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After being hailed as heroes, Toronto Hydro workers could strike in February

(Image: Toronto Hydro)

(Image: Toronto Hydro)

Just weeks after becoming electricity-restoring heroes during December’s ice storm, Toronto Hydro workers appear ready to test the public’s goodwill. On Thursday, CityNews reports, the utility’s workers voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike, apparently as a result of a dispute with management over benefits and working conditions. Negotiations between the two sides are ongoing, but a work stoppage could happen in February if there’s no agreement before then.

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Rob Granatstein: Toronto hydro rates are skyrocketing and politics are to blame

Toronto has a dearth of power plants and an aging grid. By the end of 2013, we’ll have the highest hydro rates on the continent. And the reasons are purely political

Power Failure

(Photographs: City of Mississauga, Getstock, Reuters)

Toronto is on the verge of a major energy crisis. With our limited supply and decrepit distribution system, we’re more vulnerable to outages than any other large urban centre in North America—especially during peak summer periods. The problem is most acute in the booming southwest GTA, where electricity demand has doubled in recent years, while the area’s power generation has been cut in half.

Keeping the lights on isn’t the only problem. Ontario’s power plan has been bungled so badly that by the end of next year, we’ll have some of the highest electricity rates on the continent. By 2010, the price of hydro had already doubled under Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, and it was expected to go up another 46 per cent by 2015, largely thanks to the government’s green energy plan. Given the inextricable link between electricity prices and economic performance, and the fact that the province is already struggling with an enormous debt load, the projected increase is perilous.

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Features

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The last place to get a nice-sized home on a quiet, leafy street for less than $150,000 in the GTA—Twin Pines trailer park

Going Mobile

On a bright morning in August, Judi Lloyd drove through Twin Pines with the air of a visiting dignitary. The preternaturally cheerful 57-year-old real estate broker was on her way to list a home. The Mississauga trailer park is located just off Dundas, one of the city’s main arteries. Like all of Lloyd’s visits to the park, the trip quickly turned into a mixture of socializing and networking as she waved to and chatted with residents from the driver’s seat of her black Ford Escape. She gestured at the mobiles we passed, noting the histories and special features of each. “You wouldn’t even know that’s a trailer,” she said, pointing at a 48-by-24-foot mobile on a spacious, pie-shaped lot. “If someone dropped you in there and you didn’t see the outside, I swear you’d think it was a little bungalow.”

Bob Barclay and Ena Barclay, paid $8,000 for their mobile home 45 years ago

1| Bob and Ena Barclay, paid $8,000 for their mobile home 45 years ago

Stephen Plume, paid $125,900 for his mobile home in 2007

2| Stephen Plume, paid $125,900 for his mobile home in 2007

Debi Little, paid $105,000 for her mobile home in 2011

3| Debi Little, paid $105,000 for her mobile home in 2011

Patrick Rostant, paid $140,000 for his mobile home in 2009

4| Patrick Rostant, paid $140,000 for his mobile home in 2009

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Random Stuff

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Toronto Hydro’s friendly reminder with your latest bill: how not to get electrocuted

Last week, two dogs were electrocuted on a sidewalk at the corner of Queen East and Parliament streets. A police officer who tried to pick one of the animals up was also badly burned. Now, in what we’re sure is a totally unrelated campaign, Toronto Hydro is issuing a leaflet alongside this month’s bills about the dangers of contact voltage—that is, electricity on the surfaces of outdoor structures, particularly metal ones like street lights and signs. Apparently, it can cause potentially fatal electrocution to those that come in contact with charged surfaces.

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Business

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Hydro utilities raising rates to cover cost of their legal misadventure

At this rate, it will be a neck-and-neck race as to which industry gets worse reviews: Ontario’s electricity providers or telemarketers, although Torontonians have fewer options to deal with the former than they do with the latter. The Ontario Energy Board just made a decision that will allow local electrical utilities to charge consumers more in order to cover an expensive case they lost in the Supreme Court of Canada. The energy providers can now boost the interest rates on late bill payments by up to 60 per cent in order to get $18 million from consumers.

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The Informer

Features

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Gone to pot: the story behind Toronto’s $100-million marijuana economy

Vietnamese gangs recruit teams of immigrants, install elaborate hydroponic equipment in their basements, and train them to raise potent plants. When the grow ops get raided by police—and they inevitably do—it’s the lowly growers who take the fall. The sinister figures at the top continue to operate with impunity

Tam Ngoc Tran had a comfortable life in his native Vietnam. He was an electrical engineer with a decent income, enough to support his wife and three kids. But, like so many immigrants, he was seduced by the promise of a better future in Canada, and in 1989, at age 41, he moved his family to Toronto. Once here, the best job Tran could find was as a labourer with a company that made marble tabletops. His wife, Lien Thi Pham, worked double shifts in a factory. After several years, they managed to scrape together enough money and cashed in an RRSP to make a down payment on a house—a $220,000 semi at 96 Driftwood Avenue, in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood. Tran, Pham and the children, who were then 20, 15 and 10, moved in in 1997.

