PUC and the Electric Mafia: The Price of Power

27

So, it’s the weekend. You’ve worked hard all week, and for the most part, managed to behave yourself. It’s time for a reward, a break from cooking, a moment of indulgence. You call up your favourite pizza shop, to discover that they have a special on, an extra-large pie with 4 toppings, and a 2L Pepsi, for just $19.99, plus $4 for delivery! You’re all over it!

Somehow, you manage not to perish for 45 minutes, and the doorbell rings – it’s the pizza man! The dog is yapping, the children scurrying to the door. You grab your wallet.

“Hi, how much is the total?” You ask, contemplating a modest tip.

“That will be $32.75, not including tip, ma’am,” he tells you, with a blank expression.

“There must be some kind of mistake. I ordered the $19.99 special. With delivery, that should be around $25 with taxes. Can I see the receipt?”

“Sure”.

He hands you a slip of paper, which reads:

$19.99 – pizza special

$4.00 – delivery charge

$1.20 – syndicate fee

$0.75 – service call

$0.80 – debt retirement

$0.50 – vehicle depreciation

$0.65 – environmental fee

$1.09 – fuel surcharge

$3.77 – HST

———————————

Total – $32.75

“Syndicate fee? What the hell is that?” You ask, starting to lose your cool.

“That’s the governing body that oversees the pizza industry, making sure supplies of ingredients are available, and monitoring the industry as a whole. All pizza shops in Ontario now belong to the syndicate.”

“And all these other charges? What are they for?”

“Well, the service call is for the dispatcher service we have. The debt retirement is to pay off a loan my boss took out on a new pizza oven, the vehicle depreciation is to compensate me for using my own car, the environmental fee is for the cardboard box the pizza came in, and the fuel surcharge is to cover my gas costs.”

“I see,” you reply, now seething. “So, $3.77 HST on a twenty dollar pizza?”

“Oh, the taxes get applied to the final total. Got to pay the taxes on everything, you know!”

You begrudgingly hand over the total, minus tip. “This must be some special kind of pizza for that price. Let’s have a look.”

So, you open the box, to find a piece of pizza missing.

“What the hell is this?” You ask.

“Oh yes, some of the product is lost in transit to your home. Nothing to worry about. That is a standard practice in this industry. You have a nice day, ma’am!”

*****

If this was the kind of experience you had when ordering a pizza, would you continue to do it? Would you contemplate making your own at home? Switching to Chinese food? Doing without? Would you grab a pitchfork and a torch, and go rioting into the streets, demanding justice? Or would you just quietly carry on, and resolve yourself to the notion that this is the way the world is now, and you just have to deal with it?

Now, to the good part, and the real reason for this column. This isn’t a story about pizza, or a horrifying possible future for those afflicted with a hankering for cheesy baked dough. This is about you, right now. This is about something that is happening to you right now, has been happening for a while, and will continue to happen, unless we collectively do something to stop it.

Rifle through your pile of bills, your box of bills, your drawer full of bills. We all have one of those. Take out your last PUC bill. Now have a good look at your electricity portion. No, really… HAVE A GOOD LOOK AT IT!

I’m going to assume that you’re an intelligent person. So, I’m not going to belabour all the fine details. If you follow along with the pizza scenario above, you’ll get the idea. What do you see?

As for me, I see me getting charged $27, to deliver $61 of electricity to my house. I see me paying $4 and change to the IESO, (aka the ‘syndicate’ in the pizza story). I see me paying a buck and a half to retire some debt I never incurred. And I see me paying HST for all those privileges of paying everyone else! But hey, there is a %10 discount on my bill, for a ‘clean energy benefit’. I should be cheering, I guess!

But the part that really, really bothers me, is the water portion of my bill. I used less than $3 worth of water last month, 5 cubic metres worth. My total bill for water last month? More than $53!

How is that possible, you may ask? Well, take my $3 worth of water, $24.05 for a ‘basic service charge’, add that up, and then double it! The City is charging me $27 for ‘sewer charges’, to get rid of $3 worth of water!

It’s a bloody good thing the PUC isn’t in the pizza business, or they would have gone under a long time ago. If you knock off the delivery charge for electricity, and the sewer charge the City adds onto the water portion, my bill last month would total less than $100. But as it stands, my modest consumption of less than 700 total KW of power, and a mere 5 cubic metres of water means I get to pay roughly $150, just to have lights and the ability to bathe myself!

