The first quarter of 2023 has flown by while HSC Energy Services has been busy working on an advanced purchase for our Natural Gas Program, capital planning training for our AssetPlanner program , and a SHARE webinar on FCM’s Sustainable Affordable Housing Initiative. In this issue of Energy Matters, we update you on the ups and downs of the natural gas market; steps to address potential issues with your Enbridge gas bill; the latest phase of provincial utility data reporting requirements; and a new electricity incentive program.
Happy spring reading, everyone!
In this issue:
- Natural Gas Market Dip Drives Opportunity
- Enbridge Billing – Steps to Take if you Encounter Issues
- Are You Required to Report Your Energy Data?
- IESO Announces New Strategic Energy Management Program
- Check your Energy Performance
Natural Gas Market Dip Drives Opportunity
Since our March 2022 update, the North American natural gas market has had a roller-coaster of a year, having experienced shake-ups from war and weather, to explosions and growth. Market pricing rocketed upward between March and June 2022 to nearly double the 5-year highs seen in October 2021. We then saw temporary dips over the summer and fall, and then again this past February.
Several factors contributed to this extreme volatility over the past 12 months:
Weather is always a driving factor in gas pricing, and certainly that was true this year. Forecasts leading into fall 2022 anticipated a colder winter, which would have driven up demand for natural gas and pushed up pricing. However, this past winter ended up being extremely mild, so the demand for gas was lower than anticipated. This resulted in more gas being available in the market, which drove gas pricing downward in early 2023.
The amount of gas held in storage ahead of winter is also a key driver on gas pricing. Leading into fall 2022, gas storage levels were low and expected to go lower given the then forecasted cold winter. However, with the extremely mild weather between December and February, storage levels shifted from lower to higher-than-average levels, which abated concerns about having enough gas to get through the winter.
Demand for Liquified Natural Gas
Russia’s war on the Ukraine put upward pressure on gas market prices through last winter and spring, as Europe sought to shore up its natural gas supplies by importing North American liquified natural gas (LNG). However, in June 2022, an explosion at a U.S. LNG plant meant that natural gas destined for Europe was now trapped in North America. This led to a significant price drop in June for the North American market.
Growth in gas production was expected to taper slightly towards the end of 2022, but, due to the milder weather, production continued to grow. This growth further increased the supply of gas on the market moving into 2023.
Combined, these factors drove down natural gas market pricing leading into February 2023. The price slump was considered a short-term phenomenon and was already starting to shift in early March. HSC took advantage of the pricing dip to conduct an advance purchase for clients in our Natural Gas Purchasing Program, ahead of our regular renewal later this spring.
Note for our Gas Purchasing Program Clients: we have noted that a number of municipalities are adopting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions targets that apply to the municipally-owned housing providers within their jurisdictions. If you are a municipally-owned housing corporation in the HSC Natural Gas Purchasing Program, we ask you to contact us to discuss your planned GHG reductions and impact on our gas purchasing for you.
Enbridge Billing – Steps to Take if you Encounter Issues
In 2019, Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. and Union Gas Ltd. Merged into a single natural gas utility serving most of Ontario. The new entity, Enbridge Gas Inc., began incorporating all of Union’s customer accounts into its billing system in mid-2021. With this transition, some customers have experienced billing issues, in most cases, related to the frequency with which Enbridge is reading its customers’ gas meters.
Gas utilities are required to conduct a certain number of actual readings of customers’ meters each year to ensure the accuracy of their billed gas usage. In cases where the gas utility encounters issues conducting actual meter readings they may bill customers based on an estimated value for their gas usage. Since the merger, there appears to be a rise in the overall number of estimated Enbridge bills, with reports of some customers receiving inaccurate bills or unexpected, often large “catch-up” bills to reconcile against estimated readings.
These billing issues can cause difficulties for housing providers due to:
- Cashflow Impacts: because the accuracy of estimated bills can vary, Enbridge may issue a “true-up” bill when it is able to obtain an accurate meter reading. A true-up bill could be large if prior bills were underestimated. This could affect a provider’s ability to plan budgets, accrue costs, and manage cashflow.
