Tuesday, November 23, 2010



The line is that figures lie and liars figure. Let's change that to Hydro lies and Hydro figures.
The public fury at Ontario Hydro bills is real and justified. There are just too many horror stories. And I will tell you one of them, and throw in another for dessert.
They're not as huge as some of the bills I've heard of. But I can authenticate every detail. It leads me to believe that we need an electric ombudsman until we can wade out of this mess, ignoring all the Hydro hype about all these smart meters and great hours to do the wash because the costs keep rising no matter what we do.
Or we should start legal action in small claim courts.
Because math teachers will testify that I am challenged arithmetically (I needed 12 courses to qualify for university) I keep every bill. And when my math seems dubious, I ask one of my three sons to double check, and if they grumble, I point out who financed their five degrees.
So I say confidently that Hydro has stolen from me on at least two of my three accounts.
I am not mollified about this promise by the sinking McGuinty Government to give us a 10% discount for five years on Hydro bills, not when those bills are supposed to rise almost 50% during the same period because of decades of stupidity, overspending, failed projects and flatulent management of the provincial utility.
Besides, since we own Hydro, this is just robbing from us to pay us, with the middle men of Hydro living obese lives. I had a secretary who had worked at Hydro. When I said no to some office equipment, she said that at Hydro she got anything she wanted. And so did everyone, from the army of PR guys with their fat expense accounts to the men who designed the huge generation projects that always cost two or three times more than estimated.

I have two meters at the cottage because my bunkie used to be a separate property. To eliminate that meter and link to the main cottage is hardly easy because the estimates and bureaucracy, from red tape to the waiting, multiplies a simple project into a costly one.
For years, my cottage neighbours and me have howled more about our Hydro bills than a wolf pack at a full moon. And it just got worse.
Last year, I paid $209.72 for service to the bunkie. Much of that was monthly charges of around $15 even when the electricity had been off for months. Just how much did I use? Well, Hydro says it was 610 kWh, of which 560 came in one monthly blow. As a result, I got a form letter saying that because I had used more than 500 kWh in 2009, I had exceeded the limit for the lowest system of billing for "secondary service" and would no longer be exempt from a monthly service charge. (So what were the monthly charges I was paying even though the bunkie was closed?)
The damning thing about Hydro's calculation is that it indicated I was consuming power at a rate two to three times what I had in previous years. Seems suspicious!

This year I have paid $199.38 for electricity for the few times that the bunkie was used. Oh yes, the consumption, according to Hydro, was 97 kWh for the year.
Gee, I said to a Hydro guy on the phone, doesn't that seem strange to you? Last year you claim that my consumption was six times higher, and that consumption also was several times higher than previous years.
So I go back to the lowest rate, I asked? Nope, he said, we don't know whether we're doing that any more. The way he talked, I asked if they still intended to provide any service. Oh yes, he said. Which, I guess, is a relief.
A friend who has a year-round cottage/home at Stoney Lake said he phoned Hydro about a huge bill, much larger than mine, and was told that it might be a neighbour running an extension cord into their property when they weren't around.
"But I live on top of a cliff," he said.
I feel like pushing our electric bureaucrats off a cliff.
The charges for the main cottage also are baffling, and I have suspicious thoughts about its fancy new meter that arrived early in the year. (The billing for the bunkie ignores the arrival of its new meter.) The main cottage last year used only a mystifying low of 327 kWh. Yet the annual charges were $736.68. This year the consumption was said for the summer period to be an incredible 2,202 kWh, with total consumption for the year at 2,719. The charges so far are $976.24 but I'm sure there will an ugly Christmas gift of another bill even though no electricity has been used since October.
So let me give you the executive summary, particularly for Hydro officials who are easily confused. There were no major changes in use for the two years. But last year Hydro claims I used more power in the bunkie than the main cottage. This year, it claims, I used eight times the power in the main cottage that I used last year.
Something's screwy in Cottage Country, and it's Hydro that is turning the screw into us. And it's not just in Cottage Country. In Toronto, I have paid $1,300 for electricity in 2009 and the same this year and I'm away more than I'm at home. I must see if the neighbours are sneaking in extension cords.
When I was a kid reporter, you knew you had arrived when you were invited to the big two media Christmas parties, one thrown by the vanished Eaton's empire and one by Hydro. Hydro wasn't exactly popular. One year each of us got an electric warming tray in addition to the Hydro banquet and flowing bar. Yet many overly-refreshed scribblers still threw buns at the Hydro chairman, W.E.P Duncan.
Next year there were no buns so they sailed slices of bread like frisbees. Hydro gave each of us a frozen turkey. One police beat reporter was stopped by a cop on the way home, got exasperated at the questioning, and erratically hit the cop over the head with the turkey. A deputy chief warned that some day he was going to do something really bad and would be charged.
Obviously 40 years ago we should have been throwing more questions than buns and bread at Hydro chairmen. I just hope we don't keep paying for Hydro's huge accumulated debt for the next 40 years.

On the last day of 2010, I received three Hydro bills for a total of $600. The bill for the bunkie said I had used only seven kWh after the meters were read on Sept. 8. The charge was $74.24. I guess it would have been cheaper to use batteries to light the place. The charge for the main cottage was $195.41, and I wasn't there nearly three months of the time.

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