But if you go to the PUC website, and look at their ‘water rates’ and ‘electricity rates’ pages, you will see some very nifty propaganda, where they show you how lucky you are to be in the Sault, when compared with places like Sudbury and Thunder Bay. They are getting screwed worse than us, so we should feel fortunate about our fate!

So, let me get this straight. The power companies look upon all of us middle-class working stiffs throughout Ontario as just a huge herd of wildebeests, and they are the lions? Those of us in the Sault should feel fortunate, because we aren’t getting mauled by the lions nearly as bad as those poor devils in Sudbury and Thunder Bay? We should just stay in the middle of the herd, and try to comfort ourselves that it could always be worse? Is that what they are trying to tell us?

The fact is, the PUC is a monopoly. If you want your lights to come on in the Sault, you have to deal with them. You are not free to shop around, you have no alternatives. Individually, they might be really nice people working there, middle-class stiffs, just like you and me. But collectively, they form a machine that continues to grind at the household budgets of every home owner and property owner in the Sault. And eventually, we will have to oppose them collectively, if we want to prevent real hardship from occurring.

People grumbled when the PUC built themselves a new headquarters, for many millions of dollars. But, we got over it. People really grumbled when the water turned brown in the East end. But, eventually, the PUC got a handle on the problem, and the complaints have fizzled out. The water rates in town are in the middle of five consecutive years of 10% increases. By the time it is over, water will cost us 60% more than it used to.  Off-peak electricity rates in May, 2013 were $0.067/KWH. The off-peak rate in November of 2014 was $0.077/KWH. That’s a %15 increase, in a year and a half!

So, when is it going to end? What has to happen, before the bills we are obliged to pay, stop escalating? You can keep buying more efficient appliances. You can switch to energy efficient bulbs. You can install a water-miser for a shower head, but you will not win the war. The relentless march towards higher energy costs have been calculated to make sure you never see any real benefit from your efforts. You will continue to pay more for less, and they will keep trying to tell you how lucky you are. Do you feel lucky?

I suppose I should confess to you just where this latest tirade originated. It started for me a few days ago, when the Ontario government announced $120,000,000 in permanent relief on energy costs for Northern Ontario industries. On the surface, it looks like a good thing, right?  I mean, we all need jobs, things are rough in the North, nobody wants to see any of our local industry go down, hurting our neighbours and friends, right?

That’s the part that gets me so angry. I see past the politics and the headlines, and I know what this kind of announcement really means. That $120,000,000 will have to be made up somewhere else, so the energy companies can continue to profit, so that infrastructure can be invested in, so that we can continue to bankroll the IESO to sell a huge chunk of our excess power to Michigan.

So, who is going to be left holding the hot potato when the music stops?

Why, regular schmucks like you and me, frantically changing out light bulbs in an effort to keep our PUC bills under control – that’s who!

The most shocking aspect of all of this, is the fact that you and I, own the PUC. You heard me right! The City of Sault Ste. Marie owns a majority interest in the PUC. We own the City, we are the City. So, everything that is happening here, these escalating bills we are all trying to contend with, are things we are doing to ourselves. We elect the City Council, they sit on the boards that control the functions of the City, and they vote for the relentless raises in energy costs we are facing. We are doing it to ourselves!

So, when is it going to stop? Do we let things get bad enough that the working poor and those on fixed incomes get squeezed out, to the point where their power gets cut off? We can look at examples of this, in places like Detroit. There is even a documentary on Netflix about it – you should check it out! And just recently, a family of eight perished in a home in Maryland, likely due to carbon monoxide poisoning, because they were running a gas generator inside their home.

Maybe, just maybe, we should start having these conversations now. Maybe we should start pressuring our local leaders in a real way to do something about this. Maybe we should disregard our herd mentality, and stop comparing ourselves to places like Sudbury and Thunder Bay. Maybe we should be the leaders for once, the pioneers, the brave souls who finally stem the tide, and restore sanity to a monopoly that never ceases in its forward march. Maybe, just maybe…

Wow, why so serious? I suppose I should end off on a positive note! You will be pleasantly surprised to find out you only have a few more months to kick in for the debt retirement charge on your PUC bill! The Ontario government is set to remove that from our bills in January of 2016! Oh happy day!

Oh no. Remember that 10% clean energy discount I got on my last bill? Well, the government plans to drop that, along with the debt retirement charge. The net effect this will have on your PUC bill? It will go up, instead of down – you are going to get to pay even more, come January, you lucky devil!

So, you mad yet?

owl_feather

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