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Politics

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Ready for rate rage? Soon, there will be even more changes to time-of-use hydro charges

Clockwatchers: hydro meters keep of track of who uses what and when (Image: Anthony Easton)

Back when the Ontario government introduced time-of-use billing to hydro, it had two simple purposes: to reflect the higher costs of daytime power (when home and business energy use turns on expensive natural gas plants) and to try and shift consumer’s electricity use from expensive daytime power to cheaper nighttime power (when Ontario mostly runs off nuclear and hydroelectric power.)  Just one problem: it doesn’t seem to have worked. According to the CBC, the government is now looking at making the peak power rates even more expensive.

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The Informer

Politics

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Ontario Liberals announce more hydro gifts, would like us to remember them on election day

Merry elections (Smart meter: Hydro One)

That sound coming from Queen’s Park could easily be confused with a government in near-panic over hydro bills, but Dalton McGuinty would really prefer to call it something else. So welcome to the latest break Ontarians are getting on their electricity bills after last week’s 10 per cent discount: an additional two hours of off-peak power for people who are on smart meters (at this point, almost all of Toronto.) The Toronto Star reports:

But the government source said it’s hard to say how much consumers will benefit from with the evening rate drop to off-peak prices, now at 5.1 cents per kilowatt hour—almost half the peak rate of 9.9 cents and well below the mid-peak rate of 8.1 cents.

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The Informer

Politics

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Oakville’s lesson for Toronto: if you complain loud enough, Queen’s Park will cave

Brad Duguid (Image: mah.gov.on.ca)

In a desperate attempt to retain their majority principled and well thought-out plan, the Ontario government yesterday announced that, after much public outcry, they will not continue with plans to build a large gas-fired plant in the town of Oakville. The Toronto Star reports that while the government says the plant is no longer necessary, the Liberals in government might have had other concerns.

Energy Minister Brad Duguid made the hastily-planned announcement Thursday with Oakville Liberal MPP Kevin Flynn, whose seat was in jeopardy in next October’s provincial election if the plant went ahead….

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The Goods

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Ask the expert: master electrician Rosarii Lannon on knob and tube, electrician superstition and how it feels to get zapped

Master electrician Rosarii Lannon goes by the moniker Electro Dame. Her powers are, well, powerful, and she’s been bravely confronting the dangerous under-layer of buildings for 30 years. We talked to Lannon about knob and tube, electrician superstition and how it feels to get zapped.

(Image: Carmen Cheung)

How did you pick Electro Dame as the name of your company?
My son came up with it when he was about nine. I thought, That’s really cute. Plus, it pretty much sums up who I am.

Have you felt like a pioneer in this mostly male field?
When I first started, in the mid-’70s, many of the tradesmen I worked with thought it would be bad luck to have a woman on-site. They were very superstitious, and they wondered why a woman wanted to do a man’s work. I went everywhere looking for jobs. The first contractor who hired me had four daughters, and he said he hoped that one day someone would give one of his girls a break.

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People

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Toronto Star can’t decide if city’s dismal Earth Hour showing is “bright” or “dark”

In a blow to empty-but-well-meaning symbolic gestures everywhere, Toronto’s involvement in Earth Hour last weekend saw a considerable drop over last year. In 2009, Toronto’s eco-savvy reduced the amount of energy consumption by about 15 per cent. This year, Toronto Hydro recorded a power drop of 10 per cent, which, we suppose, is still nothing to shake a stick at, especially if one got that stick by ripping it off a tree. Hilariously, the decline in support for the no-power-hour seemed to disappoint Earth Hour booster the Toronto Star, which, full of hope and wonder, published the headline “Toronto goes dark for Earth Hour,” only to update the article two hours later with the headline “Toronto stays bright for Earth Hour.” It was the latter article that made it into the print edition.

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The Dish

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If everyone simultaneously switches the power back on after Earth Hour, are we flirting with a blackout?

Photo by Jeff Louie

If enough of us were to flick on the lights at the same time, Toronto could find itself cloaked in darkness like we did in August 2003. But the odds of such a disaster resulting from Earth Hour are nil. During the hour of non-power (from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. on the last Saturday in March), participating cities turn off non-essential lighting (the CN Tower’s neon glow, for example) but leave most voltage suckers—like home furnaces, street lights and the TTC—humming. In other words, despite its “Go Green” message, the event is more hype than substance, which explains last year’s Nathan Phillips Square Earth Hour concert, featuring “Turn Out the Lights” singer Nelly Furtado. This year, officials are hoping to reduce electricity usage by at least as much as last year’s 262 megawatts—enough to offset the annual CO2 output of about two and a half Torontonians, but not enough to leave us clamouring for candles.

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