News from the Park – December 4

Dec 4, 2017 @ 08:12

I don’t know about you, but anytime I hear the term loophole, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that the loophole is going to work against the average person and likely not to the benefit of those who are well-heeled and deep pocketed.

I take you back to almost a year ago when Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals were really on the ropes over the crisis they created with hydro. They needed to do something because Ontarians had had enough and were mobilizing. As a result of the growing unrest, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) issued a directive banning licensed electricity distributors from disconnecting homes for non-payment during winter months.

I know you will remember a few years ago that power distributers spent billions of dollars (of customers’ money) installing smart meters to help us ‘save’ money with the “time of use” system. Well now, they have something “new and improved.” Now they want to change to “pre-pay” meters.

Hydro One recently submitted an application to adjust distribution rates for 2018-2022. The plans include replacing the recently installed smart meters again with pre-payment meters. These new meters will require customers to pay for electricity before they use it. This proposal serves to create a political loophole to the new OEB rules which currently ban winter disconnections.

In the past everywhere pre-payment meters have been used, they have hurt struggling families. The Liberal government is allowing the now privatized Hydro One to use harmful Margaret Thatcher-era tactics to bypass the OEB directive and stop providing power to families that are perhaps unable to pay right away. As an example, after Margaret Thatcher privatized the UK’s water system, many utilities began installing these pre-payment meters. The result was that the system hurt the most vulnerable families and created a public health crisis in Britain.

Last week New Democrats called on the Wynne Liberals to stand up for Ontario families and direct the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to stop the now privatized Hydro One’s plan to require pre-payment for power. With these new meters, Hydro One won’t have to disconnect anyone at all. When the money runs out, the power dies, leaving struggling families and seniors sitting in the dark, cold and totally powerless until they can put more money into the meter.

Recently Energy Minister Glen Thibeault addressed the Legislature heaping great praise on Hydro One for all it has done to lower costs for their customers. But he totally ignored the fact that Hydro One has also submitted two rate increase applications and is taking the OEB to court!

They have proposed a distribution rate increase of 20 per cent by 2022 as well as a transmission rate increase of over 9 per cent for next year. The rate increases are in addition to Hydro One’s claim they have taken to court ago because they want 100 per cent of the $2.6 billion tax benefit provided by the Ontario government. So how is this saving customers money? A privatized Hydro One is putting private profits ahead of the public interest.

For over a century, Ontario’s public hydro system was an economic powerhouse that provided good jobs, prosperity and affordable hydro for Ontario families and businesses. But after Conservative and Liberal privatization, Ontarians are struggling to pay hydro bills that have skyrocketed.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath last week initiated a full debate in the Legislature on whether Ontario will keep Kathleen Wynne’s privatized hydro scheme in place – or start reversing course and bringing Hydro One back into public hands where it belongs. The effects of privatization are now evident. They include sky-high hydro bills; applications to hike prices even more; a plan to raise rates for 21 remote and largely First Nations communities; spending billions to merge with an American coal-burning company; and now, a proposal to install pre-pay meters in Ontario. That’s what privatization looks like.

It’s time for a plan that offers hope to Ontario families let down by Kathleen Wynne. It’s time to stop the damage and take Ontario in a better direction. And it’s time to give people and businesses hope that lower hydro bills are on the way –rates that will stay affordable.”

Mike Mantha