A decision made by Niagara-on-the-Lake town council in 2002 has resulted in continuing benefits to the town that are twofold — more efficient hydro service, and $1 million in annual revenue that doesn't have to come from taxpayers' pockets.
When the provincial government of the day decided to sell off local hydro utilities, many were sold to private companies, but a few municipalities, including NOTL, decided that rather than taking the route to short-term gain, they would form companies that would take on the job.
An annual report presented to council Monday by NOTL Hydro president Tim Curtis showed not only does the local utility make money for the town, it has the lowest rates in the Niagara Region for residential and large business customers, although that figure only represents 17 per cent of hydro bills.
Regarding the rate for smaller businesses, Curtis said, “I gotta be honest, we didn't quite get there.”
Welland can brag they have the lowest rates in that category, but NOTL is second.
While he considers rates the “litmus test” of whether the utility is doing a good job of treating its customers fairly, reliability is also important, he said, and measured by the number of power outages and how long they last, in that respect “we've had a pretty good record over the last few years.”
The local utility also has a good safety record, with nobody injured in 2017.
As for the $1 million to the town annually, Curtis said although there are factors that could affect the ability to pay those dividends in the future, he's confident it can be maintained, “although it's not guaranteed.”
But what really makes the company different from others in the province, Curtis said, is that it continues to advocate at a provincial level on behalf of its customers, through press releases, appearances at Queen's Park and meetings with energy critics, attempting to increase efficiencies and reduce the remaining portions of the hydro bill over which the local utility has no control.
Among goals for 2018, Curtis said, are continued focus on safety, burying more wires underground, a new feeder for Tweed Farms, the medical marijuana grower which is becoming NOTL Hydro's largest customer, and continuing a strong financial performance.
Following the hydro president's report, Coun. Jim Collard called the company “forward-thinking,” and said it has served the community well, with a “minuscule” number of outages in relation to other municipalities. He also commended them on their “fabulous” leadership and their outreach across the province.
NOTL has the “best hydro board going, although it's not because I sit on it,” said Lord Mayor Pat Darte.
“I sit back sometimes and listen in amazement.”
He often hears from other municipalities what a great job NOTL Hydro does, he added. “Having the lowest rates in the region – that speaks for itself.”
The board is made of “out-of-the-box thinkers,” he said. “We're in excellent hands. Thank you for all you do for Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
Coun. Jamie King has been on the board of NOTL Hydro for the last seven years, and has the greatest respect for those in charge of the utility, he says.
“Look at the value they give us. They've created a hydro company that benefits the community, they've been bulldogs at a provincial level, and they've been one of the biggest thorns in the side of the industry. I don't think our residents realize how unique they are.”
The hydro board includes Curtis, Darte, King, town CAO Holly Dowd and residents Bob Cheriton, Jim Huntingdon, Nick Miller, Jim Ryan and Philip Wormwell.