Tag Archives: Pankaj Sardana

The Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra is aimed at 13-city councillors poised to give the $300 million utility away

By Gerry Barker

November 30, 2017

At a recent closed-session council meeting there was a memorandum of agreement signed between city council either Alectra Utilities or Alectra Inc..

Only one councillor voted against it. We are not prepared to reveal the name but we can say it was not the councillor who voted against the motion. Because of the threat that a councillor revealing the result of any decision made in closed-session, that individual could be charged under the code of conduct placed on members of council.

Yes folks, this is supposed to be a transparent, open and democratic civic government.

The shocker is that council went ahead and voted for a deal of which they knew little. They voted on the recommendation of the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) composed of five non-elected members. Council was not involved in direct negotiations and will be informed of the final agreement Thursday, November 30.

Shearing the sheep

Who are they? Sheep ready to be sheared?

So, several people have wondered what is the rush to approve this on December 13.

Here are some of the reasons:

Alectra wants this utility because it is well run and strategically located for its expansion plans into southwestern Ontario. And, they’re getting it for an undisclosed share of the Alectra profits. This is the most unbelievable one-sided deal in the city’s history.

Alectra get a $300 million power distribution system for a super minority share of Alectra’s profits.

And the majority of council apparently agrees to this?

The concern is that a new government in Ontario will make a number of changes in the generation and distribution of power. The Progressive Conservatives have already announced they will cut power rates by 12 per cent on top of the Wynne government’s cut of power costs by 25 per cent. If this keeps up, electricity will be free.

Wrap it up

Alectra wants it wrapped up before the June 7, 2018 provincial election because there may be changes in the merging of Local Community Distribution systems (LCD).

Presumably, the merger would rid the city of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc’s hard liabilities including the two District Energy pumps in the Sleeman Centre and the Hanlon Business Park and their contracts. That’s an $11.4 million wasteful project.

There are a number of questions that have been raised concerning the benefits to Guelph citizens, the decision-making history that was mostly conducted in closed-session. Each councillor received a copy of the questions sent last week, but no response.

The result is a total lack of financial details of the merger.

No information was provided regarding the performance of the members of the Alectra consortium. Don’t you think that should be a concern of city council? How is this working for Barrie, Simcoe County, Markham, Vaughan, Mississauga, Hamilton, Brampton, and St. Catharines?

Don’t you think that knowledge of Alectra operations would be an important part of the decision about to give away a $300 million asset?

One that didn’t work out

Here is one experience of what happened when Alectra tried to take over an LCD

Collus power was a 50/50 ownership split between Collingwood and Alectra. Collingwood decided to sell their 50% and Alectra submitted a bid. They did not win, part of the reason being that dividends were not paid as promised.

And Council wants to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra based on this report? More to the point, apparently Alectra is known to buy LCD’s or in this case failed to buy the other half of Collus because they failed to pay the promised dividends.

So, why don’t they just buy Guelph Hydro?

The omission of the facts of such a merger, including increased customer service charges that allegedly doubled, once the LCD candidate joins the Alectra group. Also, the impact of increasing distribution costs throughout the system that Alectra can levy its retail customers at will.

Ah! The unintended consequences of promises made but not fulfilled. Once the deal is approved, Guelph’s 55,000 Hydro customers have no recourse to bail out of the deal and no control over the increased costs they will have to pay.

The impact on so many Guelph Hydro services to its customers seems to be ignored by council.

Again if you don’t know the impact costs why are you buying into the deal?

Yet, despite this lack of important merger information to which the stakeholders were entitled, their representatives went ahead and voted to give Guelph Hydro away. If the vote on the memorandum of agreement stands up December 13, they will formally approve the merger without informing their constituents of the real reasons why and explain the benefits to customers. Our only hope is that the people rise up and protest to their councillors.

Just Ask Us Anything

The selling of this crock is a sick joke. “Just Ask us Anything” promotion on the website, energizingtomorrow.ca was deliberately designed not to provide answers because the people answering it didn’t know anything about the actual details of the merger.

All the materials linked to the promotion of the deal were carefully scripted to ensure the real details did not leak out.

It was a lie and city council allowed it to happen. It abused the public trust and if it is approved there will be a price to pay next year.

