Ian Harvey principal curator
When I first checked into grants and interest free loans for energy efficiency upgrades to my home I was excited. Then I ran into the wall of obfuscation. So I wrote about it, here.
Over the 42 years I’ve owned this house in south Scarborough, the only house I’ve ever owned, I’ve replaced windows, a natural gas furnace twice, central air conditioning twice, added insulation, installed a more efficient electric induction stove and done incremental things to ensure my energy consumption doesn’t over run my monthly budget.
Unfortunately, there was little short term payback from all those investments because energy prices kept going up. It was like a whack a mole game.
Blame the Green Energy Act for Toronto Hydro’s increases and external factors for my natural gas bill. In both cases it’s not just the price of the energy itself which has soared, but also the attendant costs of just being a customer, having energy delivered to my door, carbon tax and HST.
I’d always been intrigued by solar. It was almost free money, right?
Not really. By the time you pay for solar panels, an inverter and installation you’re really no further ahead. I checked into solar panels a few years ago and found those companies weren’t really selling you solar, they were selling financing.
Money, Money, Money
All this hinged on the silly Green Energy Act Feed In Tariff rate of a ridiculous 80 cents a kilowatt hour. It ran from 2009 to 2016 offering 20 year contracts paying 80.2 cents kWh for residential solar rooftop projects 10 kW or smaller. Clearly that meant they were buying electricity at about 10 times less than it cost to generate at the time. It’s still ridiculous at today’s top rate of 15 cents per kwh. I’m a buy low, sell high kinda guy so I wasn’t for me.
The FIT was cancelled because it was a flop, though all kinds of people made out like bandits thanks to the Ontario taxpayer.
The current regime is Net Metering. That is, for every kwh hour your panels produce, your hydro supplier credits you back one kwh. Unfortunately, over the year, it’s unlikely to zero out your hydro bill because those panels don’t produce much power in the dark or the overcast days of November and December, are often snow and ice covered in winter or coated with road grime, pollen and pollution in the spring and summer.
All this reduces the efficiency of the panels as does time itself.
Taking A New Look At Solar Schemes
I shelved the idea of solar until last summer when I saw the ads all over Facebook and decided to check it out for myself. I didn’t start off with the idea this would be a story for publication, though that’s what I do for a living as a freelance writer.
I’m not out to virtue signal that I’m saving the planet here. I just want the numbers to add up. So, over next three months I kept digging until I calculated it wasn’t such a great deal and wrote about my experience, having realized there was indeed a story in all this.
They key thing for me in pursing this story wasn’t the hard sell from the solar sellers, it was the stonewalling when I went to Natural Resources Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing and especially, Toronto Hydro.
CMHC took a month to even respond while Natural Resources took a couple of weeks and Toronto Hydro just flat out ignored me. They wouldn’t even come to the phone to discuss their net metering program.
My questions were simple. How many homes are on Net Metering, what are the average size of their solar systems, what postal codes are they located in and on average how much power do they generate annually against their consumption.
Basic stuff. I think taxpayers deserve to know all the facts around solar rooftop and that includes their economic efficiency as much as their power efficiencies.
Toronto Hydro refused point blank to discuss it. They wouldn’t return calls and instead just blew me off in emails.
Noting gets a reporter like me into a snarl faster than being blown off for asking basic questions.
So I filed a Freedom of Information request in December. In January they got back to me saying they needed until April 2023 to gather all that data. That really raised red flags.
It would seem to me that an organization like Toronto Hydro runs on data. And it seems incomprehensible they wouldn’t be tracking Net Metering on a daily basis using a dashboard approach. That they aren’t is sheer incompetence.
Toronto Hydro is owned by the City of Toronto. Their executives make monster salaries and they want to keep us in the dark?
Crunching The Numbers
I’m betting they’ll get back to me and demand thousands of dollars to compile the report, which is an organization’s playbook when they don’t want to release something: Deny, delay and then come up with a stupid amount of cash demands, claiming they have to devote resources to report something they should have had at their fingertips to start with.
As for solar panels. I wasn’t prepared take on a loan for 10 years that would take 15 or 20 years to pay off. But you do you. Just don’t get burned because there’s no standard out there as I noted in the original piece. No Energuide, no way of knowing if the system being sold to you is too big, too small, right priced or over priced.
Who Wins Here?
Then look at the big picture. First, there’s no benefit to Toronto Hydro in the Net Metering program. They incur costs to administrate it and they lose revenue too boot.
As for the feds who dish out most of the “free” money, they have a proven track record of incompetency with passport renewals, airline regulation, CERB administration and immigration. While the demand for those interest free loans and grants doesn’t appear overwhelming, I have to wonder if we’ll start to see audits uncover examples of mismanagement, misallocation and fraud since there appear to be few checks and balances on the program.
But hey, it’s free money, or rather tax payers money, right. Who cares?