LIVE BLOG: City Council Meeting for June 13, 2017

The next phase of Guelph Hydro’s future will be decided on this night! You can click here for the amended agenda from City Hall, and you can click here to read Politico’s preview of tonight’s meeting. For the complete blow-by-blow of tonight’s council meeting, you can follow me on Twitter, or follow along below via Storify.

Guelph City Council Meeting – June 13, 2017

Live blog from the meeting starting at 6:30 pm

  1. “This is just exploration,” says Guthrie, “No pre-conceived notions” about where this is going, despite *some* reports.
  2. Guthrie says he appreciates council’s willingness to explore (even though he’s disappointed a couple of councillors will vote against)
  3. Billings asks about potential “synergies” even though she plans on voting against the motion.
  4. Hofland points out that the famous graph has lots of language that's not clear.

    Hofland points out that the famous graph has lots of language that’s not clear.
  5. Gibson adds that keeping local presence is important.
  6. Guthrie asks if there’s anything at this moment for SOC to come back to council with, this is the time.
  7. Allt in point of personal privilege says he abstains on these votes at Hydro Board so he could cast vote at council
  8. Billings asks Sardana about reliability in 2016. He says there will be numbers in two weeks at AGM, but the #’s are good.
  9. Hofland asks Clark and MacDonald if they’re interested in a “road show”. Thanks them for good work, and will support recommendation.
  10. “Here in Pleasantville, a lot of people move here because they think smaller is better,” Gordon.
  11. Gordon talks about “cultural context”, the community needs a compelling argument for a merger.
  12. Gibson supporting motion, but has “keen eye” to make sure city doesn’t lose any opportunity.
  13. Piper says there’s a lot of emotional attachment to GH, having own utility, council has had to overcome that in deliberations. Will support.
  14. Cllr Piper asks if Guelph will get to see the other party’s business cases?
    MacDonald: Yes, but about 80% of each biz case will be same.
  15. Bell will not be supporting this motion. Doesn’t like the potential partners. Was that something covered in the closed meeting?
  16. As individuals, we need to lead, says Bell. Tell community to drive electric vehicles and watch GHESI revenue ^^^^
  17. Cllr Bell has comments. He was looking for the important Qs for merging: Who and When?
  18. Shareholder agreement could deal with a wide variety of interests and areas, including strategic direction.
  19. Allt says it would be irresponsible not to address this, and the matter deals with things most people don’t know about. Future uncertain.
  20. Allt says we’re not talking about merger tonite, talking about options based on evidence-baed decision making.
  21. Allt says he’s not up for crystal ball gazing, but standing still is not an option right now.
  22. MacKinnon withdraws motion. Salisbury/Allt move it instead.
  23. Billings asks about budget. About $1 million for phase 3 thru 4B. Phase 3 alone is about $250K
  24. CAO Thomson says there will be frameworks of what the options will look like in Sept. They can answer specific Qs about those plans.
  25. Other companies seek to acquire LDCs because they see potential, says MacDonald
  26. Billings ask if there’s a danger of utility losing value in the future.
    Clark: There is that possibility.
  27. MacKinnon puts the motion on the table. Seconded by Salisbury. One speaker left on mayor’s list: Cllr Billings.
  28. Cllr Wettstein says coming back in September there’s still not going to be answer in whether merging or status quo is better option
  29. CAO Thomson says the motion tonight will be to move forward to gather more information and bring it all back in the fall.
  30. Downer notes that only the option to see was taken off the table, not info now on status quo option.
  31. Sardana says there are a # of things going on. working with Canadian Solar to install micro-grid at HQ for example.
  32. Downer thought Guelph Hydro was going to be looking at how to whether disruptions alone, and not just look at merger.
  33. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there, says MacDonald, companies are looking for ways to work together to limit the risk.
  34. Not necessarily exploring mass defection from the grid, but how is system impacted from tech changes, says Sardana.
  35. Electric vehicles may slow the grid deflection, Gibson notes. Are people really going to be leaving the grid or not.
  36. Reliability, cost, and electric vehicles are the 3 things people are going to care about. says Gibson.
  37. Gibson says Cllr Van Hellemond echoes the sentiment of a lot of people in Guelph.
  38. Context is everything, says Clark, most utilities in ON are large LDCs
  39. Salisbury looking for examples of Local Distribution Companies (LDCs) that decided there wasn’t a business case for merger.
  40. MacDonald says that they began small and nimble, but ended up growing.
