By Frank Matys, Orillia Today ( Apr. 29, 2016) – Any deal between the city and Hydro One will be all but sewn up before the public is let in on details, councillors heard this week.
“This is the biggest deal in the history of Orillia and people deserve to know what the deal is before it is done,” Mason Ainsworth told Simcoe.com.
Orillia CAO/clerk Gayle Jackson confirmed that any negotiated deal would be presented to council in closed session.
A recommendation to execute the deal would follow.
“I don’t think that we are going to reach a point before we sign that deal that we are going to be able to reveal too much detail,” Coun. Tim Lauer said.
Given the gravity of the proposal, Lauer and other councillors supported a call for a second public meeting on the proposal by Hydro One to purchase Orillia Power’s distribution system and establish a high-tech hub here.
Yet a member of the negotiating team argues that any information that can be presented prior to the city reaching a deal is already in the public domain.
“When we have the deal, it will be a time, I hope, for great celebration in our community, and when many, many people in our community will come out and welcome the opportunity to fully understand the implications for our city of what we hope will be a very successful negotiation,” Coun. Ted Emond said.
Coun. Ralph Cipolla agreed, adding there was little point in rehashing old information.
“When I invite the public here, then we should be able to tell them what the new information is, what the deal may be, if it’s okay with Hydro One to divulge whatever we’re discussing,” he said.
Coun. Sarah Valiquette-Thompson lobbied for the additional public meeting, noting many residents were unable to attend the previous one or left early.
(The meeting started as an open house-style event but was changed to a more formal question-and-answer session due to the large turnout.)
“Having that input is invaluable, because if there is a majority of your constituents with major concerns and questions and they are not really feeling it, that could potentially have some weight on your decision” Valiquette-Thompson said.
The proposal recently prompted an online petition opposing the sale of Orillia Power’s distribution arm.
Posted on change.org, the petition questions the wisdom of selling off a municipal asset to Hydro One and the potential impact of such a sale on residents.
“The City is thinking with their pocketbooks and calculators, and not considering the effect the sale will have on the monthly power bills of its residents,” reads a statement attached to the petition. “Can Hydro One guarantee the same delivery service for the same rates as those scheduled (on the 2016 manifest) by Orillia Power?”
Hydro One lowered and froze distribution rates for up to five years in three communities it added to its portfolio in recent years, the audience heard at the first public meeting.
Unknown – at least publicly – is the number of jobs Hydro One is promising and the amount the utility is willing to pay for Orillia’s distribution system.
“We received advice on the value – I’m not going to say what that is,” Emond said, adding the city “has a negotiating position.
“Hydro One has not yet made their position available to us,” he said.
Emond said he was “quite optimistic that we will come to the city with an agreement with Hydro One” before June.
Any agreement must gain the approval of the Ontario Energy Board, which could take up to a year.
Staff will report back on the proposal to hold a second pubic open house.
Public information related to the proposal is available at orillia.ca/techhub.