Hydro One sale shortsighted

Editorial by Yorkregion.com (June 11, 2015) — ISSUE: Introduction of increased privatization means higher prices, headaches for customers.

It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

If so, Ontario’s Liberal government seems determined to construct a multi-lane highway straight to the underworld if last week’s passage of the omnibus budget bill is anything to go by.

Among other details, the passage of the budget gives the Grits the go- ahead to start down the path toward privatizing Hydro One, with the goal being to raise some quick cash to fund transit improvements the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) badly needs.

The government says it will start small, offering up just 15 per cent of the Crown corporation on the stock market and then gradually parcel off additional pieces of the pie until 60 per cent of the electric utility is in private hands.

The Liberals suggest this scheme could generate as much as $9 billion, although less than half of that figure, $4 billion, would fund public transit and transportation. The remainder would go to pay down Hydro One’s debt.

As for the rest of the corporation, the government says it will retain a 40-per-cent share in Hydro One, which it claims will give it some measure of influence over the new predominantly private entity.

Not surprisingly, the proposal hasn’t been without its critics.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has been vocal in its opposition of privatization as has the NDP with its party leader, Andrea Horwath, going so far as to table a private member’s bill calling for a referendum on the sell-off.

With a comfortable Liberal majority at Queen’s Park, the bill had zero chance of succeeding, just as the call from both the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives to deal with the privatization of Hydro One separately from the omnibus budget bill fell on deaf ears.

Interestingly, the normally pro-privatization PCs and the NDP both say they believe the move to sell off a large chunk of Hydro One can only result in higher prices for the province’s electricity customers.

Keep in mind, it was the PCs more than a decade ago that deregulated the electricity market and nearly sold off Hydro One.

Thus far, the introduction of increased privatization into the electricity equation has only served to spark higher bills and more headaches for power users.

Scandals and skyrocketing costs have been hallmarks of the Liberals’ own forays into the private power generation game.

Speaking of scandals, a cloud of controversy currently hangs over Hydro One in the wake of a scathing report from Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin, whose office received a flood of more than 10,000 complaints about the utility.

His investigation uncovered countless examples of shockingly overinflated bills and some truly horrendous customer service.

That said, at least those mailed bills or debited for thousands (if not millions) of dollars more than they owed and/or threatened with power disconnection had the ombudsman’s office at the ready to assist them. Once the Liberals’ push to privatize Hydro One receives royal assent, the ombudsman’s office will no longer have jurisdiction over the utility (the province has assured it will establish a new independent accountability body in its stead) and it’s hard to imagine customer service improving once more than half the utility is owned by investors eager to see a return on their investment.

In response to that fact, Marin has said, “Don’t walk, run, to the ombudsman’s office” to anyone with a Hydro One billing issue as he may soon be without the ability to assist them. Better yet, the Liberals could walk, or run, away from this whole idea of privatizing Hydro One and go back to the drawing board.

BOTTOM LINE: Ontario Liberals need better plan to pay for transit, must protect citizens from gouging.

Original Story at York Region