The wisest choice council should made is to defer the final decision until the owners of Guelph Hydro are informed of the details and are equipped to approve or disapprove the merger.

That’s the way democracy is supposed to work.

Why should the public care about Alectra’s motives and sense of urgency?

Send in the Clowns

This would have gone a lot smoother if the SOC had fulfilled its mandate and presented the full story concerning the merger. Instead it accepted a contrived presentation designed to influence only 13 councillors. They didn’t care about the citizens who own Guelph Hydro.

Judging by the vote result in signing the memorandum of agreement with Alectra either the councillors were duped by those smooth talking big city boys or they were afraid to make the right decision to protect their constituents.

Is this an adult daycare?

Nobody would blame an elected official for being thoughtful, respectful and honest.

It’s a great responsibility.

But when a councillor decides that the public does not need to know its public business, then our democratic systems crumble.

If you don’t know what you’re buying, why buy it?

NOTE: Sign up to send a petition to Council if you are opposed to this merger. Forward a note asking to be added to the list to gerrybarker76@gmail.com  Please include your name, address and ward for verification only.   Thank you.

NOTE: If you missed thr list of questions asked of council, click on the top of this post for connection: Why is Guelph Hydro merging with Alectra Inc. without answers before council approves it December 13?

 

 

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There are great expectations by the Mayor of giving Guelph Hydro away

By Gerry Barker

November 17, 2917

You can’t help but wonder what happened to Mayor Cam Guthire in the past three years?

His determination to trade Guelph Hydro for four to five per cent share of Alectra, a consortium of Local Community Distribution (LCD) corporation that it has been assembled. Apparently this is based on bigger is better — but for Guelph?

Is the Mayor smarter than the rest of us?

Well, lets dissect the Seven “Facts” (his words) that he is publishing online to residents. Keep in mind the city has admitted that it is spending $2.36 million to sell this merger with Alectra to citizens. Then the administration says the publicity program will be funded by the so-called Guelph Hydro dividends sent to the city annually.

What’s wrong with this picture? Guelph Hydro is a profitable, well-run utility. Its revenue is almost entirely provided by the 55,000 Hydro customers. It’s one of the illusions that the Mayor fosters in his remarks about the seven “facts” about the merger.

He claims that more than a year has been spent studying the sale or merger of Guelph Hydro. So why are the final negotiation details not being revealed until November 30? The meeting will be held 13 days before council’s final approval or not, as it may turn out.

My information is that the mayor is recruiting, aiding and abetting council’s approval by siding with the gang of seven whom, I’m told, most are in favour of the Alectra Merger which bespeaks of their understanding of the deal.

The Mayor claims “Guelph will benefit from rates that will be better than they’d be if Guelph Hydro remained on its own.” Well, that’s not true. The rule of mergers between LCD’s, freezes the power costs to consumers for ten years. In Guelph’s case it is reported the amounts to a reduction of $40 a year.

The Mayor is mixing apples and oranges here. If this merger is approved, operational

control of Guelph Hydro will be assumed by Alectra. Once that happens, Alectra controls the costs of distribution of power to its consortium. Guelph customers will have no say.

Let’s move on to examine the seven “facts” presented by the Mayor.

Fact 1 – Comparing historical rate increases does not tell the story.

GS Comment – The Mayor is right that no two electric utilities are the same for a number of reasons. But Guelph Hydro has been judged by the government as one of the best run in the province. Again, what are the specifics to accept or deny this merger? What’s in it for the citizens and customers of Guelph Hydro?

This is a decision that we are being asked to support, in a month and a half that will affect the city far into the future when those approving it on council will not be in office.

Just wondering: Why did the Strategic Options Committee (SOC) in closed session last February, remove the option of selling Guelph Hydro from it’s mandate to investigate both merger and sale of the utility? Also, were other interested parties in purchasing Guelph Hydro considered?

Fact 2 – Savings for everyone in Guelph

GS Comment – Consolidating “our business operations” Guelph and Rockwood customers will avoid an estimated 5 per cent distributuon rate increase by 2021 and another estimated five per cent increase in 2016.” The basic information supporting this claim is not revealed nor are the savings to hydro customers.

