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Ontario Energy Minister Won’t Order cap-and-trade Costs to Appear on Gas Bills

The average $5 carbon fee added to monthly natural gas bills in the New Year won’t be listed separately for homeowners to see, despite a new push from Ontario’s auditor general.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said Monday that an Ontario Energy Board ruling to bury the charge, which will help fund the government’s plan to fight climate change, in the delivery charge section of invoices will remain in place.

The minister said he doesn’t have the power to overrule the “quasi-judicial . . . arm’s-length” energy board.

“I am okay with the decision of the OEB,” Thibeault told reporters as opposition parties increased pressure on the government to be straight with consumers about the cost of its $8.3 billion climate change plan.

“We’ve been as transparent as we can be . . . it’s going to be about $5 on the bills,” he added of the fee, which was announced earlier this year along with an extra 4.3 cents per litre of gasoline.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report last week included a survey that found 89 per cent of respondents want the natural gas carbon fee listed separately.

“More transparency is still required,” she wrote.

Opposition leaders said that makes sense given that the government’s much-touted decision to waive the 8 per cent provincial portion of the HST on electricity will be listed separately on hydro bills.

“If it’s good enough to put the PST rebate on the bills, it seems reasonable,” said Patrick Brown of the Progressive Conservatives. To not list the cap and trade costs on gas bills “seems very inconsistent.”

The NDP’s Andrea Horwath said she’s concerned not listing the climate change fee on gas bills will leave consumers on the dark now and in future — particularly if it goes up.

“They need to start on the right foot by being very transparent.”

When the issue flared in August, the energy minister’s office said the energy board has “sole authority” over how natural gas bills are presented while the government retains “regulatory power” over electricity bills.

“I have the power to write a letter to the OEB and ask them to do studies or ask them to look into things. I really don’t have the power to overturn their decisions, because they are quasi-judicial and arm’s length,” Thibeault said Monday.

The carbon fee won’t be itemized, because it’s a “cost of doing business” as is steel for natural gas pipelines and labour to maintain them, he added.

The energy board acknowledged last summer that it also faced pressure from local utilities and natural gas users to be clear about the carbon fee.

In January, Ontario will join Quebec and California in a greenhouse-gas emissions market, putting a cap on the release of carbon gases and allowing companies to trade emission credits if they are under their limits. Hence the term “cap-and-trade.”

The plan to fight climate change includes 28 directives that include programs to help Ontarians make their homes more energy efficient and a cash-for-clunkers scheme to provide an incentive to low- and moderate-income drivers to take older cars off the road.

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