Report cautions against radical change

TORONTO, ONTARIO - A long-awaited report concludes it would be a mistake to make "radical" moves to streamline what critics call an "alphabet soup" of seven agencies that run Ontario's electricity system, the Star has learned.

The report, prepared by former Molson Inc. chief executive James Arnett, found any major steps to meld the seven agencies – including Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) – into a smaller number could undermine efforts to keep the lights on in Ontario.

"It's not a radical document," said a source familiar with the report.

Energy Minister Gerry Phillips received the report a few weeks ago.

"By and large people in the field cautioned against anything substantial happening," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "To start shaking up the agencies right now.

.. we need to keep our eye on the ball."

The province is working to find alternative energy sources to replace coal-fired power plants slated to be closed in 2014, and the Liberal government hopes to have new nuclear plants on line by 2018. In the interim, more renewable power sources are planned along with gas-fired plants and conservation efforts as demand for electricity increases.

At the same time, industries like forestry – hard-hit by the soaring loonie – are complaining electricity prices are too high.

Former energy minister Dwight Duncan, now finance minister, ordered the review last January. He asked Arnett to search for any areas of overlap and duplication that could be rooted out to save costs for electricity ratepayers.

Expenses at the agencies have grown much faster than their revenues in the last few years.

The agencies grew out of the old Ontario Hydro, disbanded in 1998 by Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris in preparation for deregulation and privatization of the hydro system.

The agencies are:

OPG: Owns the former Ontario Hydro nuclear plants at Pickering and Darlington and operates hydroelectricity plants at Niagara Falls along with coal-fired power plants at Nanticoke and Lambton, among others. The Crown-owned company produces most of Ontario's electricity.

Hydro One: In charge of electricity transmission lines.

OPA: Plans new electricity supply and arranging contracts with companies that generate it.

Conservation Bureau: A partially independent branch of the power authority mandated to boost energy conservation programs.

Independent Electricity System Operator: Manages the power system on a day-to-day basis. Makes sure there is enough electricity to meet demand by co-ordinating efforts of various power producers.

Ontario Energy Board: Regulates electricity rates.

Ontario Electricity Financial Corp.: Manages the massive, multi-billion-dollar "stranded debt" left by the old Ontario Hydro.

Arnett was also asked to review hefty paycheques for hydro agency bosses after a $3 million severance package was given to former Hydro One executive Tom Parkinson, who quit his $1.6 million-a-year job amid controversy a year ago.

That part of Arnett's report was delivered last June, recommending that pay of new hydro executives in Ontario be cut by about 30 per cent.



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