There is a great disconnect on winter disconnects


city_scope_logo-cmykFaced with the inevitable, St. Thomas Energy this week voluntarily halted the practice of winter disconnects for unpaid bills. The decision was made a day before the province pulled the plug on such action.
“The OEB (Ontario Energy Board) has strict rules about disconnects and time periods and we have to offer pay arrangements and we’ve always followed the OEB guidelines on that,” advised Rob Kent, acting CEO at St. Thomas Energy.
“We are voluntarily agreeing to the moratorium on disconnects.”
The obvious question is what leverage does St. Thomas Energy now have collecting overdue bills during cold weather months?
“You do lose leverage during the winter months when you can’t disconnect, but what no one has really looked at is what happens when that period ends and the customer has a substantial bill? How do you help them make arrangements and get caught up without getting disconnected in the spring and summer months? That is something we’re going to have to address.”

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Will the forgotten Talbot Street apartments soon have company?


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s been almost a year since we exposed the city’s forgotten Talbot Street apartments across from city hall and owner Antoine Trad, who had been approved by St.Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works for funding to add 10 one-bedroom units next door at 560 Talbot St., above the former Capitol Theatre.

Two of the apartments were to be reserved for clients supported by the YWCA of St. Thomas-Elgin and the remainder are for Canadian Mental Health Association clients.

In the intervening 11 months, Trad has shuttered his furniture business and the status of the apartment project – along with the pair of decrepit upper units at 554 Talbot Street – is hazy.

With a demonstrated need for affordable housing in the city, we queried acting director of St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works Elizabeth Sebestyen this week on whether this project will proceed. Continue reading

Casting the net in hopes of snaring a partner


city_scope_logo-cmykNo formal nuptial news as of yet, however a St. Thomas Energy merger partner could be unveiled as early as this coming week. City council, the sole shareholder of parent company Ascent Group, met in closed session Tuesday to pour over a summary report from Grant Thornton, the financial consultants hired by the city to explore potential utility partnerships for St. Thomas Energy.

“We’re working through some things and we hope that will lead to an announcement, hopefully next week,” advised city manager Wendell Graves in an interview Thursday.

Speculation has run high a potential suitor might be London Hydro and we asked Graves how many offers are under consideration.

“I can’t be too specific,” said Graves, “but I will say . . . we cast the net across the entire province with all of the municipally owned electrical distribution companies . . . it did garner some interest so we’re happy about that.” Continue reading

Sizzle and sparks at prospect of London-St. Thomas utility union


city_scope_logo-cmykThat buzzing and crackling sound audible earlier this week was the rumor mill churning full tilt at the prospect of London Hydro and St. Thomas Energy uniting in utility bliss.

Mum’s the word from the potential partners, however the picture may come into better focus following a special in-camera meeting Tuesday where St. Thomas council – sole shareholders of parent company Ascent Group – will be briefed on the findings of Grant Thornton, the financial consultants hired by the city to explore merger partners.

Their suitor search has been completed, advised Ascent Group board chairman John Laverty on Tuesday, and they “are in the middle of putting together a summary that is to be presented to the Ascent Group board and city council.” Continue reading

Time to come clean: are water bill payments keeping Ascent afloat?


city_scope_logo-cmykA troubling state of affairs when your water bill payment appears to be the only thing keeping Ascent/St. Thomas Energy afloat.

Of much greater concern is the lack of transparency at city hall and the lack of due diligence on the part of city council.

Let’s start in the finance department where we appear to caught director of finance David Aristone in an awkward moment.

Exactly one year ago, when council dealt with the 2014 consolidated financial statements, that document revealed Ascent Group – 100 per cent owners of St. Thomas Energy – rang up an operating loss of $6.8 million. That compared with a $1.4 million profit in 2013. Continue reading

Ascent 2015 financial statement will spark your interest


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s a much anticipated document and it can be found in the agenda for Monday night’s city council meeting.

We are referring to the city’s consolidated financial statements for 2015 which include details of its investment in Ascent Group Inc.

Not sure whether it is meant to offer reassurance to ratepayers, however that portion of the document opens with “The city owns 100% of Ascent Group Inc. which in turn owns 100% of St. Thomas Energy Inc., Ascent Energy Services Inc., Ascent Solutions Inc., Ascent Utility Services Inc., and Ascent Renewables.

Once you digest the Ascent Group financial statement we, as ratepayers, would be better off owning a fleet of wheezing Russian Ladas.

If you thought the 2014 Ascent picture was grim, hold on. Continue reading

Will tire-kickers appreciate the new, pared-back Ascent model?


city_scope_logo-cmykThere was more pruning over at Ascent/St. Thomas Energy this week, leaving the city’s utility pared back to the bone.
A release issued Thursday announced Alltrade Industrial Contractors Inc. of Cambridge, Ont., had acquired Ascent Utility Solutions for an undisclosed amount.
This small division of Ascent dealt with traffic and streetlights in the Greater Toronto Area and employed four or five non-union staff and any union staff were retained through a union hiring hall, according to Ascent acting CEO Rob Kent.
Alltrade operates in numerous sectors including automotive, food and beverage, manufacturing and its energy group works within the renewable energy sector, solar, water and wind and within the power and utilities sector.
The transaction does not include St. Thomas Energy, the local distribution company owned by the city and Ascent Energy Services which deals in fibre optics and provides IT services in the city. Continue reading