What follows are my speaking notes for a deputation yesterday to the Ontario Legislature Committee on General Government. The committee transcripts are often slow to appear on the official site. These notes depart from my spoken comments slightly. I have also linked some of my comments to other resources. After my speaking notes, I have included brief comments on two of the other presentations, one by representatives of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers and another from York University Faculty of Environmental Studies Assistant Professor Mark Winfield.
Thank-you Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee.
The main focus of my remarks today is to address Schedule 1 of Bill 135, that its changes to the Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEA).
That schedule of Bill 135 would empower the Ontario government to order any consumer of any size, from the largest manufacturer to the smallest household, to use a government-approved consultant to report to the government all of that consumer’s energy and water usage. Further, the legislation would arm government with powers to order targeted consumers to file with the government a conservation plan. Government would be able to publish the consumer’s data. Bill 135 does not include provisions for penalties for non-compliance or penalties for consumers whose reported energy and water uses seems disagreeable to some government official, but it does not seem to be a leap to anticipate that, if the Ontario legislature continues on its current trajectory toward more central planning, that such penalties may be forthcoming.
After I published an article in the National Post presenting this gloss of Bill 135’s provisions, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli responded in the Post. His letter, published in the November 18 print edition, said of my column, “he disgraces these pages by torquing what surely started as legitimate questions to new levels of paranoid hysteria.” (Further comments on this exchange here.)
Minister Chiarelli’s letter does not contest any of my facts documenting the new powers the government is granting itself. Rather, the thrust of his argument is that the new energy data subpoena powers government is giving itself will only be used for good purposes. With overflowing confidence in the superiority of central planning, he asks, without these subpoena powers “how can we determine the most efficient route to get to tomorrow?”
Ontario’s skyrocketing power rates, ongoing purchases of even more intermittent take-or-pay generation, power export giveaways, secrecy around amounts paid to generators to not generate, and low value or no value conservation programs all suggest that this government’s thinking about “the most efficient route to get to tomorrow” should be reconsidered.
If the government’s conservation initiatives were actually as beneficial to individual consumers as the government continuously claims, energy and water conservation reporting and analysis programs could be based on voluntary participation. Bill 135 could be easily amended to make participation in resource use disclosure programs voluntary.
When the government presents legislation that could easily introduce voluntary disclosure measures but instead adopts aggressive new powers requiring compulsory reporting, I suggest that it is not “paranoid hysteria” to point out that such power have the potential to be abused.
Although I have focused on coming changes to the GEA, I want to comment on the changes to the OEB Act and the Electricity Act under Bill 135. Power system planning right down to the level of distribution will be now completely and directly controlled by the Minister.
The learned energy lawyer, George Vegh, has commented that, if enacted, Section 2 of the legislation would “effectively remove independent electricity planning and procurement authority from the IESO and transmission approval from the OEB.” I associate myself the Mr. Vegh’s critique.
For the purposes of a thought experiment, let’s agree that the current Minister is possessed of profound wisdom in all matters related to correctly understanding and predicting the future of energy. But, ask yourself what might happen if some future minister was appointed by a future Premier and that future Minister was unable to understand the profit or loss of export transactions, the impact of conservation programs on the recovery of the overall revenue requirement of the power system during periods of vast excess supply and falling demand, or the impact of adding further intermittent generation as the marginal value of new intermittent generation is already sinking. What then?
The Auditor General has found that over the course of many policy initiatives, including the Smart Metering plan and the 2010 and 2013 government-directed power system plans, that the government ignored the advice of its own experts. Ongoing NAFTA arbitration by the firm Windstream claiming $475 million against taxpayers highlights that politics, not professional planning and advice, drove the Ontario government’s off-shore wind development policies. Has government been rewarded for its impatience? How has the government’s instinct to “do the right thing” worked out in hindsight?
The government has responded to the Auditor General’s criticisms claiming that Bill 135 the governance deficiencies identified by that AG. Eliminating the last vestiges of independence, making the IESO and OEB extensions of the Ministry of Energy exacerbate, rather than mitigate, the deficiencies the AG has pointed to.
The government and its allies have worked hard over the last two month since the most recent Auditor General’s report was issued to deprecate, depreciate, and dismiss the Auditor General. I urge the members of this committee to set aside their partisan considerations and to look with fresh eyes specifically at the consequences that have arisen for ratepayers from the decisions starting with the Smart Meter program to ignore the profession advice of the IESO and OEB and to force those agencies to abandon professionalism in favour of passive obedience.
Ask yourself, how is that all working out?
The first deputant before the Committee was the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. The organization’s president appeared accompanied by engineer Rhonda Wright-Hilbig. Ms. Wright is retired from the IESO after a career of almost three decades in Ontario’s power system. The thrust of the OPSE presentation was to identify and highlight the value to the power system overall that can be had from competent professional planning and analysis from those at some arms length from political considerations. OSPE pointed out that the power system is complex and can be harmed by careless interventions. The president made remarks to the effect that OSPE provides a platform for retired engineers to make public comments on policy matters they might not have been at liberty to comment on while in their previous professional capacity.
OSPE’s critique attacked the essence of Bill 135’s changes to the Electricity Act and Ontario Energy Board Act. The fact that anyone would need to explain to the politicians that the power system is a complex system vulnerable to careless decisions should itself be a cause for alarm for anyone concerned about Ontario having an effective, reliable power supply in future. Employees within Ontario’s power system are almost without exception very highly paid relative to their qualifications and very often also enjoy spectacular pension entitlements. Their work environments tend to be disciplined. It is common for these employees to wear what might be considered to be golden handcuffs. OSPE initiative to provide power system retirees like Ms. Wright with an opportunity to inform the public policy process with their experience is therefore particularly valuable. The governing Liberals would be foolish to ignore her analysis, but I have no confidence that the government members were listening to her.
York U prof Mark Winfield also made a deputation. His remarks, posted here, are a root and branch attack on the basic conception of Bill 135 as it applies to the Electricity Act and the OEB Act. Winfield has been a vocal advocate for the Ontario government’s Green Energy Act, although a critic of its nuclear policies and its drift away from public consultation in favour of more politicized decision making. MPP Ann Hoggarth was the government’s designated questioner for Winfield. She used her question time to present a chauvinist defence of the legislation and then asked why the only articles Winfield provides on his CV are authored by him. Such is the caliber of the debate.
Thank you Tom! This is truly the last nail in the coffin for private property rights. Not sure if you saw the Minister’s November 2014 news release – below. I understand your anticipation of penalties, but considering the Orwellian language in the news release, I suspect their plan is to take direct control of the electricity usage of those of us who run afoul of the bureaucrats.
Ontario Supports Leading Edge Smart Grid Projects Smart Grid Fund Helps Secure Ontarioâ€™s Energy Future November 27, 2014 10:00 A.M.
Ministry of Energy
Behind the Meter: to enable two-way information exchange between consumer and the utility in order to improve system efficiency and consumer cost management.
Grid automation: to use innovative sotware and hardware to help the system operator remotely control and manage the electricity grid.
(more information here: http://www.operationpushback.ca)
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