Watch­dog wanted to as­sess hy­dro rate cut plan

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ALLISON JONES

TORONTO — The NDP is call­ing on On­tario’s bud­get watch­dog to ex­am­ine how the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s hy­dro re­lief plan will af­fect con­sumers’ bills, par­tic­u­larly in light of leaked cab­i­net doc­u­ments sug­gest­ing large in­creases af­ter an ini­tial drop.

New Demo­crat Peter Tabuns wrote to the fi­nan­cial ac­count­abil­ity of­fi­cer this week, ask­ing him to as­sess the likely im­pact of the plan on elec­tric­ity bills and com­pare that with what bills would be with­out the Lib­eral plan.

A Lib­eral cab­i­net doc­u­ment leaked to the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives con­tains a pro­jec­tion that elec­tric­ity bills will drop this year, rise slightly for four years while in­creases are held to the rate of in­fla­tion, then rise quickly af­ter that.

It also shows that from about 2027 on­ward, when con­sumers would start pay­ing off debt and in­ter­est as­so­ci­ated with the hy­dro plan, con­sumers will be pay­ing more than they would with­out the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s plan to cut costs in the short term.

The gov­ern­ment dis­missed the doc­u­ment as con­tain­ing out­dated pro­jec­tions, but wouldn’t make pub­lic any of the var­i­ous other pro­jec­tions it says went be­fore cab­i­net.

Tabuns called Fri­day on the bud­get watch­dog to ex­am­ine all of those doc­u­ments.

“I don’t trust Lib­eral num­bers,” he said. “I would like to have the fi­nan­cial ac­count­abil­ity of­fi­cer do his as­sess­ment so we’re mak­ing a some­what more in­formed de­ci­sion on what’s be­fore us.”

It would ide­ally be done quickly, Tabuns said.

The leg­is­la­ture has just eight sit­ting days left be­fore it rises for the sum­mer, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for op­po­si­tion re­view and de­bate, Tabuns said.

The leg­is­la­tion tabled this week would cut bills by an av­er­age of 17 per cent, low­er­ing time-of-use rates for the next 10 years by re­mov­ing from bills a por­tion of the global ad­just­ment, a charge con­sumers pay for above­mar­ket rates to power pro­duc­ers. For the next 10 years, a new en­tity over­seen by On­tario Power Gen­er­a­tion will take on debt to pay that dif­fer­ence.

Then, the cost of pay­ing back that debt with in­ter­est — which the gov­ern­ment says will be up to $28 bil­lion — will go back onto ratepay­ers’ bills for the next 20 years as a “clean en­ergy ad­just­ment.”

A spokesper­son for fi­nan­cial ac­count­abil­ity of­fi­cer Stephen LeClair said Fri­day the of­fice doesn’t comment on politi­cians’ re­quests, but said in March they had al­ready been plan­ning a re­port on the hy­dro plan.

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