December 16, 2010

Utilities forced to tout Ontario government’s 10% discount

Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief, Toronto Star, 16 December 2010

Ontario’s Liberal government is forcing utilities to tout the 10 per cent electricity discount on hydro bills every month for the next five years, the Star has learned.

Over the next few weeks, millions of households, farms, and small businesses will begin receiving the new “Ontario Clean Energy Benefit” on their monthly hydro bills.

The measure is designed to offset an expected 46 per cent increase in electricity costs in the coming five years.

In addition to the notice and to ensure all 4.4 million electricity customers know where the reduction is coming from – with an election coming in 2011 – the Liberals have also ordered all local electricity distributors to include a special “buck slip” in bills explaining the program.

The one-time insert, which echoes the government’s green-energy talking points, says Queen’s Park “is moving our province to clean sources of power while shutting down coal plants that pollute the air we breathe.”

“Upgrading and modernizing our infrastructure is helping to provide reliable power to our homes and businesses. Building more clean energy is also creating thousands of jobs for Ontarians in our growing renewable energy industries, like solar, wind and hydroelectric,” it says.

While the government is footing the printing tab for the millions of buck slips, officials at local utilities are privately more miffed about the other edict from Premier Dalton McGuinty’s administration.

Every month for the five-year duration of the 10 per cent discount program, they will have to include the following on all bills:

“A line to be added, at an appropriate location on the bill among the itemized charges, which will reflect the reduction, including the actual amount saved: Ontario Clean Energy Benefit (-10%),” according to a leaked communiqué.

“A message to be added to the bill, where conservation or other utility messages to consumers is usually placed: The Ontario Government has taken 10% off your electricity bill to help you with the costs of building a clean energy future. Learn about the new Ontario Clean Energy Benefit: or 1-888-668-4636.”

While some utilities are concerned about having to include the statements on the bills, the province warns they have no choice.

“I would note that we (Ministry of Energy) are requiring the above information under regulatory authority granted to the Minister of Energy under the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit Act, 2010,” reads the internal memo to distributors.

McGuinty said Wednesday that the discount is important to Ontario families and small businesses.

The price break would save a homeowner using 800 kilowatt hours a month $153.60 a year, rising to $1,716 per annum for a small business using 10,000 kWh monthly and $2,052 annually on a farm consuming 12,000 kWh a month.

“We’ve asked a lot of Ontarians. We’ve asked them to invest in a long-term energy plan. We put it all out there. It’s thoughtful, it is responsible, it is honest . . . we’re renewing 80 per cent of our system over the next 20 years,” the premier said at Ryerson University.

“The challenge is it’s falling entirely to our generation to make a massive investment that’s going to serve our kids and our grandkids,” he said, adding “it’s only fair in those circumstances” to give consumers a break.

“We’ve borrowed money to help reduce the payments during the first five years.”

The premier, who trails Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak in most public opinion polls, said he understands pocketbook issues are paramount among Ontarians.

“We’ll wait and see how people view it in (political) terms,” he said of the discount.

“But our responsibility is to listen to them and they’re saying that they’re challenged right now when it comes to managing household expenses so we’re listening.”

His comments come as most Ontario taxpayers last week started receiving the second of three “transition” cheques of between $100 and $335 to compensate for the 13 per cent harmonized sales tax launched July 1.

The third instalment of the “Ontario Sales Tax Transition Benefit” will be mailed out next June.

In total, low- and middle-income families will receive up to $1,000 to ease the pinch of the HST, which increased taxes on electricity, gasoline, home heating fuel, dry cleaning, snow removal, haircuts, and a slew of other services.

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