- Energy Projects: Housing providers and their energy project consultants rely on accurate utility bills to prepare an energy audit, identify energy efficiency projects, and measure project success. Without accurate meter readings, housing providers can not make informed decisions about which energy saving measure to implement or accurately determine if a project was successful.
In 2021, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) raised concerns regarding Enbridge’s compliance with certain customer service requirements, and in 2022, accepted Enbridge’s assurance of voluntary compliance to address the issues. While Enbridge works to get the issues fully resolved, housing providers can take measures to address potential billing issues by:
- Submitting Meter Readings: You can record your own meter reads for each of your Enbridge accounts and submit them directly through Enbridge’s online portal. This can help ensure bill accuracy though it can be time-consuming for providers with multiple properties.
- Regularly Review Your Bills: ensure that you or your finance staff pays close attention to your utility bills. If you notice that bills are being estimated for several months in a given year, contact Enbridge and consider submitting your own meter readings.
- File a Complaint: if you experience extensive issues across multiple accounts, or if you feel Enbridge is not resolving the issues in a reasonable manner, you can ask the Ontario Energy Board to intervene.
- By Phone: 1-877-632-2727
Reports of issues with Enbridge’s billing are not limited to social housing – rather they are impacting all Enbridge customers across the board. If you suspect issues with your billing, we recommend reviewing your bill history and contacting Enbridge directly.
Are You Required to Report Your Energy Data?
The Ontario government’s Large Building Energy and Water Data Reporting and Benchmarking (EWRB) regulation (O.Reg. 506/18) requires building operators to report their annual energy and water consumption data to the province. The regulation was phased in over the past four years, applying first to buildings with a gross floor area of 100,000 square feet and up. The regulation entered its second phase in 2023 when it expanded to buildings that are 50,000 square feet and larger in size.
HSC regularly fields questions from housing providers about this regulation, so we put together the following chart to help you know if, how, and when you need to comply.
|Organization Type||Buildings that are:||Requirement to Report Utility Data||What to Report||Deadline to Report|
|Non-profit or co-op housing provider||100,000 square feet and larger in size||Yes: mandatory||Your 2022 Utility Usage Data and key building information||July 1, 2023|
|Non-profit or co-op housing provider||50,000 square feet and larger in size||Yes: mandatory as of 2023||Your 2022 Utility Usage Data and key building information||July 1, 2023|
|Non-profit or co-op housing provider||Less than 50,000 square feet in size||No: Ontario Regulation 506/18 does not apply to you. You do not need to report your utility data to the province.|
|Municipal housing provider (local housing corporation)||Of Any Size||No: Ontario Regulation 506/18 does not apply to you. You do not need to report your utility data to the province.|
HSC offers a low-cost Energy Reporting Service to support Ontario social housing providers in completing an EWRB submission. This service may be of particular interest to housing providers with buildings 100,000 square feet and larger since the province requires submissions for those buildings to verified by a certified professional in their first reporting year and every five years after.
If you are interested in HSC’s reporting service, contact us before May 1, 2023 – this will give us sufficient time to collect and submit your data before the province’s July 1 reporting deadline.
IESO Announces New Strategic Energy Management Program
This March, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) announced a new program to help organizations improve their energy performance, deliver lasting energy savings, and build expertise. The new Strategic Energy Management (SEM) program was launched on the Save on Energy website and can be accessed by social housing providers.
This program focuses on helping building owners to improve energy performance by implementing an integrated system of organizational practices, policies and processes to achieve persistent energy savings. The SEM program provides participating organizations with knowledge, expertise and training in energy management to help increase their profitability through reduced energy costs and productivity, build organizational skills, and help achieve carbon reduction and environmental goals.
And coming soon, Save on Energy will be launching an Existing Building Commissioning program. This program will offer financial incentives to commercial building owners to hire qualified commissioning providers to undertake building recommissioning at their facilities, helping them realize energy savings from improved facility operations and maintenance (O&M) business practices.
For more information, visit the Save on Energy website.
Check your Energy Performance
In today’s world of skyrocketing utility prices, keeping track of your utility use is more important than ever. Reviewing your buildings’ utility performance is key to improving your energy efficiency and ensuring your equipment is operating efficiently.
Other Topics? If you’d like to suggest a topic or want a one-on-one review with HSC staff, please contact us!