InnPower is already well known: an ill-fated attempt at joint ownership with Edmonton-owned Epcor Utilities Inc.; an overly ambitious investment in new facilities based on the assumption of leasing space to Epcor; an urgent need for alternative InnPower financing when the deal collapsed; a six year suspension of dividend payments to Innisfil; loans from the Town and Simcoe County plus an application for a rate increase to cover the cost of mandated expansion of service to newly designated urban areas.
In light of the current popular uproar over electricity rates, Councillor Daurio argues it would be more beneficial to sell our local utility to Alectra, which was formed from the merger of municipally-owned Enersource, Horizon Utilities and Powerstream plus the acquisition of Hydro One Brampton as of February of this year. Headquartered in Mississauga, Alectra’s service area encompasses 1,800 square kilometres and serves nearly a million customers in 15 communities from Alliston to St. Catharines and Hamilton to Vaughan. Alectra is now “the second largest municipally-owned electric utility by customer base in North America”.
Councillor Daurio puts the minimum value of InnPower at $40 million (2015 estimate) and expects a dividend return of 4.4 to 4.5% or $1.8 million annually. Additionally, the former Powerstream told Council in 2015 that a merger would lower electric bills in Innisfil by $23/month. This would be equivalent to savings of $4.4 million annually for 16,000 Innisfil households. Continue reading
Bruce Laurie caused a stir with his article, “No one can make electricity cheap again”. I tend to agree with him, if only for his observation that the Darlington nuclear plant was built:
“10 years late and almost $12 billion over budget. No one could afford to pay the real cost of Darlington, so Ontarians carried that debt for the next three decades.”
With billions more committed by the Ontario government to refurbishment of our nuclear plants, there is no likely escape from this scenario in the near future.
Some critics blame Mr. Laurie for his role in higher prices as a “former director of the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) and Ontario’s Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO). He served as a member of the Electricity Transition Committee under the Harris government.”
So how high is ‘high’ for electricity prices? Hydro Quebec and Financial Post published comparative figures for 1,000 kWh of electricity from suppliers across North America (U.S. figures were converted to Canadian dollars). InnPower came in at $182.09, which is not that different from Toronto Hydro at $181.95. ‘Low density’ rural Ontario had an average bill of $229. In Ontario our power relies on nuclear (60%) and hydro (24%).
Looking further afield, Montreal was $100, Winnipeg was $117, Ottawa $224, Halifax $220 and Vancouver $148. If we look across the US border, 1000 kWh averaged $409 in New York, $383 in Boston, $161 in Miami, $156 in Houston, $118 in Indiana.
How can we account for these variations? Continue reading
I occasionally still see a comment or letter suggesting that abolishing the Green Energy Act would somehow remedy concerns about high electricity prices. When I read about advances in renewable energy that idea seems to be the least sensible approach.
Here are some of the things I’ve noticed lately:
- Solar cells are becoming more efficient. Solar panels typically capture 23% of energy. A special reflective dish arrangement claims to boost this to 34% (EcoWatch, “5 solar innovations revolutionizing the world”)
- “Battery technology is advancing and becoming more affordable. Tesla’s sister company, Solar city is offering Tesla batteries at a price point that’s more than 60% less than previous solar power storage products …” (EcoWatch, “5 solar innovations revolutionizing the world”)
- “A subsidiary of Bouygues SA has designed rugged solar panels, capable of withstand the weight of an 18-wheeler truck, that they’re now building into road surfaces. After nearly five years of research and laboratory tests, they’re constructing 100 outdoor test sites and plan to commercialize the technology in early 2018… To resist the weight of traffic, Wattway layers several types of plastics to create a clear and durable casing. The solar panel underneath is an ordinary model, similar to panels on rooftops. The electrical wiring is embedded in the road and the contraption is topped by an anti-slip surface made from crushed glass.” (National Post, “Solar panel roads to be built on four continents…”)
- “… Green Sun Rising earns its bread and butter building solar plants in isolated Canadian communities, many in the far North, that have generated all their power with diesel generators … People are often surprised Dohring can make a living selling solar power plants, like his latest on Banks Island in the Canadian Arctic, which has 10 weeks a year of constant darkness. However, if the sun never sets in summer, I have a nearly infinite amount of energy supply,” says Dohring (CBC News, “Green tech ready to step in when oil prices rise”)
- “A U of T Engineering innovation could make printing solar cells as easy and inexpensive as printing a newspaper. Dr. Hairen Tan and his team have cleared a critical manufacturing hurdle in the development of a relatively new class of solar devices called perovskite solar cells. This alternative solar technology could lead to low-cost, printable solar panels capable of turning nearly any surface into a power generator.” (Journal News of the World, “Printable solar panels on the horizon says new research”)
- “Scientists from Skoltech’s Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics, and Moscow State University have come up with inorganic perovskite solar batteries with tremendous efficiency, said Skoltech’s press service. The new devices exhibit very high efficiency in light conversion (10.5%) comparable with those of perovskite batteries based on classical hybrid materials (about 12%).” (Tass Russian News, “Russian scientists create highly- efficient, inorganic perovskite solar batteries”)
- “… as of the 1st of January, 2017, all electric train rides in the Netherlands have become even greener. They are now entirely powered by clean, renewable, wind energy. Dutch railway companies, of which NS is by far the largest, teamed up with energy company Eneco in 2015 to cut train ride emissions drastically. Originally, 2018 was set as the target for changing to 100% renewable power sources. After having reached 75% in 2016, though, the 100% transition was completed one year ahead of schedule.” (Clean Technica, “All Dutch Trains Now Run 100% onWind Power”)
