Ontario Electricity Regulation Crisis Report Part 103: Shining a Light on the Blackout

Electricity consumers in Toronto need straight answers to three question:

Why was it that all the return to service information provided by Toronto Hydro during the ice storm blackout was wildly unreliable?

What can be done in the near term to improve the utility’s ability to provide consumers with accurate return to service information in the event of another large-scale blackout?

What needs to be done to speed future storm recovery without further increasing Toronto Hydro’s distribution rates, which are already by far the highest of any urban utility in Ontario?

The so-called “independent” inquiry announced today by Toronto Hydro might be able to make interesting comments on these issues, but because the inquiry commissioners are appointed by, funded by and guided by Toronto Hydro, the Toronto Hydro inquiry will not be able to present itself as independent.

Three commissioners have been appointed by Toronto Hydro: David McFadden, Sean Conway, and Joe Pennachetti. I have a long history of working along side Mr. McFadden and Mr. Conway. I have a very high regard for both of them. I know Mr. Pennachetti less well. It is by the circumstances of their assignment — not by their character — that they will be unable to present themselves as independent.

The Smart Grid failed consumers during the blackout. Mr. McFadden has had a long association promoting Ontario’s Smart Grid program, including through his membership in the Ontario Smart Grid Forum. Mr. McFadden cannot independently inquire into the failure of a project he played a direct role in creating.

Mr. Conway is associated with the Ryerson University Centre for Urban Energy (CUE), a project set up by, currently overseen by, and with significant funding from the beginning and currently by Toronto Hydro. Toronto Hydro’s interest in CUE impairs Mr. Conway’s independence.

Mr. McFadden is the Chair of Gowlings’ International Management Committee. Mr. Conway’s is also associated with Gowlings law firm as a lobbyist and advisor. The close business ties between Mr. McFadden and Mr. Conway means that the diversity of the Toronto Hydro inquiry is impaired.

Mr. Pennachetti, as Toronto Council’s City Manager, has a duty to protect the interests of the shareholder, even where those interests might conflict with the interests of consumers.

In Part 102 of this series, I recommended that Toronto City Council create its own independent and expert inquiry into the blackout. I noted:

Since the purpose of any inquiry into Toronto Hydro’s response to the ice storm is to investigate the utility itself, it would be inappropriate for the utility to have any influence over the mandate, staffing, or funding of the inquiry. The inquiry must report directly to Council.

The announcement of the Toronto Hydro inquiry today may prove to be a complicating factor, but Toronto consumers need City Council, at its meeting tomorrow, to stand up for us and to initiate a properly independent inquiry into the blackout.

We deserve answers.


  1. Sounds like it is shaping up to be a whitewash not a true enquiry. Why isn’t the OEB all over this instead of doing Chiarelli’s bidding on the pipeline reversal (TransCanada Energy East) which will serve no purpose and where the Province has no authority.

  2. For the same reason, the Municipal “watchdog” system has proven ineffective for the governed and “MUSH” sectors continue to present problems for those “served”.

  3. The Sun article today by Terry Davidson quotes Haines as saying “We (wouldn’t be able to) give the exact time or a firm estimate…it would be totally irresponsible for us to say, “This is where we’re going to be next” said Haines.”

    I’m pretty sure I kept hearing “72 hours” coming from his mouth!

  4. Scarborough homeowner headed to court over Toronto Hydro bill

    TORONTO – Stephen Taylor would rather continue living in his frozen house and face jail time than pay his “inflated and unfair” $14,532 Toronto Hydro bill.

    It would be, after all, warmer inside a cell.

    Needless to say, after 10 months without electricity in his Scarborough bungalow, he has been in his own form of prison.

    You can tell already this is a wild story of a self-described stubborn homeowner who says Toronto Hydro “is trying to make an example of me.”

    But, he says, he will “not back down because I did nothing wrong.”

    However, Toronto Hydro says he has done something wrong. And Toronto Police charged him with a number of offences including theft over $5,000 for allegedly stealing power.

    In this case, hell has frozen over on Pandora Circle, in the Lawrence Ave. and Bellamy Rd. area.

    This has been a cold winter for a lot of Toronto home owners but nothing like Taylor’s frigid abode of 14 years which feels more like a dark tomb, even in the middle of day.

    It’s so cold in his house there is no need to plug in the refrigerator or freezer. Everything in there is frozen.

    If the pipes burst, the water would freeze quickly into a skating rink in his living room.

    In his case, it’s often actually warmer outside.

    He admits it was strange to see a lot of his neighbours during the power outage during the Christmas ice storm go through the same experience he has been facing.

    “I felt for them,” he said. “But I understood.”

    The difference was after a week, their power was restored.

    His was not.

    The 61-year-old retired teacher’s personal drama continues.

    “It is a nightmare and I am suffering,” he said in an interview. “All the plants have died and I may be next. “

    It all started last March when Toronto Hydro workers came to install a new “smart meter” in his basement.

    “I had no problem with that,” said Taylor. “But then a week later they came to me and said the old panel had run slow and that I owed them more than

    $14,000 in back unpaid hydro.”

    He said he was “in shock” and “of course” refused to pay it.

    “I remember somebody saying to me ‘Have a good weekend’ with a chuckle and then the next week Toronto Police came here and took me away in handcuffs.”

    He said he remembers Hydro people “laughing” at him.

    Saying he has no criminal record and “wouldn’t even know how to tamper with the meter,” Taylor said he thinks it was more about “pay back” for not paying the money than it was that he did anything wrong.

    Either way he is vowing to fight his charges. He goes back to court in May.

    “I have been offered a plea deal to make it go away but as far as I am concerned this case is going to trial,” he claims. “I want to clear my name and find out if this has ever happened to anybody else.”

    However Toronto Hydro spokesperson Tanya Bruckmueller says “there is more to this story” that is “before courts” which includes evidence the hydro meter had been “tampered” with.

    My feeling is that someone shouldn’t be punished until they’ve been proven guilty of a crime.

    It does not seem humane to me to keep hydro from a house in which someone could die.

    I spoke to Mayor Rob Ford about this, who has talked with Taylor personally.

    The mayor said he would see if Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines could go out with him and see the man and try to work something out to everyone’s satisfaction.

    My suggestion is to turn on his power at least until he is convicted of a crime.

    “They think I am a murderer,” said Taylor. “But I am just a guy who didn’t think he should pay a $14,000 hydro bill.”

    Whatever the truth is, it can’t be worth it, to see someone’s life endangered.

    Taylor has already fought off one bought of pneumonia.

    But Bruckmeuller tells me they have tried to “work things out” with Taylor before but with no success.

    “I am Scottish and I am stubborn,” admits Taylor.

    He says the solution is simple:

    “Drop the charges, turn on his power (and) apoligize for putting me through this.”

    Read More at: Torontosun dot come

  5. This man has been charged with theft of electricity or theft over $5,000.
    Do the police have the meter in their custody and if so when did they take the meter into custody to be preserved and used as evidence?
    If they did not take this so called tampered with meter into custody then there was ample opportunity for someone else to have tampered with the meter in question.
    This fellow has the right to a jury trial.

  6. Pingback: Vardy and Penney clarify blackout inquiry independence | Tom Adams Energy - ideas for a smarter grid

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