Last night, the leaders of the three main parties in the Ontario election held a debate hosted by Steve Paikin. Here is a review of some of the comments on energy issues.
The first question specifically pointed to the Liberal cover-up of the gas scandal. To me, the cover-up is more important than the money wasted and the money wasted is more important than the cancellation decision. Right near the end of the debate, Mr. Hudak asked Ms. Wynne “Who got fired for the gas scandal?” For me, that was the most powerful line in the whole debate. She wants to appear contrite on the gas scandal, but many of the key gas scandalers are still in Ontario’s extended public service. I support the PC call for a judicial inquiry into the gas scandal.
Both Ms. Horwath and Mr. Hudak attacked Ms. Wynne for signing a particular gas plant document. The gas plant document that I think they are talking about Ms. Wynne signing was the decision to negotiate with TransCanada Energy for the relocation of the power plant to Napanee, long after the power plant had been cancelled. As the Auditor General has noted, the relocation of that power plant was the decision that had the bulk of the cost consequences, not the cancellation decision.
The PC’s have directly connected the $1 billion price tag of the scandal to the Oakville power plant cancellation, which the Liberals long claimed cost only $40 million. Mr. Hudak made the same connection during the debate. I find that simplification of the story a bit too simple because it leaves out the ugly story around the Mississauga gas plant. Thinking they wouldn’t get caught, the Liberals swore up and down that moving the two plants would cost only $190 million for Mississauga and $40 million for Oakville, but the Auditor General told us that the true incremental cost will be in the range of $1.1 billion. (The AG also said that outright cancellation without relocation was a cheaper option.)
The NDP have No Darn Plan for electricity. Ms. Horwath said she wants to do something about executive compensation in the power system and to get better prices from exported power. If the top 50 execs in the power system worked to $1/yr, the impact on your power bill would be a reduction of something like 0.2%. Ontario already gets market price for our exports. Nobody will pay more. Ms. Howrath blames “privatization” for all of Ontario’s problems but provides no analysis to explain this airy claim any further. As a historical note, it was the NDP under Bob Rae (thanks for the correction) who signed most of the private power deals Ontario Hydro undertook. The promise to “cut the HST on hydro” (meaning the provincial portion of HST) is a gimmick that transfers the cost burden to other taxes and does nothing to address the rising costs driving up power rates. The NDP would also call in the Auditor General to review private power deals. While it would be a good idea to go over all power contracts, starting with the most costly ones, with a fine tooth comb, this is highly technical work that the AG is ill suited for. Rather, the OPA has the skills to do this work and should be given a chance.
Mr. Hudak blames rising power rates on the gas plant scandal. This same charge has been made by the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation but it doesn’t hold water. The bulk of the gas plant scandal costs only start to hit when the relocated plants go into service.
Mr. Hudak says he can eliminate $20 billion of cost by cancelling the FIT program. Cancelling FIT is a great idea and his estimated savings appear to be about right.
Mr. Hudak supported imported power if the imports are cheaper than in-province options. Hard to argue against that.
Ms. Horwath supports more wind power, suggesting that she doesn’t understand the impact of the wind power we already have. Wind power today in Ontario is really junk generation — unreliable, delivered mostly when customers don’t need it, and ridiculously costly.
The dumbest comment of the debate was Ms. Wynne promising more rural gas access. She obviously thinks that we don’t have enough politics in our energy system already. We have a regulator that should figure our how far to push the gas grid. Almost everywhere in Ontario that can economically be served by gas already has it. Careless rural gas service expansion would be a burden on existing gas customers.
Hudak says the purpose of the OPA is to make your bill higher. I think that is unfair. The OPA is doing what it is told by the government. If the OPA had a mandate to protect consumers, they have the skills necessary to do that job. Abolishing the OPA simply drives its functions to other agencies. The OPA should be pared down, but pared down by focusing its mandate. For example, getting rid of wasteful conservation programs would allow the OPA to be streamlined.
Wynne would electrify the Go rail system. This is a direct quote of Adam Beck’s radial railway dream from the turn of the last century. It is probably not a viable idea.