  41. Sailsbury points out that those companies came from small and nimble, not bigger is better.
  42. Clark: Not sure how it will shake out, numerous industries turned upside down by new tech players i.e.: Amazon, Uber, Air B’n’B
  43. Is what we’re doing really a second guessing of what’s going to happen, asks Salisbury.
  44. Salisbury has a basic Q that has dogged him from the beginning: do we have case studies that prove bigger is better, or the opposite?
  45. Van Hellemond argues GHESI may lose independence in merging. Sardana says that’s a risk, and part of the deliberations.
  46. Sardana says Hydro is a good utility, but they would be remiss if they didn’t look to the future. Can they do it better? Cheaper?
  47. Van Hellemond: I don’t have a problem with hydro, they meet my expectations every day of the week for 45 years.
  48. Van Hellemond: But Guelph Hydro is making money now?
    Clark: Yes.
    Van Hellemond: But we don’t have money to make changes?
  49. Basically, expectations means needing to take advantage of current technologies, deliver electricity in new ways, let customers choose.
  50. Van Hellemond asks if we’re not meeting customer expectations.
  51. Allt: “The new normal is that the status quo is not normal”?
    A: Basically.
  52. Allt: Then what’s the ideal for Guelph
    A: 200-300K customers. Guelph about 25% of the way there.
  53. Allt asks if there’s an ideal size for a distributor?
    MacDonald: It’s not about specific # but what works best for the region.
  54. A report suggested that there should be 8-12 regional distribution companies, there were over 300 in the 90s.
  55. Allt asks how many distributors there are in Ontario right now
    A: 65.
  56. MacDonald: That analysis is in the initial business case, may take 10 years to harmonize, but rate likely to stay within inflation rate.
  57. Salisbury points out that how much people R going to pay in hydro is going to be *the* question among constituents but not in business case
  58. Looking for next steps from council on how to proceed now, and that concludes this presentation. Now Questions.
  59. Phase 3 is being recommend. Prepping a business case for potential partners.
  60. Among considerations: timing. There be an election next fall.
  61. Any potential merger partner will remain confidential for a period.
  62. We’ve now moved on into how to get to certainty.
  63. The road ahead: partner selection process. Looking for nearby utilities that are municipally owned.
  64. Problem: with solar panels and micro-grids you have threats to revenues to traditional models. What is Hydro’s function here?
  65. This was not just looking at merger options, but double checkin the status quo, MacDonald says.
  66. Next up: Troy MacDonald financial advisor to GMHI and Ron Clark, solicitor of Aird & Berlis and GMHI
  67. Hydro CEO Pankaj Sardana says that Guelph also has a tech savvy community. Has himself been asked things he’s had to look up.
  68. Sprigg says it’s been difficult to take complex things and described them in simplified language. Relied on hydro for expertise.
  69. Cllr Allt admits that many of technical aspects “are beyond us.”
  70. Hofland also encourages engagement that creates a dialogue for next steps
  71. Hofland: Public info centres. well attended?
    Sprigg: The ones in early ’17, “by city standards” were well attended.
  72. Spike with conversation/activity with media coverage and pending deadlines.
  73. Cllr Hofland would like feedback on engagement thus far. Any takers with the AMA feature.
  74. Cllr Piper says she’s not sure the public understand why the energy sector is changing, and why they’re looking at mergers. Sprigg agrees.
  75. Sprigg says it could happen, but its less of a Q&A format, and more of a “look at the info and ask a Q if you’ve got ’em” session.
  76. Why can’t ppl have a person to interact with is basically Gordon’s Q.
  77. Cllr Gordon says its hard for the public to keep up w/changes, Hydro employees get town hall, public gets social media updates.
  78. Mayor Guthrie asks for questions on the comms plan.
  79. In the event of a potential transaction, there’s already a communications strategy in place.
  80. The next “milestone” will be in Fall 2017. This is “process driven by design” gathering feedback and keeping everyone informed.
  81. is still a thing. City will be using it going forward as the “cornerstone” to engage with decisions.
  82. Tara Springg, GM of Corporate Communications is starting off the presentations with discussion of engagement process.
  83. A few changes to the Strategy and Options Committee since Feb meeting. Jane Armstrong is the new chair of GHESI.
  84. Derrick Thomson, CEO of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc and CAO of City of Guelph begins.
  85. B4 now, council was in closed meeting. Direction was given to staff regarding the topic we’re about to discuss.
  86. Technically, not a council meeting, but a shareholder meeting for GMHI.

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