KENORA – Political News – Last week, the Ontario government unveiled its latest Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) for the province. The document, creatively entitled ‘Achieving Balance,’ lays out the Liberals’ energy plan for about the next twenty years. And while there are some highlights – including the commitment to invest in energy transmission and some generation in the Northwest, as well as extending the Northern Industrial Electricity Rate (NIER) program to 2016 in order to help our industries cut their significant and often unviable energy costs, not enough is being done to adequately prepare for the economic opportunities that lay on the horizon or to reduce residential electricity rates.
Our electricity bills need to be affordable. The Minister of Energy has boasted that residential customers can expect to pay $520 less under this long-term plan than the previous plan released in 2010. But let’s not forget that in 2010 the Liberals told us to expect our bills to soar by 46 per cent over the next five years. In this new ‘Achieving Balance’ plan, we are told to expect a mere increase of 42 per cent over the next five years. On top of this, the plan also stresses that the 10 per cent we are currently saving on our bills through the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit program is set to expire in 2015 and will not be continued or replaced.
When asked on Nov. 27 why more wasn’t being done by the Liberals to bring down the cost of our hydro bills, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said to the Toronto Star that these energy rates are “a fact of life” and that if we don’t like it, we should control our own bills by lowering consumption.
This kind of flippant comment makes me hot under the collar. I’ve heard from too many people across the region to believe this kind of nonsense. I know that we are already doing what we can to conserve. The fact is, we live in a colder climate. There is only so much we can do to limit our energy use. And with off-peak prices having increased 140 per cent since 2007, and peak prices having risen 48 per cent, the gap between the time of use rates has grossly diminished. So regardless of whether we stay up late to do our laundry, cook our meals and undertake life’s other necessities, the fact is that we have little control over the bottom line cost of our bills. Especially once the Debt Retirement Charge, delivery charge, HST, and other regulatory charges are added.
It is important to keep in mind what our neighbouring provinces are charging. A household that uses 2,000 kWh of electricity a month in Manitoba pays about $150. To the east of us, the same usage would cost a household in Montreal four dollars less. In Ontario, the cost is nearly two times higher, at about $298. What is especially frustrating about these facts is that for both provinces, the bulk of their power is generated through hydro, something we have an abundance of in the Northwest. If both of our provincial neighbours can provide this essential service at about half the price while using the same resources we have, why can’t we?