The Mayor talks about the “potential” savings to the customers but will take years to be beneficial. The day this merger is approved is the day we lose control. The dependence on the Ontario Energy Board to protect our interests and increase dividends to the city counts for nothing. The Mayor cannot assure the citizens that this merger will be beneficial.

On a personal note, we have yet to receive any information outside of the social media world, any pronted information that details what this merger means as customers of Guelph Hydro. Not in the 13 years, we’ve lived here that included the abortive attempt to sell Guelph Hydro in 2008 to Hamilton and St Catherines.

This whole exercise is aimed at the 18 to 44 demographic by sending their message on the Internet. It excludes all thos folks who do not own or use a computer but are voters and customers of Guelph Hydro.

Fact 3 – Rates for busineses in Guelph

GS Comment – Rates for commercial/industrial power users are 39 per cent lower than that of Alectra. So the Mayor states that he expects the Ontario Energy Board would permit Guelph to operate as a “separate rate zone and commercial distribution rates would continue to be lower.” That’s called betting on a long shot with the potential of coming in last..

Next week, guelphspeaks.ca will publish an open letter to the residents of Guelph that is an unbiased report concerning the pro’s and con’s, of the Guelph Hydro/Alectra proposed merger. The author is an Energy Lawyer, Jay Shepherd, who has written extensively about all aspects of Ontario’s power, supply, distribution and government policies.

Fact 4 – Customer service and response time

GS Comment – Despiter the mayor’s claim that he has heard from the community of their concern about customer service and reliability, the minute that he signs this agreement, he cannot guarantee anything. In fact, Guelph Hydro’s record in those two key areas is among the highest in the province with an above average rating in the 90 per cent range well above the provincial average.

The quality of operations and the staff perforamance reflects the evidence that Guelph Hydro is well run and profitable compared to most municipally owned power utilities. Perhaps when a more careful investigation is conducted, Guelph Hydro may be part of a like-minded grouping of LCD’s where customer interests will be considered and transparency will prevail. What’s the rush?

Fact 5 – Who owns Alectra?

GS Comment: As best that can be told there are two Alectra’s. These are Alectra Utilities and Alectra Inc. the one that was incorporated January 31, 2017.

In its press releases, Alectra does not distinguish the roles of the two corporate entities. Apparantly in publishing the “facts” about who owns Alectra, the Mayor apparently cannot figure it out either.

Alecrta Inc. states that it is a publicly-owned utility formed this year. It is like a landlord that owns Hydro One Brampton that it purchased, and the rest of the Alectra family are partners. By agreeing to merge with Alectra turning over municipal control of each member’s power operation, we lose control.

“Following a merger, Guelph would join this list of municipal shareholders. We would continue to have an important say over hydro decisions affecting our community and we will continue to receive annual dividends we can re-invest towards community initiatives,” states the Mayor without attribution.

Here are two giant stretches of the truth. How can Alectra Inc. claim the members of its LCD consortium are publicly owned when Alectra has control? If Guelph council signs this agreement, say goodbye to Guelph Hydro in return for a miniscule share of Alectra’s profits, if any.

On the increased dividends that the mayor claims as fact, what assurances will the city receive of any increased profit? We’re facing giving up our power distribution utility for what? What’s even worse the chances are we’ll never know anything about the corporation that wan’t to control our property without any recource.

There is one thing we’ve learned about Alectra. It has borrowed some $225 million from a number of power utilities in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and New Brunswick. The mayor has steadfastly said that the Alectra deal is not a sale and that the out of province investors are not shareholders but only receive interest on their investments.

Summarizing: Guelph city council is negotiating with a corporation that has not been in business in Ontario for a year; a corporation that has borrowed $225 million from outside Ontario for unknown reasons; there is no reconciliation of the share of Alectra that Guelph will receive. As Alectra grows in its consolidation spree, what effect does this have on Guelph’s proposed share?

Would you buy a used acr from these guys?

Fact 6 – Jobs

GS Comment – The Mayor says that Guelph Hydro employs 130. He then says 70 per cent of those people would be unaffected by the merger. Doing the math, 91 employees, chiefly the technical staff, will remain. That means 39 staffers could be vulnerable unless they want to commute to Mississauga.

Alectra says that it intends to set up a Green Power Trechnology Centre in Guelph that will create a number of good-paying jobs. Key word: “Intends.” Perhaps former Mayor Karen Fabridge may head it up as she has a lot of experience in Green Power.

