City of St. Thomas named in $7.8 million lawsuit over decision to wind down Ascent Renewables


city_scope_logo-cmykThe recent merger of Ascent/St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus Powerlines appears to have done little to unplug the city from controversial business decisions previously undertaken by the utility.
As a case in point, on Monday (Oct. 15), the city was named in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
The City of St. Thomas, Ascent Renewables, Ascent Group Inc, Ascent Energy Services and a numbered company, 2154310 Ontario Inc., are being sued for general damages in the amount of $7,850,000 by a numbered company, 1787868, operating as Focus Group based in London.
The statement of claim was filed at the Elgin County Courthouse.
All of the defendants are ultimately owned and controlled by the city.
According to the claim, nearly 20 years ago the city undertook an initiative identified as “Partners in Power.” Through its ownership and funding provided by St. Thomas Energy Inc., the city created a series of corporations to allow it to attempt to capitalize on growth opportunities and become more involved in the growing renewable energy sector.
These corporations included Ascent Energy Services Inc. (formerly known as St. Thomas Energy Services Inc., STESI) and Ascent Group Inc. (formerly known as St. Thomas Holding Inc., STHI). These companies operated under the name Ascent Group, with all shares controlled by the city.

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Entegrus merger presentation the equivalent of football’s two-minute, hurry-up offense


city_scope_logo-cmykAny concerns about having to endure a lengthy dissertation from Rob Kent of Entegrus on the utility merger with St. Thomas Energy were quickly put to rest Monday evening.
And, we do mean quickly.
His presentation on the 15-month process to complete the merger, which was executed on April 1 of this year, came in at four seconds shy of two minutes.
That’s right, two minutes, with little in the way of enlightenment or answers to the many questions surrounding what is more a fire sale than a merger.
The city gets a 20.57 per cent stake in Entegrus Inc., meaning we will have little say in the operation of the entity. Continue reading

MPP Jeff Yurek is on the hunt for honesty when doling out MNR funds


city_scope_logo-cmykIntroduced March 7 at Queen’s Park, a private members bill to shine a light on how funds in a Ministry of Natural Resources special purpose account are spent was shot down a day later.
The fund was initially established by the provincial Tories in the late 1990s, explained Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek.
“Back in 1997, the Mike Harris government created the fund as a way of expanding licences across the province, but also letting the hunters and anglers have a say in how resource management should be done.
However, handling of the fund has come under fire in recent years for the lack of transparency and questionable expenditures.
Yurek spent seven years working with the Aylmer Stakeholders Group, representing landowners and farmers, to have the provincial Liberals tighten up spending requirements for the fund, which collects $75 million annually in licensing fees from hunters and anglers. Continue reading

Health unit collaboration augurs new direction for healthcare in Elgin and Oxford


city_scope_logo-cmykThe governing bodies of the health units in St. Thomas/Elgin and Oxford county on Jan. 10 approved proceeding to the next level in merging the two bodies.
Locally, the health unit is the governing body and so municipal councils in St. Thomas and Elgin were not involved in any vote to move forward with the merger, whereas in Oxford the county serves as the governing body and municipal council had to approve a motion to proceed.
To be known as Oxford Elgin St. Thomas Health Unit, the new entity would serve approximately 204,000 residents.
A new, autonomous board would be composed of four representatives from Oxford and two each from St. Thomas and Elgin county. Continue reading

Are we being led down the wrong rabbit path on utility marriage? Or, how to distinguish a merger from a fire sale.


city_scope_logo-cmykDid you check out the notice in your latest St. Thomas Energy bill? Seems like the utility merger with Entegrus out of Chatham-Kent is moving toward consummation early in the new year, with the new entity to be known as Entegrus Powerlines.
I guess when you only have a 20 per cent piece of the pie you don’t have any say in naming the beast.
And by coincidence, the merger is the subject of a report from city manager Wendell Graves on Monday’s council agenda.
It’s chock full of legalese and ratepayers have the right to a clear explanation of what is about to transpire on the eve of the merger.
More important, what are the long-term financial implications because this appears to be less a merger and more a fire sale.
So, we chatted with Graves on Friday as to what members of council are being asked to vote on as our elected representatives. Continue reading

Will Ontario’s new minimum wage result in maximum economic stress for school bus operators?


city_scope_logo-cmykAs debate swirls around the province’s decision to raise the minimum wage in stages, beginning Jan. 1 of next year, the Kathleen Wynne government has not taken into account the impact on school bus operators, most notably small, independent firms that have safely transported students back and forth to classes for decades.
The Ontario School Bus Association (OSBA) estimates nearly one million Ontario families rely on school buses to get their children to school. The Wynne government’s push to hike the minimum wage could threaten the availability of bus service in the coming year. Continue reading

Lots of red ink, but rest assured nothing will be written off


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With municipal councils in St. Thomas and Chatham-Kent having approved the merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus, all that is required is the go-ahead from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), likely to happen late this year with a target merger date of Jan. 1, 2018.
Oh, and there is that prickly matter of a not insignificant amount of long-term debt run up by Ascent Group, St. Thomas Energy’s parent – city treasurer David Aristone refers to it as bank debt – and in excess of $5 million owed the municipality for the collection of water bills dating back to at least 2014.
It’s not a subject open to much in the way of discussion by either Aristone or St. Thomas Energy acting CEO Rob Kent. 

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