More fallout from McGuinty’s bungled energy policies

Strathroy farmer spent $85,000 to erect solar panels and sell electricty to the grid only to have the project cancelled by the Ontario government

by Jonathan Sher, London Free press   VIDEO

STRATHROY — Henry Aukema saw his retirement plans crumble in the words of an e-mail from Hydro One.

The 57-year-old Strathroy farmer had been one of 25,000 Ontarians to apply to erect solar panels whose electricity could be sold to the grid at a guaranteed premium for 20 years.

The return was attractive: Aukema calculated by the time he paid off a loan to build the solar array he’d be 65 — and then could produce income of as much as $15,000 a year.

The risk seemed non-existent: He had been given a conditional offer by the Ontario Power Authority under a plan proposed and backed by the Ontario government.

So Aukema borrowed $85,000 rather than cashing in part of his modest RRSP and paid for the project and the electrical work needed to hook it to the grid.

Then he waited.

In November and January he phoned Hydro One and was told his project should prove easy to connect.

Still, nothing happened.

Last week he worked a frigid day outside, then went to the basement of his home to check his e-mail.

The form letter from Hydro One began with a pat on the back for the provincial government:

“The tremendous success of the (program) signals that Ontarians clearly want to play an important role in feeding clean and renewable sources of power into the electricity grid.”

Then came the kick to the gut:

“Some applicants are facing system constraints and will not be able to connect until system upgrades are made. Based on our analysis, we have determined that your project is impacted by system constraints. We regret to inform you that we are unable to provide you with an offer to connect your (project) at this time.”

Aukema was stunned.

“I felt sick. Then I had to explain it to my wife. She asked if that meant we couldn’t go on vacations anymore,” Aukema said.

It’s not clear how many identical e-mails have or will be sent by Hydro One and other utilities — estimates start in the hundreds but potentially go much higher.

Thirty kilometres from Aukema, Steve Baert opened one of the e-mails in a home between London and St. Marys.

A self-employed electronics technologist who services computers and printers, the frugal Baert spent $45,000 out-of-pocket for parts. Then he designed and built a solar array mostly on his own, working as many as 15 hours a day since September — thousands of hours in total — until he opened the e-mail from Hydro One.

“I was numb for the rest of the day. We are extremely thrifty. We don’t spend $45,000 on retirement lightly and have it all smack into a brick wall,” he said.

Both Baert and Aukema levy the same charge against the Ontario government: When the Ontario Power Authority handed out conditional offers last August no one mentioned even a remote possibility that they or anyone else might not be able to get hooked up to the grid.

“We’ve been led down the garden path,” Aukema said.

Told of the plight of the two men, Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid said, “We’re doing our very, very best. I commented very strongly to Hydro One to stretch our transmission capacity to the maximum.”

Asked if they’d be connected within two years, Duguid said he didn’t know.

Asked why Ontario Power Authority issued conditional offers and Hydro One instructions without warning that not all solar arrays would be connected, Duguid said people shouldn’t be so quick to second guess.

Don't blame us. The process is all new, says Duguid

“It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. (The process) is all new. At a certain point of time information came forward that there would be a challenge,” he said.

Aukema said he contacted Hydro One but they refused to answer questions unless they’re put in writing. He said he also left a message with his MPP, Marie Van Bommel (L — Lambton-Kent-Middlesex), but didn’t hear back from her. The Free Press phoned Van Bommel’s constituency office last Friday and asked for the MPP but she didn not return the call.

Both Aukema and Baert said they aren’t aren’t sure what their next step might be because Hydro One hasn’t said how long they might have to wait to be connected to the grid.

The so-called microFIT program has attracted about 25,000 applications with another 50 to 80 applications arriving each workday, according to the Ontario Power Authority.

So far, 3,700 projects have been connected to the grid, another 2,500 are next in the queue and 13,800 have been offered a conditional deal but now must see if there is capacity to hook up.

How many will be turned away and how long they may have to wait remains murky — Duguid said last week the “vast majority” would proceed unimpeded, then later said just a majority.

Duguid also said he expects utilities to pay for upgrades that enable connections by raising electricity rates.

London Hydro has already committed $2.5 million and expects to have to pay significantly more.

jonathan.sher@sunmedia.ca

25 thoughts on “More fallout from McGuinty’s bungled energy policies

  1. Absolutely brutal.

    But how many other residents of Ontario have lost as much or more of their retirement funds because they were forced from their homes or cannot live in or sell their homes due to the devestating impacts of Industrial Wind Turbines?

    One can only feel for Mr. Aukema and his situation, but some could say he was the master of his own misfortune. It is very heart breaking that he has lost this money, but he still has his health, his home, his neighbours and his livelyhood.