These “Facts” presented by Mayor Guthrie, are not facts at all. Instead, the real facts are hidden from the owners of Guelph Hydro as final negotiations are conducted in closed-session. If and when the real financial and operational facts are made public, then council has a fiduciary reponsibility to oppose the merger.

Fact 7 – Have your say

GS Comment – It is strange why the city spending $2.36 million to convince citizens this is beneficial to them, their children and their children. It has been a designed program to influence the citizens into believing it’s a good deal, and it’s without public debate with the principals. Put it this way, when a developer applies to build an apartment building in Guelph, are not the citizens living nearby informed of the plans and the affect on the neighbourhood?

So why is this Alectra deal any different? The owners, the citizens, are deliberately being kept in the dark. The Mayor’s “Facts” do not meet the standard of transparency or public participation in the city’s business.

So why is he so convinced Council should approve this merger

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Ever try to put lipstick on a pig? That’s what city spin-doctors are trying to do with GMHI

By Gerry Barker

July 10, 2017

Here’s the premise of a story that won’t go away. It’s about the losses associated with the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) and how some $163.474 million was lost in a bungled former administration’s attempt to create energy self-sufficiency in Guelph.

It’s a story that most people cannot figure out because they were not told details of the financial misadventure by the GMH Board of Directors chiefly composed of city councillors. They worked behind closed doors. Further, two of them, Coun. June Hofland and Coun. Karl Wettstein are still silent about their association as directors of GMHI.

Now it’s alarming that council continues to vote for projects such as the $12.3 million extension of trails over ten years. The off-road maintenance of these trails is estimated to be $271,000 a years. Council balked at this one and ordered staff to re-think its recommendation. In making this recommendation, why didn’t the staff, particularly those senior managers, think the maintenance costs were excessive particularly in winter?

Council caught it and recognized it was too high.

But I digress, the following is a statement by the accounting firm, KPMG, auditors of GMHI’s consolidated balance sheet.

“In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the consolidated financial position of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. as at December 31, 2016 and its consolidated results of operations and its consolidated cash flows for the year ended December 31, 2016 in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards.”

As quoted in the Guelph Tribune July 3, 2017: “Pankaj Sardana, the CEO for Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., the parent company for both Guelph Hydro and Envida Community Energy Corp., also updated councillors on the status of the district energy project, which has seen millions of dollars written off or written down from the city’s books.”

The key words here are “millions of dollars” If anyone should know, it would be Mr. Sardana who addressed the dire financial condition of GMHI 14 months ago.

“The expenses are higher than the revenues, and expect to remain so for the duration of the contracts,” he added.

Here are the figures on the GMHI balance sheet audited by KPMG

The consolidated total audited current assets of GMHI are $67,943,000.

The total consolidate non-current assets according to the audit is $162,653,000.

Total assets are $230,596,000

“The capital asset has been written down to nothing, zero,” Sardana told councillors, adding many of the assets from the district energy portfolio are now considered “onerous.”

Now, here is what the audit declared as GMHI Liabilities:

Total current liabilities:                                    $30,736,000.

Total non-current liabilities:

Provision for liabilities and changes                $    490,000

Senior unsecured debentures                             $94,283,000

Employee future benefits                                     $10,297,000

Customer deposits long term portion               $ 5,196,000

Deferred revenue                                                  $22,472,000

Total current liabilities                                         $163,474,00

Shareholder’s equity:

Share capital                                                            $67, 530, 000

Accumulated other comprehensive loss            $     (555,000)

Retained earnings                                                  $     147,000

Total Shareholder’s equity                                    $67,122,000

Total liabilities                                                $230,596,000

The shareholder’s equity is worthless. The former administration used public funds to invest in the Community Energy Initiative. It needed capital to finance its blind ambition to change Guelph and convert its demand for power through what turned out to be a failed District Energy plan.

Few people knew the depth of losses that GMHI generated over five years. Almost all of GMHI meetings were conducted in closed session.

Shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic

Now the city is moving money between agencies controlled by GMHI to pay down part of the debt owed by Envida Community Energy, the total of which is estimated as $20 million.

Trouble is, it’s our money that is being shuttled around with Peter paying Paul.

