Ontario hydro crisis timeline: How did we get here and what comes next?
The Ontario government pledged to lower hydro bills across the province by a further 17 per cent Thursday, in response to a hydro affordability crisis across the province that has become the most significant political issue for the Liberal party ahead of the upcoming 2018 election.
Premier Kathleen Wynne downplayed the issue for months before finally admitting skyrocketing hydro rates were an “urgent issue” in September of last year after a byelection loss in the former Liberal stronghold of Scarborough—Rouge River.
The announcement for hydro relief from the provincial government comes after extensive reporting by Global News that brought the issue to the forefront and exposed the plight of hydro affordability, especially in rural areas, and the toll it has taken on residents and businesses across Ontario.
June 30, 2016
Global News first reported on the dramatic increase in hydro rates in June of last year, after the province began selling off their majority share of the transmission utility Hydro One and rates had risen in the province 100 per cent over the past decade.
An investigation showed that “energy poverty” was forcing rural residents to spend hundreds of dollars a month just to keep the lights on.
July 6, 2016
A follow-up story on the high hydro costs in rural Ontario focused on Bruce County.
Despite being home to one of the province’s largest sources of electrical power by way of the Bruce Power nuclear generating station, more than 200 people in the area were seeking assistance with their hydro bills.
One resident, who recently suffered a heart attack, told healthcare workers it would be better for his family if he passed away. In another example, a mother was told by a Hydro One official to have her children stop using computers or other “toy items.”
July 21, 2016
Data obtained by Global News showed some shocking figures on the Global Adjustment fee, a charge billed to all hydro consumers in the province, and how it was forced on Ontario residents.
Put into place with Ontario’s 2009 Green Energy Act, the charge only appears separately on bills for manufactures and large businesses. For residential customers and small businesses, the fee is hidden and added to an average of 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour.
That means that for every $100 in usage that appears on your electricity bill, $77 is the Global Adjustment fee. The actual cost of electricity use is only $23.
Aug. 4, 2016
BMO’s chief economist Doug Porter spoke to Global News about the rising cost of electricity. He believed the escalating charges would hurt the province’s long-term economy.
“It hurts small businesses, it hurts large business. And it reduces their willingness to invest here in the province if one of their core costs is higher than in other nearby regions.”
Aug. 24, 2016
Numbers released by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) revealed Ontarians were falling behind on their energy bills and those who could least afford it were falling deeper into debt.
The data released showed 567,000 Ontario electricity customer accounts were in arrears at end of 2015, owing $172.5 million, significantly higher than the 472,620 customers who owed roughly $108 million in 2013.
Sept. 12, 2016
Wynne announced plans to eliminate the eight per cent provincial portion of the 13 per cent harmonized sales tax (HST) on hydro bills for homes, small businesses, and farms, in an effort to produce annual savings of $130 for the average household.
The rebate came at a cost to taxpayers, however, in the amount of roughly $1 billion a year to subsidize electricity ratepayers.
WATCH: Wynne government scraps harmonized sales tax from hydro bills
Sept. 13, 2016
After conceding the hydro affordability crisis was an “urgent issue” for ratepayers, a freedom of information request filed by Global News showed no record of correspondence between Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault and the Ontario Energy Board regarding rural hydro rates between Jan. 1 and July 2016.
But on Aug. 26 the Ministry of Energy replied, saying “the ministry has conducted a thorough search and no records were located in response to this request.”
Though the Ministry of Energy responded to Global News’ request, they failed to answer a number of questions, including if Wynne had been in contact with the OEB regarding hydro rates, when it became an “urgent issue” and whether or not Thibeault had been briefed on the issue of rural hydro bills when he assumed his cabinet position.
WATCH: Ontario’s Wynne makes moves to ease high hydro costs
Sept. 20, 2016
During a routine photo op at the International Plowing Match in Minto, Ont., Wynne was booed after speaking about her party’s work to lower rising hydro rates across the province.
Wynne said at that time that those booing perhaps hadn’t yet heard about the eight per cent rebate she had recently announced.
WATCH: Ontario premier booed at International Plowing Match over rising hydro rates
Oct. 14, 2016
After cancelling plans for contracts amounting up to 1,000 megawatts of green energy from solar, wind and other sources in an effort to save up to $3.8 billion of projected costs in the 2013 long-term energy plan, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault refused to release government estimates for the cost of subsidizing rural electricity rates in the province.
A document obtained by Global News through Ontario’s Freedom of Information Act revealed Thibeault was briefed earlier in the summer on the costs of enhancing the province’s Rural or Remote Rate Protection program (RRRP) to fully subsidize distribution fees for Hydro One customers.
The Independent Electricity System Operator’s planning outlook determined Ontario has a “a strong supply of clean power” for the next decade.
WATCH: Ontario Hydro looks to level rates for rural customers
Oct. 19, 2016
The Ontario Energy Board announced hydro rates for residential customers in Ontario would not be going up for the first time since 2008.
The OEB announced the per kilowatt hour charge that appears on bills would not change for at least the next six months.
The decision came on the same day Thibeault announced the provincial government passed legislation to remove the provincial portion of the HST from electricity bills effective Jan. 1, 2017.
Nov. 28, 2016
Global News first reported on the Ontario Clean Air Alliance’s recommendation to Wynne that she could help solve the province’s hydro affordability crisis by purchasing cheaper hydroelectric power from Quebec and cancelling the planned $12-billion refurbishment of Ontario’s Darlington nuclear facility.
The organization also called on the province to scrap plans for extending the life of the Pickering nuclear facility and to begin decommissioning it immediately.