    Many of us know others who are not so lucky.

    Let’s just hope that Mr. Aukema and all of the many others who also got screwed by the “system constraints” issue do not forget this come October!

  2. It is like any pyramid scheme,

    if it is too good to be true don’t be a sucker.

  3. Before we have a giant group hug for all of the Mr. Aukemas of this world – let’s remember that he was looking very much forward to raking in thousands of dollars each year – as senior citizens and others on fixed incomes were edging closer and closer to homelessness, as a result.

  4. PECV – right you are.

    Mr. Aukema himself planned on recouping the $85,000 within seven years and then sitting back and raking in $15,000 per year after that.

    Pyramid or ponzi scheme – turns out that this one did a U-turn and bit him (and many others) bigtime.

  5. I’ve said it before, why would anyone spend that much money without a contract in your hand? If you read the OPA you would have known the risks were there. It even says that the price for solar can change or it did the last time I read it.

  6. PECV, not only were they expecting to rack in lots of money they expected the rest of us to pay the largest portion of the costs,”Duguid also said he expects utilities to pay for upgrades that enable connections by raising electricity rates.

    London Hydro has already committed $2.5 million and expects to have to pay significantly more.”

    When it says the utilities it means us. Why should we pay for their retirement?

  7. Its an election this year, everything is on hold till MC Guinty gets re-elected. Not!!!!!!!

  8. This cannot end well.

    For now we can say MicroFIT is dead, done, toast.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npjOSLCR2hE&w=640&h=390]

  9. It’s hard to feel for one who was willing to accept such a high rate of return at the expense of all his fellow Ontarians.

    Can’t afford a vacation? Boo! Hoo! Many can’t afford the electricity prices of today let alone the ones your FIT-hook ups would cost us.

    Did our liberal government screw you? Welcome to the club! Just look around at all those neighbors you were trying to $crew and those with industrial zones in their residential backyards.

    At least you can use it to power your own home… the way the program should have been built to begin with.

  10. Sad, but good for the cause.
    Hopefully more will wake up.

  11. It seems that a lot of disinformation is floating around out there. Re the solar panel program that was sold to us small farmers in S Ontario. This is not a golden goose.. The costs and obviously the risks in being a clean and green energy pioneer are condsiderable. Payback would be pretty normal in light of the risk of money alone.. Believe me, It was a scarry decsion to get in to this thing, but to find out the government of ontario behaves like no used car dealer would dare to?
    I think a lot of you are blaming the victims here.
    After all, One would hope that the goverment should be honest and trustworthy.
    That they should have to obey the rules of law and fair play that they have zelously imposed on everyone else in the province..
    Folks I think that there for the grace, walk you.. if you shrug this off, and say the people involved in this were stupid and greedy and they deserve what the government is dishing out.. You are giving every other sucsessive government permission to run rampant over its poeple.
    Mr Brad Duiguids comments are breathtakinly shocking.. This is a man who will not own his orginizations mistakes and incompetances .. This is not at taxpayers expense.. The projects we are talking about are shoudered by regular people, and are tremendous. and have terrible potenial outcomes for the individuals. How can you all accept so blithly that it is OK for a government to use its citizens this way?
    You will be next if you accept that this is just buyer beware. This is a far different issue.

  12. It is hard to feel sorry for someone who cares more about their vacation than thinking about who can afford to pay for FIT electricity. Renewable was always risky and now even more. Paying these things off is not straight math. It always looks better than it is. As with any estimate double the costs and reduce the returns by half. By the time solar starts to pay back is when most need to be replaced. That does not include interest.

  13. People that are “suckered in” by con artists and criminals should be given the benefit of the doubt when some would call them greedy or opportunistic, but when our very own Government pulls this type of “Con” on their very own citizens, one can’t help but get very very mad!………….If these people that chose to place Solar panels on their homes and make a bundle off it, KNOWING” that it would cost his/her neighbours more in their Bills should not have one ounce of pity from the rest of Society.

    Now, if they just didn’t understand what the final outcome was; due to the “psyco babble” of our Government, then I say they should be lumped in as “More victims” of these “Ruthless Greedy and Stupid Politicians”!!!!!!

  14. “There’s a sucker born every minute” PT Barnum.

  15. In principle what happened to Henry Aukema is wrong, a contract is a contract plain and simple.

    As do many investors, Henry took a chance, and invested in a high risk venture to the tune of $85,000 for a return of $300,000.00 plus, over the next twenty years. If Henry did not realize who he was going to be receiving the “guaranteed premium” from, then maybe he should not have taken the risk. There are many aspects of renewable energy and this is one of them.

