Toronto Hydro, Highway Robbery & A French Novel


You might be wondering what these two images have in common. That is a fair and righteous question. Let me explain.

After receiving my latest hydro bill, I nearly went apoplectic (see going postal in your own mind). Although I’ve been extremely conscientious about power usage at peak hours and using my dishwasher only at off-peak hours, my monthly bill seems to continue growing like a beanstalk into outer space. You know. Or something like that.

Yesterday I’d had enough and decided to go sleuthing. I signed into my personal page on the TH website and looked at my power usage for every single month I’ve been living at my current apartment. Sure enough, things didn’t add up. There was some stinky cheese at play in Denmark. When I phoned up the good folks at TH, I got a very pleasant woman who was kind enough to address my questions. She was intelligent, polite and professional. That, however, did nothing to mollify my apoplexy because it turns out my usage is in fact quite low and that I’ve been using most of my energy at off-peak hours. Why the constant bills in the hundreds of dollars, then? The answer is a plot worthy of an Alexandre Dumas novel.

While my cheapest energy usage has been $18 for the month, and my most expensive about $60, my hydro bills are consistently three figures. The discrepancy? Delivery. It actually costs more to deliver the energy than to produce it. How much more? Between 1.5 and 3 times more to get me the stupid stuff than to actually produce it. Curious as to how this delivery charge is broken down, I was told “It’s complicated. It’s broken down into a lot of different things, you know, like, ah, so many things, you know?” When I asked if that info was on the site like my usage stats, the customer service rep. said, “Unfortunately, it’s not.”

To clarify, cut through and capture the essence of what had just happened (in Gordon Gekko’s parlance): Unless you are lighting up a stadium, the delivery charge is always going to outpace the usage cost of your electricity as a residential customer, making it more expensive than any other household fixed cost. How is this possible? At 369.5 TWh, Canada has the world’s second highest annual production of hydroelectricity (after China) and second highest production rate per capita  (after Norway), accounting for more than 61% of our total energy production because, hey, we’ve got a lot of water here.

So what the Frankfurt is going on? It’s almost like Toronto Hydro, Hydro One (the provincial organization taking part in this dog and pony show), and the provincial government represent the villains Mondego, Danglars, and the double-dealing Magistrate, Villefort, respectively, in The Count of Monte Cristo. And we as Ontarians are collectively represented by Edmond Dantès, imprisoned without trial inside the Château d’If.

The question, of course, is when and how we as tax-paying citizens who contribute to the lavish paycheques of these hydro companies’ employees ($1.5 million a year for the outgoing CEO of Hydro One?), wasted resources, and overpriced electricity will exact revenge. The sad truth of the matter was summed up by Queen’s Park columnist Christina Blizzard last June: “Seniors weep when they open their hydro bills. Often they must make a choice between heating their home or buying groceries. And yet we’re paying millions for neighbouring jurisdictions to take excess electricity off our hands? It’s unconscionable — the outcome of a failed Green Energy Act that’s cost this province billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs.”




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