A lot of cash produces a little power

Electricity scheme bleeds ‘consumer,’ benefits ‘taxpayer’

By Randall Denley, Ottawa Citizen 

Have you heard about the taxpayers’ brilliant plan to screw the electricity consumers?

It’s a bit complicated, but here are the steps. First the taxpayers, represented by the Ontario government, create a plan to buy solar electricity at up to 10 times the normal price of power.

Then the taxpayers at the City of Ottawa move to cash in. They turn to the taxpayer-owned Hydro Ottawa to rent taxpayer-owned roofs to the taxpayer-owned power company, netting up to $250,000 a year in leasing fees, all paid by the electricity consumers.

That’s free money, and the best part is that the taxpayers don’t have to put up a cent. Sure, it will cost $32 million to put the solar panels in place, but that’s not taxpayers’ money. That’s power consumers’ money, paid to Hydro Ottawa.

The taxpayers are gouging the power consumers, and using their own money to do it.

That’s as brilliant as solar power on a sunny day.

The only flaw in the whole scheme is that the taxpayers and the power users are essentially the same people. Most people wouldn’t borrow money to enable themselves to pay more for something, but that’s exactly what the city’s plan entails.

What’s next? Are we going to buy a chain of gas stations and charge ourselves $10 a litre so we can make a killing?

This issue goes to the city’s new environment committee next week and the way it has been framed, it’s bound to pass.

The city gets to do something people think is green, and it makes money, too.

What’s wrong with that?

The short answer is plenty. This project is expensive, of limited environmental and power-generating value and it contributes to the inflation of provincial power rates.

Sure, the McGuinty government has created a pricing regime that lets companies create uneconomical electricity and stick consumers with the bill, but why would a consumer-owned power company do that to its own customers?

Solar power under the provincial program is so expensive that Hydro Ottawa will still net a 12-to 15-percent return on your money, after taxes. It’s a fantastic guaranteed return and some of it will trickle back to the city through the Hydro Ottawa dividend. Pity that you have to pay higher power rates to get it.

Solar power is a wonderful concept and it will be a great thing when it becomes efficient and inexpensive enough to power your house at a rate that’s at least similar to other power sources.

That’s hardly the case today. The capital costs of solar are high and it doesn’t produce much electricity. The city says its rooftop plan can power 300 homes. That’s a puny number for a $32-million capital investment, and one of the reasons is that solar panels produce only about 15 per cent of their nominal power output. They’re dandy on a sunny day in the summer, not so useful at night or in the short days of the winter.

Solar rooftop power generates little electricity because rooftops can’t hold many panels. To have any real impact, solar requires a lot of real estate and a huge numbers of panels. The city has already approved a “solar park” at the Trail Road landfill that will occupy 48.5 hectares and cost about $60 million to set up. That one will power 1,500 homes.

In all, it’s a lot of money for a little power, and the environmental impacts are oversold, too. Ontario’s power is already pretty green. On a typical January day, three-quarters of our power is hydroelectric or nuclear. Replacing a teeny-tiny amount of that with solar will make no consequential difference to the big environmental picture.

There are a couple of points in favour of the solar power plan. Solar at least produces its power during peak daytime hours. One might also argue that if we weren’t getting into the game through Hydro Ottawa, some other outfit would be building the solar and gouging us. Is that worth $92 million in public investment?

The real reason for the high solar power prices is to create jobs in the renewable energy sector, but the provincial solar energy program might well be counterproductive. If Ontario wants to encourage commercially-viable solar power, it won’t do so by offering an inflated rate and guaranteeing it for 20 years. Once these solar money generators are in place, what’s the incentive to innovate and drive down the cost of solar?

It will be interesting to see if councillors can figure any of this out. Mayor Jim Watson favours the plan. A spokesman says Watson regards it as “a significant opportunity to secure new revenues for the municipality.”

One might say it’s a way to take money our of your pocket without having to raise taxes to do it.

16 thoughts on “A lot of cash produces a little power

  1. Of Course Mr Watson would agree to it, he is one of Mr Mc Guinty’s boys, who was taken out of Provincial Politics to run for mayor so everything Mc Guinty wanted in cities would go through.

  2. This is also another means of transfering money from rural Hydro payers to cash short cities for their use and not have to raise taxes on urban folks.

    It’s another move money around scheme that governments are good at.

  3. Here’s a question: I wonder how many Ontarians are “sleep walking” through this massive “swindle” by their own Government?

    My guess would be at least 75% of the population!

  4. Would that be 75% of the rural/small town or urban population?

    China is installing IWTs to satisfy the world’s eco-nuts and not to build their industrial base. Keeps the eco-nuts at bay and they can develop manufacturing at the same time with coal fired plants.

  5. Solar is actually quite brilliant because it produces electricity during peak demand times between morning and evening (depending on the season)

    Solar panels don’t need massive overhauls every 20 years or has a debt charge that we’re still paying for when Ontario Hydro was a poorly run public system.

    With solar, we are paying for the debt today not pushing it into the future.
    Also, the microfit is very democratic system that allows anyone to generate electricity, much like the internet where anyone can contribute to it.

    It’s going to cost us a little (very little) to change the culture of energy wasting Canadians but it’s necessary (like the energy audit home improvement grants or geothermal grants)

    If you look at Britain and their problems during cold snaps, you can see how progressive Ontario really is. Most British are still using single glaze windows.

