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Bad timing for talk of exploring options for WNH

One could hardly have picked a worse time to discuss changes to Waterloo North Hydro, but that’s exactly what the distribution and its three municipal owners (Waterloo, Wellesley and Woolwich) are doing.

Given soaring electricity costs and the province’s continuing mismanagement of everything related to hydro, consumers are in no mood for administrators to keep mucking about with things.

A motion passed Tuesday night by Woolwich and Wellesley councils calls for public consultations, which are essentially meaningless. There’s only one message customers want to hear: lower rates.

That’s largely beyond the control of local distribution companies like Waterloo North Hydro, but all its expenses end up being passed on to consumers. That includes spending money exploring options.

Look at Guelph Hydro, for instance. The city last month nixed discussion of selling off the utility, against the recommendations of a committee set up to explore opportunities, but did keep on the table the option of a merger with other such utilities. Waterloo North Hydro, for instance. Looking into the options cost $100,000 for the first of four phases. Phase two is expected to cost $500,000.

If Waterloo North Hydro follows a similar path, the costs will be added to future bills, one way or another.

The municipal owners certainly need to remove from consideration any thought of selling off the utility. As with some kind of self-aggrandization, there’s no place for short-term cash fixes. That’s the route taken by Kathleen Wynne – who’s never met a bad idea she doesn’t like – and it’s only served to make a bad situation still worse.

Most egregious among her government’s many flaws is the plan to sell off Hydro One. Plans to “monetize” public assets, particularly utilities, are the result of poor fiscal management, something Wynne does in spades.

She argues the move already underway is a trade-off: sell 60 per cent of the utility and use some of the proceeds to fund $4 billion in transportation projects. For a government unable to manage money, this doesn’t pass the smell test. Things will likely end badly, with the money squandered and already indefensible electricity costs rising.

Moreover, the trade-off Wynne proposes is a bad idea in and of itself given Hydro One is an essential utility that could generate revenue if not mismanaged – a very big if, of course – and transit is a money-losing venture that technology could fundamentally alter in the future (think autonomous vehicles). Transportation projects, roads and public transit alike, provide only ongoing costs, depreciating rapidly – having sold the farm, Wynne can’t sell it again when the infrastructure falls apart.

Wynne was part of a Dalton McGuinty government that first criticized the previous Harris/Eves government for the mess it made in moving to privatize Ontario Hydro, breaking it up and then backing away from the plan. McGuinty then toyed with the idea before rejecting privatization in 2010. Now, we’re being told again that privatization is just the thing for Ontarians.

Credibility? Not at all.

In that light, the municipalities apparently eager to “explore options” should tread lightly on that same path. Or not at all.

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  1. Waterloo North Hydro Head Office and Fleet Service Center was completed in 2012 with 100,000 sq.ft of office space. It would be a great corporate office for whomever they buy or merge with. We need more jobs to come to our community.

  2. Maybe Waterloo North Hydro has the right idea. This is the time to cut costs by getting rid of all the duplication with local hydros. Get rid of one of two service centres. Cut staff that are duplication.

    They should look at Kitchener and Cambridge Hydros. Do we need three so close together?? Do we need three CEOs, three CFOs, and three Board of Directors?

    I am for this review. Cut costs and cut them deeply.

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