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Brown said Tory plan "will affect everyone"

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Patrick Brown, leader of the PC party of Ontario, will be coming to Welland next week. Craig Robertson/Postmedia Network Files

Patrick Brown, leader of the PC party of Ontario, will be coming to Welland next week. Craig Robertson/Postmedia Network Files

Patrick Brown says the Tories' soon-to-be released plan to cut Ontario hydro rates will be for more than homeowners, farmers and small businesses.

“It will be across the board, it will affect everyone,” the Progressive Conservative Party leader said Friday morning – almost 24 hours after the governing Liberals announced they're lowering electricity rates.

Premier Kathleen Wynne's government said Thursday it will cut hydro costs by 17% this summer, following an 8% reduction Jan. 1.

The new cuts will not only affect Ontario households, but many small businesses and farms. People with low incomes and those living in eligible rural communities would receive even greater reductions to their electricity bills.

Rate increases during the next four years would be held to the rate of inflation for everyone.

“Very shortly we will be having our own hydro announcement and we're going to detail some of the fixes we see in the system,” Brown said. “It will be soon ... in the near future.”

The Ontario Tory boss said his party's plan will include details on how it would be implemented and how it would be financed.

The Liberal plan, however, does not directly affect some large hydro users.

“The focus of our announcement is on reducing the electricity bills of families, farms and small to medium-sized businesses across Ontario by an average of 25%,” said Natasha Demetriades of the Energy Ministry.

“However, hospitals, post-secondary institutions and municipalities will still see a modest reduction in their electricity bills with the removal of social programs from the rate base (charges in the electricity bill) to the tax base (government revenues). Taking social programs off of the rate base is part of our plan to make the electricity system more fair.”

She said some broader public institutions have already taken advantage of energy saving programs.

Because eligibility is based on electricity consumption, most municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals would not be eligible for the Liberal hydro rate break because their electricity use is too large, Demetriades said.

But a 25% hydro cut would be substantial for these institutions.

The City of Barrie spent nearly $7.8 million on electricity in 2016. Its top five users were the Wastewater Treatment Plant at almost $1.1 million, the Surface Water Treatment Plant at nearly $620,000, East Bayfield Community Centre at $560,000, Holly Community Centre at $531,600 and Barrie Molson Centre at $403,400.

Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre spends approximately $3.4 million annually on electricity. It's largest users are the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, diagnostic imaging for MRIs, CTs and nuclear medicine, linear accelerators for cancer treatment and for general uses, such as lighting.

Sharon Burkhart of Georgian College said its overall 2015-2016 hydro budget was $2.32 million, and is expected to increase to $2.64 million in 2016-2017, a fiscal year which ends March 31.

“A reduction would mean several hundred thousand additional dollars could be spent on student learning, services or facilities instead of paying hydro bills,” she said.

Ontario's New Democratic Party announced an extensive plan Monday to save all provincial households as much as 30% on their hydro bills - including immediate measures like eliminating time-of-use premiums and unfair, higher delivery charges, to repair the hydro system permanently – including a return of Hydro One to public hands.

“I think the NDP and Liberals were in damage control on this file,” Brown said Friday. “That's why they came up with these schemes, because it's about their own political survival and we're looking at pretty ugly polling numbers.

“But ultimately this is a mess they own.”

The Liberals' plan to find hydro savings is to finance the costs of electricity generation contracts during longer periods of time.

But NDP leader Andrea Horwath has said this plan will cost Ontario taxpayers $40 billion in interest costs during the next 30 years.

“I really believe the Liberal hydro plan fell short” said Brown, Simcoe North MPP. “At $1.4-billion in interest (annually) we're paying to make up for mistakes that continue to be committed. We're borrowing money to make up for bad contracts.”

He said the PC hydro plan will deal with such issues as generation, bad contracts and even ongoing contracts.

“It (the Liberal plan) doesn't go far enough right now,” Brown said. “Right now the Liberals have now raised our hydro rates since coming into office (in 2003) 400% - 400%, and they're offering a 17% rebate simply by borrowing money and paying for contracts over a longer time.”

Ontario Energy Board data says the off-peak or cheapest electricity prices in this province have nearly doubled between Nov. 1, 2009 and Nov. 1, 2016.

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