According to the Tribune, “following discussion of the money lost … Mayor Cam Guthrie remarked that it “does feel good to feel that my concerns have been validated.”

How does the Mayor feel now that he and his council are stuck with a huge problem: What do we admit to the citizens? The KPMG audit reveals a brutal situation in which the public’s financial resources have taken a monumental financial dump of dollars.

There was the deliberate use of secret meetings denying the right of the public to be informed of what was going on. It was not only undemocratic but a cover-up by senior city employees and at least four councillors plus the former mayor as chairperson, who served on the GMHI board of directors.

This allowed the city council members of the board to have total control of GMHI including Guelph Hydro.

When you are not accountable, you can get away with anything

During this period, millions were being spent and committed to projects that were never openly discussed in public. GMHI never made any money but sent $1.5 million annually as a dividend to the city to validate its existence. It was all a phony exercise in which money was taken from capital funds to pay the dividend. No one questioned it yet in 2015 the GMHI board said more than $9 million had been transferred to the city over six years. In that same year, GMHI lost $2.8 million.

Now we are seeing some of the fallout. Guelph Hydro is buying the dying Eastview generating plant that relies on a dwindling methane-gas supply from the former landfill site. Also approved during a special meeting, councillors, acting as GMHI shareholders, approved the sale and transfer of solar panels. Ownership of solar panels on top of the Guelph Hydro headquarters was transferred to the utility. Also approved was the sale of solar panel installations on eight city facilities back to the city.

The sale of Eastview will generate $558,000. The solar panels on the Guelph Hydro HQ roof solar panels $796,000. The city solar installations transfer cost $276,000.

Following a question by Coun. Dan Gibson, chief administrative officer Derrick Thomson confirmed the assets were being sold to generate cash that could be used to help pay Envida’s lenders. Who were these lenders? Did this involve the holders of the senior unsecured debentures, one for $65 million and the other for $30 million?

Who is liable for repayment of these debentures that are listed on the balance sheet as a liability?

Mayor Guthrie, as a councillor for those four GMHI years, were you ever informed of what the former mayor and her entourage were doing? Were all members of council receiving regular reports of the GMHI and Guelph Hydro activities in relation to the Community Energy Initiative?

Was the plan to make the city “look good?”

In the past, Guthrie has called the district energy project “a vision that was rammed forward” because the city “wanted to look good.”

Well Cam, you and your council colleagues have known about this multi-million dollar financial disaster for almost three years. Or maybe you didn’t because there was no Chief Financial officer in place to raise the alarm. It took two and a half years to finally hire a CFO who has financial accreditation and experience to provide the necessary checks and balances needed to sort out the mess.

In 2014, the voters figured it out that there was gross mismanagement by the city administration. As a result, you were elected mayor with the majority of people seeking change.

Unfortunately the honeymoon ended March 25, 2015 when council approved what turned out to be a 3.96 per cent property tax increase. That was a long way from your election promise to contain the property tax to no more than the Consumer Price Index.

But while that was a repudiation of you as Mayor, there was a much bigger problem brewing. While praising the contribution of the GMHI board, you did take over and named two councillors to the board. One was Karl Wettstein, who had served on the GMHI board for four years. The other was Coun. Cathy Downer. Wettstein remains silent on the activities of GMHI along with Coun. June Hofland, the former chair person of the city finance committee.

Did the city finance committee ever discuss what was going on with GMHI and Guelph Hydro, both owned by the City of Guelph?

What possessed elected officials to develop such a brain cramp about their connection with GMHI? Were they so loyal to the former mayor’s vision that they refused to blow the whistle?

What the public needs to be told are details of the wind-up of GMHI and the Community Energy Initiative. And, it is more important, to be informed of the costs resulting from this misadventure.

Stop playing games. Report to the real shareholders the details of this costly exercise to fulfill the ambition of a community leader who is no longer in power.

Meanwhile lets stop spending public funds on trails, road shrinking to create more bike lanes, wading pools, art centres and wellbeing giveaways until our house is put in order through an action plan.

Let’s learn from what happened in the 2014 election. The real political power in Guelph for the past ten years has rested with the 12 ward councillors. This will be the 2018 battleground and the citizen’s only opportunity to restore political balance on city council

 

 

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