Ontario Energy Board putting up barriers to energy conservation

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Toronto – Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner says the province’s energy regulator is putting up barriers to increased energy conservation. This is just one of the conclusions from his recently released Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report – 2010 (Volume One), Managing a Complex Energy System.

“The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) plays a valuable role in protecting consumer interests, but this traditional regulatory function is in conflict with its expanded powers over conservation,” says Commissioner Gord Miller. He points to recent decisions by the OEB that have forced both electricity and natural gas distributors to restrict the conservation programs they offer to consumers.

One of the OEB’s key objectives is to promote energy conservation, but the Board recently told Union Gas and Enbridge Gas Distribution to curtail proposed increases in their conservation budgets and instead, freeze them at existing levels for the next three years. “The ‘low-hanging fruit’ in conservation has already been harvested,” says Miller, “but the Board won’t approve the investments that are necessary to accomplish further energy savings. The Board is ignoring the benefits that will come with reduced infrastructure costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

The progress report also says the OEB has established rules that could hinder the Conservation and Demand Management (CDM) programs offered by the province’s electricity utilities. “The Ontario Power Authority has designed province-wide conservation programs, yet it’s the electric utilities who will carry them out. The Ontario Energy Board has given utilities all of the responsibility but none of the freedom to modify or improve programs if necessary.”

Conservation is only one of the areas where the OEB has been asked to take on an expanded policy-making role. The government has also told the OEB to facilitate the adoption of the smart grid – a modernized electricity system that uses information technology to operate more efficiently. Miller believes that “one entity has to be given the responsibility for establishing the vision of an integrated electricity system, and providing the leadership for modernizing our electricity grid.” However, the Commissioner questions whether the OEB would be the appropriate choice to achieve this innovative objective, given its conflicted responsibilities.

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