By David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen, March 10, 2016 — A petition to Queen’s Park is the last shot at getting Hydro One to cut electricity prices for people on the outskirts of Ottawa, Osgoode Coun. George Darouze says.
“It is about time that somebody owned the mistake that was made 16 years ago,” he says. “This is, once and for all — I want to put it to rest.”
Most of Ottawa’s electricity is delivered by the city-owned utility, Hydro Ottawa. But about 45,000 customers on the city’s rural fringes, or what were the city’s rural fringes when lines were drawn in the early 2000s, get their power from Hydro One, the provincial utility that runs the wires in the hinterland in every corner of Ontario.
Hydro Ottawa runs a smaller, more compact system and its electricity is a lot cheaper than Hydro One’s. Hydro One customers pay a share of every kilometre of wire between Alexandria and Kenora.
Darouze’s own bill at his house in Greely can be as high as $550 a month, he says, staggering by urban standards if you’re not using electric heat. He’s changed incandescent light bulbs for more efficient ones, put his pool equipment on a timer, winterized his hot tub for the first time this year. He’s always turning off lights and televisions.
“You know what my kids call me? The electricity police,” he says.
Some necessities of rural life use electricity and it’s not negotiable, Darouze points out. No electricity? The well doesn’t work and the sump floods. Many rural businesses are more industrial than urban ones and are heavy hydro users, too.
Practically since amalgamation, Ottawa politicians have tried to get Hydro One’s customers in the city transferred to Hydro Ottawa. This has failed for plain financial reasons: for Hydro One, its Ottawa accounts are some of its most profitable, and for Hydro Ottawa, they’d be more expensive to serve than the ones it already has.
Last fall, negotiations between the two companies collapsed once and for all. Both are obliged to run like businesses and the trade makes no sense for either company.
But a vote of the legislature could overcome that, and Darouze’s petition — a real petition with signatures on paper, not a data-harvesting exercise on a website — asks MPPs not to order the accounts moved from Hydro One to Hydro Ottawa, but to order Hydro One to charge Hydro Ottawa rates to its Ottawa customers.
“It’s not Wawa, it’s not Barry’s Bay, it’s not Wilno,” Darouze says. Many of Hydro One’s customers here live in villages like Greely and Kinburn and Cumberland that are as compact as a suburb and should pay suburban prices, he says.
The petition takes an idea Mayor Jim Watson has floated and turns it into something the province has to deal with, one way or the other. Assuming, at least, that a big percentage of the 45,000 customers from Cumberland to West Carleton sign on.
The truth is, a petition isn’t likely to work where repeated deputations from the city to the provincial government have failed. Our own Bob Chiarelli is the energy minister and he’s not into it. Cumberland Liberal Phil McNeely went from city council to 10 years at Queen’s Park, promising to get the hydro customers moved and achieved zilch.
If anything, having Hydro One keep the rural-Ottawa accounts but charge those customers cut rates makes less business sense than transferring them. Hydro One would have to track Hydro Ottawa’s prices and keep a separate billing system just for a small subset of its 1.3 million customers, and charge those other customers more to make up for the lost revenue. It would take a political decision, not a business one.
But Darouze hopes the Liberal government sees a petition with thousands of signatures and thinks of all those people as voters who’ll be forever grateful if the legislature saves them several hundred dollars a year forever. Electricity, food, gasoline (well, not right now, but generally), and even salt for softening well water is all more expensive than it used to be, and a break for rural Ottawans would be welcome.
“If this is not going to work, I will never open my mouth about it (again),” Darouze says. “We have one more shot at it.”
Darouze has copies of the petition at his ward office and says numerous rural business owners have asked for copies to get customers to sign, too.