The OCA said Wynne’s decision to proceed with nuclear refurbishment “unnecessarily” increased electricity bills.
That same day Global News’ Mike Drolet reported on a rural Ontario senior couple on a fixed income and were forced to move due to their skyrocketing hydro rates.
WATCH: ‘It ruined me’: High hydro rates force elderly Ontario couple to move
Dec. 6, 2016
After turning to Global News for help, an Ontario woman who had been without power for six months, after learning they owed Hydro One more than $3,000 in unpaid bills, finally had her electricity turned back on.
Carol said she was “amazed” she could flip a switch and turn on the lights in her home again.
Her and her family had been relying on gas-powered generators and flashlights to survive, in addition to filling plastic-lined garbage cans with a water so her family could bathe.
WATCH: Ontario mother describes her family’s struggles to pay high hydro bills and losing power for 6 months
Dec. 7, 2016
After almost six months of coverage, Global News broke the story that Hydro One was planning to reconnect more than 1,400 customers living without electricity.
Hydro One said it was reaching out to the customers who had been without power to arrange reconnections for the remainder of the winter and to set up payment plans they could afford.
In contrast, Hydro One had disconnected almost 10,000 residential customers in 2015, which amounted to roughly one per cent of their total customer base.
WATCH: Hydro restoring power to 1,400 customers
Dec. 30, 2017
A follow up investigation by Global News revealed that almost 213,000 Hydro One customers spent 10 per cent or more of their disposable household income on electricity bills in 2015.
In addition, more than 37,000 Ontarians spent nearly 30 per cent of their income on electricity.
More than one-fifth of Hydro One’s 950,000 residential customers used between 25 and 400 per cent more of their available income than was recommended by an anti-poverty advocacy group.
WATCH: Over 1,200 Ontario hydro customers have defaulted on payments this year
Jan. 13, 2017
The hydro affordability issue in Ontario spilled onto the national political stage, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was confronted by a distraught Ontario woman who pleaded with him over the cost of her hydro bill during a stop on his cross-country tour.
Kathy Katula asked the prime minister how she was supposed to afford a hydro bill that has risen above $1,000 a month and asked him to justify the federal government’s planned carbon tax.
Trudeau pointed out while hydro prices are a provincial matter his government’s plan to put a price on carbon pollution was necessary to fight climate change.
WATCH: Sobbing woman confronts Justin Trudeau over the cost of her hydro bill
Jan. 18, 2017
Libby Keenan, who has a farm with several horses in Amherstburg, Ont., wrote on Facebook that her hydro rates had gotten so out of control she could not keep up with them.
Keenan’s bill had risen to nearly $600 a month and she asked the premier how much she would have to pay for the “privilege of shovelling manure seven days a week?”
Wynne then met directly with Keenan at the Ontario Legislature and the promised she wouldn’t wait for the budget to announce more relief measures for rural Ontario hydro customers.
WATCH: Ontario farmer meets with Premier Kathleen Wynne on hydro
Jan. 30, 2017
A Global News investigation into the the threat that skyrocketing hydro rates posed to two of the country’s most popular sports, curling and skating, showed some Ontario arenas and curling rinks were struggling to keep their doors open in the face of rising bills.
The Ontario Curling Association said the rising costs forced local curling clubs to choose between increasing membership fees or cancelling renovation projects that could reduce energy costs.
Many curling associations said the impact of skyrocketing energy bills had left them feeling helpless.
WATCH: Ontario hydro rates affecting curling rinks
Feb. 7, 2017
Despite the legislation being introduced in June 2016, Global News brought forth numerous stories of Ontario hydro consumers who faced winter disconnections because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills.
The lack of province-wide regulation stopping companies from pulling the plug on customers who failed to pay their bills – regardless of how cold it gets — led to numerous stories of customers being forced to face the winter without power.
That gap in legislation created a patchwork of winter disconnection policies across the province.
WATCH: Emotional Ontario senior talks about impact of having hydro cut off
Feb. 23, 2017
Finally, after eight months of Global News reporting on the hydro affordability crisis, the Ontario Energy Board ordered utility companies in the province to reconnect all customers without power.
The order also forced companies to remove load-limiters, devices used to restrict the flow of electricity, from the homes of all residential customers.
Roughly 930 customers from across Ontario saw their homes reconnected to their electricity services. An additional 3,000 customers had load-limiters removed.
WATCH: Winter hydro disconnections now against the law in Ontario
Feb. 24, 2017
Ontario’s energy minister admitted mistakes in the implementation of the Green Energy Act by the Liberal government.
Thibeault said it had led to “sub-optimal outcomes” for consumers and to increased prices in electricity for families and businesses in Ontario.
He added that the province’s Feed-in-Tariff program, or FIT, resulted in over-manipulation of the province’s energy sector and the removal of competitive incentives for energy producers.
Thibeault said the policy itself was good – phasing-out coal and investing in new infrastructure – but admitted the way the government went about achieving its green energy goals was not.
March. 2, 2017
Premier Wynne committed to cutting hydro rates by an additional 17 per cent to provide relief to hydro ratepayers in Ontario, despite an estimated $1.4 billion per year in added interest costs.
The rate cut amounted to 25 per cent when compounded with Ontario’s eight per cent HST hydro rebate that took effect Jan. 1, and would hold with the rate of inflation for four years.
Wynne said it was expected to take effect this summer, with ratepayers to see the effect of the reduction on their June 1 bill.
WATCH: Ontario announces hydro bill relief but at a cost
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.