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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City council gives green light to St. Thomas Energy merger; we remain in the dark on status of debt


Municipal councils in St. Thomas and Chatham-Kent this week gave their blessing to the merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus. The utility marriage now needs approval from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), likely to happen late this year with a target merger date of Jan. 1, 2018.
However, neither the city treasurer nor the acting CEO at St. Thomas Energy are forthcoming with details on how the long-term debt – reported to be greater than $20 million – and the more than $5 million owing the city on the collection of water bills will be accounted for in the merger.
St. Thomas Energy will become a 20 per cent stakeholder in the new entity, which will service close to 60,000 customers in southwestern Ontario,  making it the 11th largest utility in the province. 

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From the steam engine to the STEAM Centre, it’s a logical extension


city_scope_logo-cmykAttracting interested and involved participants was not an issue Monday evening (March 27) at an information night to introduce a partnership between the STEAM Centre, housed in the former Wellington Public School, and the Thames Valley District School Board.  The pilot project will see participating Grade 10 students from the city’s three TVDSB high schools work collaboratively for one semester before returning to their home schools. 
One of the biggest proponents of the STEAM Centre is board member Andrew Gunn, trustee of the Dorothy Palmer Estate which contributed $638,000 to help launch the alternative education project.
Gunn sees the St. Thomas centre as a template for what can be undertaken in communities across the province threatened with losing their schools.

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What’s in a name? In this case, $2.7 million


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city this week locked in place two more pieces of the Talbot Street West redevelopment puzzle with announcement of the purchase of two properties from London developer Shmuel Farhi.
The acquisitions are the Mickleborough Building at 423 Talbot Street – the home of Ontario Works since 2000 – and a parcel of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and stretching south to Centre Street.
While a conditional offer was announced last April the delay, according to city manager Wendell Graves, revolved around environmental issues.
“We have done due diligence over and above so we know exactly what we are facing,” stressed Graves. “In our approved city budget this year we have funds allocated there to begin some cleanup. Because we are looking to use pieces of that site for residential, under the Ministry of the Environment regs, that is the highest order of cleanup that will be required.”

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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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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