A survey conducted at the behest of the auditor general suggests nearly all Ontarians who heat their home using natural gas want to see the costs of cap and trade clearly displayed on their bills – and so does the auditor herself.
The Liberal government’s plan to have companies buy and sell pollution credits to reduce Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions is expected to add about $5 a month to home heating costs, but those increases will be buried in the “delivery” line on natural gas bills.
The Ontario Energy Board announced this summer that cost impacts of cap and trade, which comes into effect Jan. 1, will not appear as a separate line item on consumers’ bills for natural gas, which is used to heat most homes in the province.
Ontario’s auditor general commissioned a survey of natural gas ratepayers and it found that 89 per cent of respondents “thought it important to disclose the impact of cap and trade on natural gas bills,” according to the auditor’s recent annual report.
Deep within Bonnie Lysyk’s 800-page report on health services, highway contractors, climate change initiatives and more, is a reference to the survey and an urging from the auditor that the OEB change its mind.
“The Office of the Auditor General feels that more transparency is still required by disclosing the portion of charges in natural gas bills attributable to the cap-and-trade program,” she wrote in the report.
The OEB’s response to the auditor was that it will hold a hearing that will assess the “reasonableness of the cost consequences” of the natural gas distributors’ cap-and-trade compliance plans, and in the public notice for that hearing there will be a mention of the $5 monthly estimated impact on bills.
The OEB said in a statement that administering cap and trade will become a regular part of utility business.
“All of the natural gas utility business costs are within the delivery line so it just makes sense to include it there,” wrote spokesman Karen Evans. Utilities will be expected to provide consumers with ongoing information about the program, she added.
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault was not available Thursday or Friday to answer questions, but he said in an emailed statement that the decision is up to the OEB and it is an independent regulator.
“As always, the OEB makes decisions to recover necessary system costs from ratepayers and includes these recovery fees in the line items they deem most appropriate,” he wrote. “The government respects the authority of the Ontario Energy Board in this regard.”
The OEB got feedback from 80 stakeholder groups on whether to include a separate line item, and 75 of them wanted to see costs broken out on consumers’ bills, the auditor noted, including the Independent Electricity System Operator, and Enbridge and Union Gas themselves.
Both the ratepayers and the gas companies want the costs clearly spelled out on bills, but the OEB is hiding them because the Liberal government wants them do, said Progressive Conservative energy critic John Yakabuski.
“It’s political,” he said. “There’s no question it’s political. They don’t want you to know what cap and trade is costing you.”
NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said he doesn’t buy the government’s line that the OEB is independent and can’t be ordered to disclose the cap-and-trade costs.
“That’s not true, they tell them what to do all the time,” Tabuns said. “When you talk to people who work or have worked in the Ministry of Energy in the past, the OEB is not considered much bigger than a road bump when it comes to making things happen the way ministers want them to happen.”
Quebec and British Columbia include the cost of carbon pricing as a separate line item on bills.
Cap and trade is also expected to add about 4.3 cents a litre to the price of gasoline.