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Survey Shows Cost Factors As Most Significant Issue

Cost was the most commonly mentioned response as the single most important issue involving electricity and natural gas in Ontario, according to a report by Environics Research Group Ltd.

"Cost was the most common response mentioned, top-of-mind, as the single most important issue involving electricity and natural gas in Ontario," said the report, which drew conclusions based upon focus sessions conducted in Toronto, Hamilton and Sault St. Marie.

"Moreover, it was the most often mentioned issue in almost all sessions, except among younger participants in Hamilton (only a few cited cost )," the Environics report said.

Environics was retained by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to conduct focus group research among the public and consumers about electricity and gas issues as well as awareness about the regulator and its mandate.

The primary objectives of this research were to understand:

  • awareness and attitudes of energy issues, including pricing;
  • conservation behaviour and awareness of smart meters;
  • knowledge of retailers, marketers and energy contracts;
  • awareness of the OEB and its mandate;
  • assessment of OEB publications;
  • awareness and approval of a long-term plan to support the electricity infrastructure;
  • preferred information sources; and,
  • topics of interest.

The focus session research consisted of six sessions: two each in Toronto, Hamilton and Sault Ste. Marie.

Both sessions in each city consisted of adults who are solely or jointly responsible for paying the household bill for electricity or gas.

One session in each city included adults aged 18 to 39, while the other included those 40 and older.

According to Environics, consumption was the most often mentioned issue among younger participants in Hamilton, but was also cited by some older groupings in Toronto and Hamilton as well as one participant in the other sessions.

Renewable sources of energy were mentioned by a few younger participants in Sault Ste. Marie and one participant in nearly all the other sessions, except that involving younger participants in Hamilton.

Long-term supply or sustainability was cited by one younger and one older participant in Toronto and one younger participant in Sault Ste. Marie.

Environics found a small number of participants said they knew what rate they were paying for electricity, with prices cited ranging between four and 30 cents per kilowatt hour.

A small number of participants said they knew what they were paying for gas, citing prices ranging between 26 and to 32 cents per cubic metre.

Environics found a range of responses was given as to how electricity prices are determined.

"Supply and demand" were most often mentioned, particularly by older participants in Toronto, while "market value, profit margin and time of use," were also cited, but the latter only in Toronto sessions, particularly among older participants.

Participants also said prices were based upon these factors:

  • "weather or climate;
  • "area that you live in;
  • "labour costs;
  • "set by government;
  • "set by utility to cover its costs; and
  • "set by utility commission."

Environics said a range of responses was given as factors that go into setting the prices they pay for generating electricity, including:

  • "consumption;
  • "the price set by the stock market;
  • "the value of the dollar;
  • "climate;
  • "cost to produce it;
  • "time of consumption;
  • "employee wages;
  • "getting it from the (United) States; and
  • "supply and demand."

Environics reported that participants expressed somewhat high awareness in a few areas, such as if they had heard of an electricity smart meter, with several able to describe what it was or what it could do for them.

Participants expressed mixed or low awareness in a few areas, most notably:

  • a minority was aware of what their options were for buying electricity or gas;
  • a minority were aware of their rights when signing contracts with electricity retailers or gas marketers, with the most common response being that they had the right to cancel the contract within a certain period of time; and,
  • a minority knew the difference between obtaining energy from a local utility and an electricity retailer or gas marketer.

Environics found "very low awareness" for:

  • the rate currently being paid for electricity or gas;
  • what the OEB actually was or what it did, although many recognized the name;
  • only a small number knew anything about the Integrated Power System Plan for Ontario, with most of those citing shutting down coal-fired plants and building new nuclear power facilities as specific issues.
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