By Connie Woodcock, Toronto Sun
In the sea of bad news washing over the Ontario government in the last week, one little event passed almost unnoticed — the first anniversary of the Feed In Tariff program which allows customers large and small to sell wind and solar-generated electricity back into the grid.
No surprise there. For most Ontarians, our interest in electricity this past 12 months has been focused on cost — smart meters, time-of-use billing, green energy taxes, HST and rate increases, all conspiring to give us ever-higher bills. There’s been a steady stream of price increases, too.
I can’t begin to do the math that would tell me exactly how much the McGuinty government has boosted my monthly bill, but I do know one thing: My electricity bill was $100 in October 2007. It’s hovering around $185 now.
The FIT program is just one of the many reasons our bills are going up, although not the biggest one. So far there are 23,000 applications — although only a couple of thousand approved contracts — to provide alternative energy, both big and small.
To encourage small solar installations, under the MicroFIT program, the province has been offering a whopping 80.2¢ per KwH to people willing to sign a contract to provide for small solar installations. They had to back off from the 80¢ to 64.2¢ after thousands of applications. Seems it never occurred to them that instead of putting them on a few rooftops, people would start plopping them into cornfields by the dozen.
As one farmer said, standing in his cornfield under one of his microFITs, “I can make more from this than from corn.”
The government has flip-flopped like a beached fish over several aspects of the electricity issue in the last few weeks. After months of ignoring consumer complaints about outrageous bills that have cost some their homes, the province last Tuesday announced a tax credit for some seniors to take out some of the sting. That did nothing for the working poor who are equally affected.
It flip-flopped twice on microFIT program pricing and now it’s hinting it will flip-flop again, this time to adjust time-of-use pricing to make it more attractive for consumers to take advantage of the lowest price, only available late at night and on weekends. This after months of complaints that consumers weren’t saving anything.
Many Ontarians aren’t even on time-of-use pricing yet and haven’t seen the full effect of all the changes and increases.
In all the years I’ve written a column, electricity pricing has hit the biggest nerve. And even though I haven’t written about it in weeks, I still get complaints.
I’ve heard dozens of stories about inexplicable bills and I’ve heard from many who have lost or soon will lose their homes because of electricity bills.
Almost uniformly, they complain Hydro One won’t co-operate with them or even listen to them.
A friend who claims he was overbilled by $1,500 last year says Hydro One has closed his complaint file and refuses to deal with him. He had to get his lawyer to send them a letter.
But back to the FIT program. The government explains the huge price it’s paying — compared to the 3.7¢ per kwH wholesale rate it was paying in September — by claiming the small microFIT installations to which it applies will never account for more than a minor amount of Ontario’s electricity production. Energy Minister Brad Duguid even admitted recently that Ontario will always require at least 50% nuclear energy.
Which makes you wonder why they’re doing it. No matter how small a chunk of billing woes it represents, it’s still too expensive — just another way for the province to look as green as possible.
Consumers — who are also voters — would like to see another kind of green: the kind you save when you’re not being gouged by your own government.