Time of Use Billing

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Bill shockUntil I sold my business, a few years ago, and started working from home again, I didn’t realize how much of an aggressive assault on many Ontarians – especially seniors and stay-at-home parents – our hydro time-of-use  (TOU) billing is. I had a naïve belief that it was fair. A user-pay balance. A tool to encourage us to conserve and use our appliances more wisely. And I’ve always been a big believer in conservation.

But time-of-use is not what we hoped. It targets the people generally least able to afford it. Hydro rates have risen rapidly under the current government: we in Ontario already pay more than what similar users in most provinces pay for electricity, sometimes more than double! Ontario hydro rates are higher than anywhere else in Canada! Regardless of anyone’s efforts to conserve and with the province trying to sell Hydro One, they will go through the roof. Time of use won’t change that, just punish us more.

The flogging will continue until moral improves. That’s the provincial government’s attitude towards our hydro and its costs. Fleece residents until they submit.

In case you’re not aware of how time-of-use works, the Ministry of Energy has a page describing it. Basically it divides the day into three periods of billing: peak (the most expensive), mid-peak and off-peak (half of the day, mostly in the night).

For 95 percent of the population, you will be using most of your power in the two most expensive periods. You can’t escape this, unless you’re a vampire who sleeps all day.

Weekday off-peak – the lowest rate – is 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in summer, but on-peak is 11 a.m.-5 p.m., the busiest time of the day (and the hottest, if you need to run your air conditioner). In winter, off-peak is 8 p.m.- 7 a.m. and on-peak is 8 a.m.- 11 a.m. and again at 5 – 8 p.m. These are the times when people most need heat, of course, in their homes and are cooking meals. Weekends and holidays are all off-peak.

But during weekdays, for seniors or families it’s not always convenient to wait until 8 p.m. to start laundry or an electric dishwasher or run an electric lawn mower. Few people can wait until then to cook dinner on an electric stove or in a microwave oven, especially in families with children. And for businesses and industries – they operate most of the time on peak and mid-peak rates. Not a good system to encourage either to locate or grow in this province!

Ontario’s hydro policies are daft. Worse than daft: they are hostile to all levels of consumers. They are as anti-business as Collingwood Council’s attitude towards growth and development.

Why, I wonder, doesn’t hydro simply average out the costs (11.075 cents per kw/h is how I reckon it – so make it 12 cents to round it up) and get everyone to pay a flat rate? Why this complex, user-hostile system that targets seniors? It would be so much easier for everyone and less grief for people on fixed incomes.

 

Ontarians consume on average, 935 kw/h* a month, or 11,221 a year. Albertans consume the most at 15,334  a year, PEI residents the least at 9,049. For Ontarians, the average cost of hydro (based on 11.075 cents per kw/h) should be about $1,242 a year. But the average bill for a three-bedroom house in Toronto is between $1,500 and $2,400 a year (showing the impact of TOU billing policies). And that is only going up thanks to provincial government policy to squeeze every dime from your pocket and leave you penniless.

There are better ways to convince people to conserve energy and certainly much simpler ones to manage. Incentives always work better than punishment. But time-of-use billing is the latter and it’s hurting a lot of people in this province. I think we need a government that will revise this awkward and punitive billing system (and one that will NOT sell Hydro One to private interests, which will only push up hydro costs even more!).

The current Ontario government gouges us for hydro. I’m not the only one who sees it this way. There have been petitions online and editorials about it.

~~~~~

* A watt, you probably know, is a standard measurement of electricity for appliances and tools (but some nations, like Canada, also use gigajoules, so it can get confusing). Your TV set consumes anywhere from 80 to 400 watts (depending on size, technology and settings) . Your hand-held hair dryer from 1,000 to 2,000. My laptop consumes about 80-85 watts (but uses more for the cooling fans and USB devices).

Hydro charges customers by the thousand (kilo) watts. The range is from 16.1 cents per kilowatt hour at peak to 8 cents at off-peak. If you have a smart meter, your utility tracks your use and you can see on on their website (I’m a fan of smart meters, by the way, because I like having access to the data).

A kilowatt hour (kw/h) means using 1,000 watts of electricity for one hour. That’s running ten 100-watt light bulbs constantly for an hour. Or your average hair dryer for about 20 minutes. An electric hot water heater uses 1 kw/h for a three-minute shower. A load of laundry uses about 2 kw/h.

Say you leave a 100-watt light bulb on all day. It will cost $0.26 a day, or about $90 a year. A quarter of that will be on-peak, another quarter mid-peak, plus weekends and holidays.

Most electronic devices also consume some electricity on standby mode even when switched off (unless unplugged or shut down by a power bar). This phantom power can be as high as the device when running. So you are paying peak costs for your TV, stereo and microwave sucking power from the grid during the day even when you’re not at home to use them or you think they’re turned off.

Plus you’re paying for your fridge and freezer to run all day long, as well as a dozen different devices: phones, stove clocks, thermostats, chargers, tablets, printers, modems, dehumidifiers, motion sensor lights, alarm systems…

We use an enormous amount of electricity just for everyday living. I don’t mind paying for my use, but the system should be fair.

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