Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario NDP Proposal to Buy Back Hydro One 'A Knee-Jerk Reaction,' Says Expert

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario NDP Proposal to Buy Back Hydro One 'A Knee-Jerk Reaction,' Says Expert

Article excerpt

NDP Hydro plan criticized from all sides


Andrea Horwath's surging support in the latest polls is bringing scrutiny to her New Democrats' election promises, including a pledge to re-nationalize Hydro One, the province's giant utility partially privatized by the governing Liberals to raise money for infrastructure projects.

The Ontario NDP leader has said the move would help cut electricity bills, which have more than doubled in the past decade.

But some experts say moving the utility into the public sector's hands could be costly and it wouldn't automatically reduce electricity rates by a significant amount.

"This seems more like a knee-jerk reaction to something that a lot of people didn't like when it happened," said Warren Mabee, director of the Queen's University Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy.

The benefit of regaining complete ownership of Hydro One is not as simple as putting the privatization genie back in the bottle, he said.

Under Horwath's plan, an NDP government would buy back 313 million publicly traded shares of Hydro One not held by the government for between $3.3 billion and $4.4 billion using the annual dividend of less than $300 million.

Experts say the party could be underestimating the real cost by several billions given the shares' current trading price of about $19.50 and a possible 30 per cent takeover premium shareholders would likely expect.

For decades, the utility formerly known as Ontario Hydro, was publicly owned until Conservative and Liberal governments took steps towards privatization.

Returning to public ownership doesn't make sense amid a paradigm shift that has seen power generation become more local and consumers increasingly use rooftop solar and other means to generate more of their electricity needs, said Mabee.

"I think that trying to put back together those old big, basically government-controlled entities and expecting them to provide innovative new solutions when the landscape is changing so dramatically is probably not the right way forward," he said.

"I'm not saying that they're wrong to do this but I don't understand their broader strategy and how this ultimately is going to deliver value back to the taxpayers above and beyond what we're already getting because we still own a chunk of it."

Hydro One was partially privatized in November 2015, and by December 2017, the province had sold off 53 per cent of its stake. …

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