- “Wind turbines in Scotland provided enough electricity to supply the average needs of almost all Scotland’s homes last month, according to a report. Data from Weather Energy showed turbines generated 792,717MWh of electricity to the National Grid in October, up more than a quarter on the same month last year. The amount is enough to supply the average needs of 87% of Scottish households, WWF Scotland said.” (Independent, “Scotland generates enough wind energy to power almost every household …”)
- According to a US report, “There was a record amount of gas burned for power generation last year … But there was also a record amount of photovoltaics and the second highest amount of renewables that we have seen added in a year… The research shows that both gas and renewable energy are expanding at the expense of coal, says Zindler. The falling price of technology plus greater efficiency mean that solar panels and wind often remain cheaper than gas.” (CBC News, “Green tech ready to step in when oil prices rise”)
- Four teenage girls figured out a way to use a liter of urine as fuel to get six hours of electricity from their generator. Fourteen-year-olds Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, and Faleke Oluwatoyin, and 15-year-old Bello Eniola displayed their invention this week at Maker Faire Africa in Lagos, Nigeria, an annual event meant to showcase ingenuity.” (Forbes, “Teens Create A Way To Use Urine As Fuel”)
- Researchers at the University of Bath have developed an innovative miniature fuel cell that can generate electricity from urine, creating an affordable, renew‐ able and carbon-neutral way of generating power. In the near future this device could provide a means of generating much needed electricity to remote areas at very little cost, each device costs just £1-£2. (Science Daily, “Urine turned into sustainable power source for electronic devices”)
A grandmother from Buckhorn made national headlines by confronting the Prime Minister about her financial struggle with electric energy costs and objected to Ontario’s carbon pricing as an additional burden. She pointed to a $45 charge added to a bill for propane fuel.
She didn’t understand that electric energy policy and carbon pricing are both Ontario initiatives and that the federal government hasn’t yet imposed a national carbon price. But we have to sympathize with her plight. It puts a human face on a dilemma many of us are facing. Her candid revelation of household expenses offered an interesting insight into a common situation. The electric bill was reported to be $1,085, possibly for a month.
The woman “claimed her hydro bill has reached as high as $1,085. She did not state if that figure represented a monthly total or several months, but said she’s in “energy poverty”.” (Huffington Post, Jan. 13, 2017)
According to a comparative data published by the National Post, the cost of electricity from Peterborough Distribution Inc. is $164.78/1,000 kWh. (This a median-range cost compared to Innisfil, which is reported to be the fifth highest rate in the province at $182.09/1,000 kWh.) Based on this cost and stated billing, her household consumption of electricity may be more than 6 times higher than the normal average. This is a staggering anomaly but, if so, probably seasonal. It can likely be attributed to the use of electric baseboard heaters during winter months, which operate at 150 watts or more per foot. It wouldn’t be hard to run up a winter bill of $1,000 with 6 feet worth of baseboard heating in almost every room.
Doing nothing isn’t an option, so what strategy should this homeowner adopt? Continue reading
It should be pretty clear by now that every aspect of life will be increasingly electrically driven in the near future. We’re not just talking about automobiles (there are something like 52 different models of electric and hybrid vehicles offered now). We might be plugging in toilets like the Propelair system (www.propelair.com) now being sold in Britain that uses water and compressed air for a 1.5 L flush. Computers and 3D printing are making huge advances in manufacturing: “In the next five years we will see what was seemingly science fiction-type research quickly make its way into mainstream processes in almost every industry.” (The Great Disruption, R Smith, D Free, 2016) So it is equally important that our electric resources be as affordable as possible.
Various missteps have led us to the situation where the delivery of electricity is more expensive than the power itself. While public outrage has grown over the cost of electricity in Ontario, there are conflicting ideas about how to correct the situation. The Ontario government is reconsidering how it buys electricity by becoming “technology agnostic”, i.e. not favouring any particular technology. It also has doubts about time-of-use pricing. Ontario’s Energy Minister went on to say:
“People should have the flexibility to sign up for electricity plans that better suit their needs just like they can shop around for different telephone and Internet service plans”.
Wait! What? The people who brought us the useless basic ‘skinny’ cable TV packages and the world’s most expensive mobile phone rates are the model for future electric supply? Mobile phone and internet packages are like a corn field maze – it may look like a lot of choice, but in the end there is only one way out! That’s because these plans are not consumer driven but profit driven. ‘Bundled’ services show the price of everything, but not the price of anything. More reason for us to worry about the ongoing sale of Hydro One into more private ownership. Continue reading
People continue to complain about the price of electricity because it is divorced from the cost of generating it. The IESO website lists the average weighted price in June at 2.02¢/kwh while the byzantine “global adjustment” is 9.55¢/kwh. The Ontario government’s commitment to sink $12.8 billion into refurbishing nuclear plants just contributes to uncertainty about price stability and affordability. Renewable energy alternatives appear more stable and predictable in comparison.
When I am at consumer shows I occasionally enquire about the cost and feasibility of solar panels. Aside from price, I have always been told that I have ‘too many’ trees on the property. It happened again last fall when an exhibitor asked my address and then thrust a tablet at me showing an overhead image of a dense tree canopy and said, “That’s your house”. I was taken aback because I know that my home is not totally obscured by trees. In spite of several mature trees, the rooftop does receive direct sunlight for a portion of the day. Never mind, I moved on. More recently I decided to use a government sponsored geographic mapping service available on the web to access an aerial view of my property. Sure enough, most of the roof was clearly visible. From now on, I think I’ll bring my own aerial photo along. Continue reading