Hydro One goes dark 574
Premier Wynne’s sale of 60% of the troubled provincial utility puts it behind a veil of secrecy
By Lorrie Goldstein, Toronto SunPremier Kathleen Wynne holds a media conference prior to the return of the Ontario legislature on Feb. 17, 2015. (Antonella Artuso/Toronto Sun))
Unfortunately, the public’s Hydro One problem just got a whole lot worse.
The omnibus legislation, also known as Bill 91, allows Wynne to sell 60% of Hydro One, a monopoly which controls 97% of the province’s electricity transmission system, to the private sector.
It also frees the troubled utility from scrutiny by the eight independent officers of the legislature, who represent the interests of taxpayers and hydro customers.
has six months to wind up his investigation of the last 578 complaints of the almost 11,000 he received about outrageous and incompetent billing practices by Hydro One.
These included raiding people’s bank accounts for thousands of dollars in bogus charges and refusing to give the money back.
But Marin can’t start any new investigations into the scandal he estimates affected more than 100,000 customers, who were overcharged or misled through missing or multiple bills.
Hydro One customers are now on their own, assisted at best by an internal ombudsman Marin predicts will sweep things under the rug, given Hydro One’s culture of indifference to its customers.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk reported in December that Hydro One and other utilities underestimated the $1.9 billion cost of installing 4.8 million smart meters across Ontario by $900 million, while overestimating savings by $512 million.
Now, she can’t do a follow up investigation to see if Hydro One’s performance has improved.
Lysyk can no longer investigate whether Hydro One is reining in the excessive salaries, benefits and pensions of its employees, similar to workers at Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
Hydro One and OPG have about 15,600 full-time employees.
In 2014, 12,500 of them made over $100,000 annually, up 1,000 from 2013, the year Lysyk concluded their “very generous” pay, perks and pensions were contributing to higher hydro rates.
Under Bill 91, the salaries of Hydro One workers will no longer be disclosed in the annual Sunshine List.
Nor will there be public scrutiny of the generous labour contract Wynne is reportedly giving to members of the Power Workers Union at Hydro One and OPG, to keep them onside about the Hydro One deal.
Last month, the Globe and Mail reported this three-year deal includes a 3% pay raise, a 3% lump sum payment, plus the awarding of Hydro One stock valued at 2.7% to 2.75% of the workers’ pay annually for 12 to 15 years, before a single share in Hydro One stock has been sold.
Wynne claims this deal is “net zero” — presumably meaning revenue neutral — because of changes to the workers’ pension plans.
Because Lysyk can no longer audit Hydro One, we’ll have to take her word for it.
When asked by the Toronto Star about the financially unsustainable pensions for Hydro One and OPG workers in December, 2013, to which taxpayers contribute $5 for every $1 paid by employees — as opposed to the public sector norm of $1 for $1 — Wynne said: “That’s why we need to put some more controls in place, so that government actually has more direct control over the compensation.”
Apparently Wynne’s idea of giving the government more control over Hydro One compensation, is to take away the auditor general’s ability to examine it.
Wynne said she can’t guarantee hydro rates won’t increase because of the Hydro One sale, presumably because for rates to decrease, its private sector investors will have to agree to take less than the more than $700 million annually it makes in profits.
Under previous legislation, all money raised from selling Hydro One had to go to paying down hydro’s $27 billion debt.
Through Bill 91, Wynne is diverting $4 billion of the utility’s anticipated $9 billion selling price to transportation and infrastructure projects.
Again, we’ll have to take her word for it, because the auditor general no longer has access to Hydro One’s books.
Under Bill 91, lobbyists no longer have to register to lobby Hydro One.
The Integrity Commissioner can’t review expense claims of Hydro One employees.
The Financial Accountability Officer can’t examine the impact of Hydro One operations on consumers and the economy.
The Information and Privacy Commissioner no longer oversees the right of access to Hydro One records.
Welcome to Wynne’s idea of open, honest and accountable government.