    Henry, if your project has encompassed storage batteries then your part way to a cheap resolve, if not then spend what you would be spending on a lawyer, and buy some. Get them hooked up to your solar panel, then sever your line with your distributor, as their services are no longer required and you live like a Mennonite.

    If Henry’s household is spending, as much as I am spending on hydro, it would take Henry twenty-eight years, give or take, to regain his initial investment back?

  16. I feel bad for anyone that went ahead because it was a government endorsed program and they got screwed. Trust me, I know all about getting screwed by our government and it is not pretty.
    That said, I was talking to a fellow in a store about a year and a half ago who was going to get on the solar boat. He was laughing because of the amount of money the government was going to be paying him and if it became obsolete in 10 years who would care. He would have made loads of dough.
    I told him that was my dough and my husbands dough and our childrens dough and even his dough, etc.
    I honestly think that there are a lot of people that do not understand that the money that the government is using (and abusing) is OUR money.
    Maybe they think that it’s some separate entity that prints it’s own cash.
    Not only is it our money but your politicians and bureaucrats work for US!
    Write them a letter. Write them 10 letters and tell them how much you enjoy them squanderingYOUR money.

  17. The risk seemed non-existent: He had been given a conditional offer by the Ontario Power Authority under a plan proposed and backed by the Ontario government.

    “Conditional Offer” What part of that did Henry not understand?

    Looks like Henry Aukema was a victim of his own greed!

    Cry me a river!

    Hey! Maybe I can scoop some solar panels real cheap now and get off the #$%^&^%@!
    MONEY SUCKING grid!

    More dominoes falling…

    B.B.W.

  18. Must be a nightmare for these people – like a bad dream where the power they use in their home cost 80 cents/kWh but they sell power to others for only 7 cents/kWh.

  19. Jane Ely,

    Welcome aboard they “McGuinty screw the people train!” If we were sitting still not trying to help people like you then this web sight would not be here!
    NOW the question is… will you help US??? Please donate to the legal battles above.

  20. lol… Last year at this time I went to a wind open house near Strathroy where I showed Hydro One charts to the TCI reps and Maria Van Bommel that indicated there was no capacity for wind projects on the Sarnia to London transmission line. I also argued that the local distribution lines couldn’t handle the proposed wind projects and needed to be modernised, since there was already stray voltage issues and nobody even has three phase outside of town. The wind rep’s said that would be prohibitively expensive. I said building their proposed project on preexisting lines was like having the daytona 500 on a bush track. Ms. Van Bommell said very little but nodded approvingly whenever the wind rep’s spoke. I was just another loud NIMBY constituent spouting off against wind turbines. Now I realize I how wrong I was. My argument was that a wind project with a capacity of MW’s couldn’t work on preexisting lines, I had no idea that a solar panel with .01MW capacity would have issues connecting to the grid.

  21. “It seems that a lot of disinformation is floating around out there. Re the solar panel program that was sold to us small farmers in S Ontario. This is not a golden goose.. The costs and obviously the risks in being a clean and green energy pioneer are condsiderable. Payback would be pretty normal in light of the risk of money alone.. Believe me”

    Where did you think the $0.80/kwh the province was promising to pay you was coming from?

    But you’re absolutely right, you took a RISK. One that would screw over all Ontarians by having US pay you 10 TIMES the current hydro rates for twenty years (or more) while you collected your golden eggs.

    Unfortunately, we did not bend over so easily.

  22. Let’s see. These people who put in these solar panels wanted us to pay the highest electricity rates in the world X4 so they thought they could get rich at our expense. And now that the little scam is falling apart they are going to have to pay the true cost of this themselves. And I am supposed to be sympathetic to their little situation? Haha. I guess that would be a no.

    It seems like a fitting result.

    Probably should have read the contract?

  23. The present government was going to take money from Hydro customers and give it to private parties so they could make money from solar panels.

    Ontario Hydro system is supposed to provide electricity at cost to it’s customers. It’s not there to provide business opportunities for some favoured individuals or groups at the expense of others.

    The costs in the Hydro system need a thorough review to determine if they are indeed justified as related to what customers are being charged

  24. With all due respect-THE DEAL WAS OFFERED BY THE GOVERNMENT!!!! Thinking that this deal would be gaurenteed for 20 years is insane!!! The governments whim can change on a dime anytime……

    If you look a little deeper…..I wonder if the reason for not being able to hook these Ontario residents panels to the grid is more to do with the fact that it would be taking money away from big corporations. The thought of billions being funneled to everyday Ontarians is a bizarre thought….

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