Electricity costs frustrate business

By Angelica Ingram

There was electricity in the air and on people’s minds at a roundtable discussion on staying competitive in today’s electricity market that drew approximately 20 area business leaders.

Hosted by Chambers of Commerce from Haliburton Coboconk and Bancroft the event was held on Nov. 17 at Pinestone Resort and featured two guest speakers representing the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Independent Electricity System Operator.

It was clear early on that attendees were at the meeting to find out more about the rising cost of electricity something that is hampering many local businesses and forcing owners to consider layoffs in order to keep their doors open.
Vice-president of policy and government relations for the OCC Karl Baldauf said the Ontario chamber has brought forth electricity as the No. 1 issue amongst its membership and therefore has created a report for the provincial government.
“What has come of this paper is a dialogue with government” he said.
Baldauf said he wanted a better understanding of how electricity prices were affecting the businesses of those in the room which reflected similar sentiments the vice-president was hearing across the province.
“Businesses are telling us that the high price of electricity is undermining their capacity to grow” said Baldauf.
The issue was first raised following a survey the OCC conducted in 2014 which reported that 38 per cent of businesses in the province will see their bottom line shrink as a result of rising electricity rates.
Baldauf suggested a number of recommendations that can be done by the government in the short term including increasing the transparency of electricity pricing and system cost drivers keeping the debt retirement charge on residential bills until it has been retired and incentivizing voluntary consolidation of local distribution companies.

Representing the IESO Sean Brady brought up a number of conservation programs that local businesses can take part in including retrofit programs and switching to LED lighting.
The suggestions did not sit well with some of those in attendance whose frustrations with the government were bubbling to the surface.

Leora Berman of The Land Between questioned the current role of the Ontario Energy Board and the province’s overall efficiency.
“It’s fair to say we have more energy bureaucracy compared to other provinces” said Baldauf.

Haliburton chamber board member and publisher of the Highlander newspaper Bram Lebo said the issue isn’t about engagement with stakeholders but comes down to a province that has mismanaged the energy file.
“The energy doesn’t cost a lot it’s all the stuff you’re putting on top of it” said Lebo. “I don’t see any commitment from anybody to reduce those costs. You just see us as some sort of well that you can go back to forever.”

Lebo went on to say the delivery charges are a big cost for rural areas.

“Where is the provincial strategy for creating a low-cost energy environment here?” said Lebo.
One business owner from the Bancroft area raised the issue of hydro salaries being out of control.

Chamber manager Rosemarie Jung echoed the sentiments shared in the room stressing that hydro costs in the county are astronomical and soaring.
“The chamber believes it is imperative that we share our very rural perspective and I still don’t believe that we’ve shared enough of that” she said. “We can’t afford it. We’ve got businesses that are talking about laying people off … we need help … we need realistic help. Hopefully you’ve heard our rural concerns.”