Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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StephenVance 540If you're a winter hater like me, the term 'January thaw' always sounds so appealing; an oasis in the middle of the winter desert. Until it begins, and then you remember that a January thaw also includes chilly damp air, cold rain, and thawing snow that freezes overnight making roads and sidewalks slippery the next morning.

We've had it all so far this winter. We've had extreme cold, we've had freezing rain, we've had snow, and then more snow, and then a whole lot of snow, and now this week we've had a chilly damp January thaw.

As wonderful and horrible as a January thaw can be, for Ontarians, in spite of the rain and ice, there is a silver lining – the warmer temperatures mean we can save a few bucks on our heating bills – especially if like me, your winter heat comes from electric baseboard heaters.

It's no secret to any of us in this province that keeping our homes toasty warm in the frigid winter months has become more and more costly, so any rise in the temperature outside, even for a few days, can help the tired old wallet.

I'm always conflicted when it comes to the cost of electricity. Much has been made of the fact that Ontarians now pay much more for electricity than most of the rest of the country, and it is hurting many of us. It's true, our electricity rates have skyrocketed in recent years, and while I know that even with the high rates we are paying now we still aren't even close to paying the true cost of electricity. If we were to pay the true cost (including environmental costs, health issues from pollution costs, etc.) of electricity, our bills would likely be double or triple what we're paying in Ontario today.

So ideologically I know that we should be paying much, much more for things like electricity or fuel for our cars, but practically, I know that we simply can't afford it. It is a harsh reality to accept that if we use electricity, we are living beyond our means, but if we can't afford the true cost but use it anyway, that is in fact what we are doing.

It's a heck of a conundrum we've gotten ourselves into. Electricity is such a marvellous thing, it's one of the most important creations of mankind, but as it has turned out, it's darned expensive.

What comes out of our wallets is one thing, but the high electricity rates we in Ontario now pay has hurt in other areas. Some businesses have found Ontario's hydro costs to be too much and have left, or are planning to leave for greener pastures where electricity can cost half what it does here – my practical mind can't blame them.

I think that the biggest mistake Ontario has made isn't that they invested heavily in alternative energy – we absolutely needed to head in that direction – but Ontario has largely travelled the road to sustainable energy on its own unique path, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there is a world outside Ontario. Ontario moved quickly and heavily into the alternative energy business, and while ideologically much of what we've done here in Ontario is admirable (and admittedly, some of the energy sector 'deals' this province put together were simply idiotic), we've outpaced the rest of the continent, and as a result have out-priced ourselves for residents and businesses alike.

If you have five restaurants on a street, all charging $10 for steak and eggs, and one restaurant decides that they're going to invest heavily and quickly in new leading-edge equipment and renovations while the other four either make no changes or they update more slowly, that one restaurant shouldn't be surprised if their customers can't afford the $17 steak and eggs so they go elsewhere.

The trouble is, unlike in the competitive world of small business, residential and most business customers of Hydro One can't simply move to Arizona for cheap electricity – we can't escape the now-crippling for many cost of electricity here, yet ideologically, we've done many of the right things.

I'm not sure what the province can even do at this point aside from some minor fee reductions, or a reworking of the time-of-use policy, particularly for residential customers. In many ways, we've made our bed.

What we really need to do, what we've needed to do for decades, is to conserve energy, but Ontario screwed that up too, because people were beginning to jump on the conservation bandwagon by doing more than changing to more efficient light bulbs (the least of our energy gobbling problems). Many in Ontario were jumping on the bandwagon to install more efficient appliances in their homes, to upgrade their heating systems, and then those same people were slapped in the face with hydro rate increases that outpaced their conservation efforts, souring many on even the idea of clean or efficient energy. The reward for conservation in this province was skyrocketing hydro bills.

That said, in order to keep my own hydro bill affordable in the winter months with my electric baseboard 'window-warmers' I need to keep the temperature in my home down around 14-15 degrees Celsius from December through March (11 – 12 in the bedroom and bathroom). I'm all for wearing touques indoors, and for doubling up on wool socks, but at times that feels less like conservation, and more liketorture, and there's little comfort in knowing that there are many in this province much worse off than me. That doesn't make me feel fortunate, that makes me furious.


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