By Tom Collins
Farmers across Western Ontario are expressing frustration with the high price of electricity as some report paying Hydro One bills that have doubled from only a few years ago.
Many farmers say they are discouraged with pretty much every detail on their monthly bill despite taking steps to use less electricity.
Brady Yauch, executive director and economist with the Consumer Policy Institute, said that Hydro One’s prices increased by 68 per cent over the last nine years. Ontario hydro prices are the highest in North America and Hydro One customers pay about three times the price of Manitoba users for the same amount of energy.
Much of the blame for high bills is the Green Energy Act. Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released a damning report last December that said from 2009 to 2014, Ontario lost $3.1 billion exporting power that cost more to make than buyers pay.
The 20-year guaranteed price contracts signed under the Green Energy Act are double the world market price for wind and three-and-a-half times higher for solar, with electricity consumers paying $9.2-billion more than they would have under the competitively-priced program in place prior to 2009, said the report.
Here is how it’s affecting Ontario farmers.
Farm: Dairy farm with an on-farm processing plant, Creemore, Simcoe County
Average 2014 monthly bill: $3,000
Average 2016 monthly bill: $4,000
What plans do you have to reduce your bill? “I’m thinking of installing rechargeable batteries (that charge during low-peak hours and use them during high-peak times). I could trim $500 off my hydro bill. We have to start thinking creatively on how to control our hydro bill instead of just complaining about getting a better price.
Farm: Cash crop, Staffa, Perth County
Average 2013 monthly bill (when not drying corn): $500
Average 2016 monthly bill (when not drying corn): $1,000
How concerned are you about the price of hydro? “It’s become a significant factor in our operation where we look at drying corn with aeration fans and electric motors and how much that costs, and how it influences cost per acre on the farm.”
What are you doing to keep costs down? “We did some more energy efficient lights in our trough. We have geothermal heating. When we get into a situation like now where we’re drying corn, we don’t have a choice. It runs 24 hours. We have to incur the costs.”
How big an issue is this for farmers? “It’s pretty big. Prices have gone down in a lot of commodities. Everyone is looking at areas where they can save some money. A lot of us don’t have any choice. We have to use power on the farm.”
Farm: Beef farm at Jasper, Leeds County
July, 2016 hydro bill to pump water to the barn: $211.32
Charge for power: $2.88
Delivery charge: $184
How do you feel about getting a bill like that? “There’s really nothing that you can do. You’re going to go, ‘Oh my God’, and then you’re going to pay it.”
What are you doing to keep costs down? “I’ve tried going with solar power to pump water. That’s not very reliable.”
Are electricity costs an issue for farmers? “It’s a huge input cost for them. It is an issue that they know they can’t do anything about. At the end of the day, you need power. Yes, you’re going to bitch and complain at the coffee shop, you’re going to complain to your neighbours about your hydro bills, but you’re going to pay it.”
Farm: Turkey and other game meat, at Plympton-Wyoming, Lambton County
Average 2014 monthly bill: $2,300
Average 2016 monthly bill : $3,000
Are you concerned about hydro prices? “Who isn’t? When we’re at our busiest time of year (in summer), we’re $100 a day in hydro. That’s a lot of money that we’re shelling out. We could be running it at half that if we switched over to using our diesel generator on peak hours. But it’s really hard. You don’t want to keep burning fossil fuels. It really sucks the government has to put us in this situation. It’s something that we don’t want to do, but something that we might absolutely be forced to do.”
What are you doing to keep costs down? “We turn off lights, we use LED or fluorescent (lights). When we were building our hatchery, we looked at our best options for reducing hydro and energy costs. It’s really sad when you think, ‘I could let those heat lamps run all night and it’s going to cost me x amount of dollars. Or I could shut them off and take the risk of having it get a little too cold in here and lose a few chicks.’”
Farm: 150 acres cash crop, Cobden, Renfrew County
Total 2014 electricity bill: $2,300
Total 2016 bill from January to September: $6,400
Have you done anything differently? “We haven’t changed anything. We haven’t added anything. We don’t have any more buildings. We’re using the same power.”
What’s your biggest issue? “Hydro rates are going up but I get more frustrated with the estimation. They seem to estimate all the time instead of using the actual (usage). They’re estimating very low all the time, and then we get an actual bill and it’s obscene.”
Are you concerned about the price of hydro? “Very concerned. It’s going to get scary.”
Farm: Dairy milking 100 cows at Yarker, Lennox & Addington County
Total 2011 electricity bill: $15,000 ($1,200-$1,300 monthly average)
Total 2016 bill: $26,400 (estimate based on monthly average of $2,200)
What have you done differently to reduce bills? “Our TMR mixer is now tractor driven and obviously runs on fuel. We’ve stopped using the biggest silo and are feeding out of ag bags. That feed is put into the mixer with the tractor versus turning on an electric silo unloader. We have a heifer barn that had a manure gutter cleaner that we were running twice a day. That is no longer being used. We have renovated that barn so all the manure is cleaned out by skid steer. We’ve made quite a few changes, yet our bill has done nothing but get higher.”
Farm: Cash crop, former dairy farm in Hastings County
Average monthly 2011 hydro bill while milking 80 cows in a tie-stall barn: $600 to $800
Average monthly hydro bill in 2016 with no dairy operation: $500 to $600
Concerned about the price of hydro? “It’s just getting too high. We quit milking five years ago and our hydro bill now is the same as it was when we were milking 80 cows and we’re using a lot less hydro.”
What are you doing to keep hydro prices down? “We switched one house to wood heat and the other one was already on wood heat. We’re just burning a lot more wood and we’re selling a lot more firewood. A lot more people are buying wood instead of heating with hydro or running their oil furnaces with the electric fans.”