  6. Joseph:

    In Ontario you get (average) 2.6 hours of full power equivalent per day for Solar power. Most of the power is generated during the time surrounding solar noon. I think it’s more like a cocaine high — not the satisfying filling feeling of a T-Bone Steak.

    As for this “change your behavior” meme — I thought we covered that?

    Question of the day: What would be the result if every possible Ontarian got a micro-fit approval and installed Solar Power. Would that be good behavior? Does that mean we would all pay extra taxes and extra power costs so that all of our neighbors got $840 per MWH? Would that be good behavior? Would the government have the cash to pay the subsidies? If we are all paying each other, why should we bother?

    Also, I am curious whether snow and rain affect the power output, not to mention dust? Will the covering lens get scoured by the sand? Will the solar cells have to get replaced every few years?

    Where will the (lead-acid) storage batteries go when they need to be recycled? I don’t want a lead refinery in my back yard. I is a NIMBY!

    …and so on.


  7. The problems in the U.K. are not due to single glaze windows but due to energy policy that promotes very expensive IWTs. The cost for the U.K.s energy policy shows up in peoples high electric bills which many can no longer afford to pay. So people have to shut off their heat and just endure the cold as best as they can.

    The U.K.s energy policies have led to many of their citizens being in energy poverty and the situation is getting worse not better.

    At this latitude(Canada)the angle of incidence of the sun is too low to produce very much in the way of solar energy for most of the year. So this won’t work!!!

    Besides this the solar panels can become covered with snow,ice,dust,etc which makes them even much less effective at producing electricity.

    So why waste government/taxpayers money on solar when the energy results are so poor.

  8. As a person who lives in the north and has solar panels I can offer a few salient points on their efficacy.

    First you have to have the ability to plan ahead and the willingness to decide on certain priorities in your life.

    Second you need the ability to design from scratch or retrofit for energy conservation and mix. That probably means smaller dwelling, better insulated, oriented for passive solar heat gain, heat sink materials and the like.

    Third you use appropriate energy mix such as heat with wood (that would be biomass in politically correct parlance) as the energy density is more sensible, solar for electricity requires storage but some of that can be in rechargeable batteries for flashlights(don’t pollute the night sky with outdoor lighting), power tools(great for convenience and portability) and if you take care of both panels and batteries you can have reasonable life expectancy. Solar panels in northern winter are nearly vertical so they generally shed snow, still they should be located where you can get at them and yet snow won’t pile up at their base. There are always small efficiencies you can work out for your own location.You don’t get every electronic gadget the market wishes to foist on you. You are not dictated to by a smart meter or a stupid politician.

    Basically your willingness and ability to manage your energy needs will determine whether solar will work for you as a way to help you escape the grid. The truly sad thing about what the government is doing is that it keeps everyone tied to the grid rather than making sure that people can still be safe and warm even WHEN the grid fails. All these FIT are grid dependent and are merely new and better ways to gouge the ratepayer and keep everyone all enslaved.

  9. A one month electricity bill where power consumption was low 33 kw (due to the two previous months being overestimated not due to a low use month) it cost over a dollar per kw for that bill. Prices are presently hovering around 17 to 20 cents per kw when considering the total bill. New transmission line proposals will only increase delivery charges. Low quality power sources require kms of additional transmission lines which increase the costs to consumers.

  10. RE:VOLT:

    You have a very sensible approach to solar. Our exploration companies use them in Latin America for portable equipment and field camps. Solar power is very useful ** in the right circumstances **. Wind power could be very useful in our exploration field camps — that will likely be the next phase.

    The approach taken by the government of Ontario could only have been dreamed up by wild eyed ideologues and Star Trekkian dingbats.

  11. The way Ontario energy is being managed it won’t be long before Ontario has a ‘horse & buggy” economy to go along with “horse & buggy” power production.

    But isn’t this what the eco-nuts have planned for Ontarians all along?

  12. Lynne, “Is this the future of Ontario”, there is a hell of a lot of forest in Ontario. The Ontario Liberal’s bought into the wind industry. Wind turbines are the only devices used in this industry. A wind turbine by virtue of it’s design, from commencement to decommission, unequivocally, will have an indefinite effect on the environment, at each turbine location.

    The effect that I refer to, is pretty easy to comprehend. Just close your eyes, envision fields of giant FOOD PROCESSORS throughout Ontario, without containment canisters. Now, see in your mind’s eye, exactly what happens to flying wild life who have the misfortune to come upon these giant FOOD PROCESSORS, yes I can see the Ontario Liberals selling off our forests, the Ontario Liberals do not care about Ontario’s wildlife, so they sure as hell would not care about Ontario’s forests.

    The ONTARIO LIBERAL’S have shown Ontarians what they think for what purpose farmland can be used for, so can I see the Ontario Liberal’s selling off our forests, yes.

  13. Mr. Alias…


    Shut down energy production.

    Shut down Industry

    Close off the North Lands

    Shut down Forestry

    Shut down mining.

    Pursue fantasy Ponzie style energy schemes.

    Hunt for the will’o’ the wisps in the remaining forests!

    Hunt for rainbows and the pots of gold!

    Freeze the residents in their cold dark houses. (He learned rhetoric from a past premier in another province)

    Damage the rural citizens health.

    Let them eat cake. (Cold, dry, unbaked cake)

    What’s left? Fertilizer production. Shipping Liberal Political Bull waste to whoever will take it.

    THAT is the future of industry in Ontario.

    That is our future.

    Welcome to Ontario! Have a nice day! Did you bring warm clothes?

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