The Town’s local utility is once again the bearer of good news.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro still has the lowest rates in the region, it continues to add to the bottom line of the Town’s revenue, and is now taking another step forward in improving its service.
Tim Curtis, president of NOTL Hydro, has announced a $3.3 million investment in a new transformer which will almost double the amount of power that can be delivered to NOTL.
As well as supplying more capacity to allow for development, the new transformer will improve reliability — each individual station will be able to support the entire town, so if power to one station is lost for some reason, the other can cover the full town, says Curtis.
The new 83 MVA (mega-volt ampere) transformer is being built in Vaughan, and when completed will be installed at the Bob Cheriton York Road station.
Once installed, the two large transformers, one with 83 MVA and the other with 72 MVA, each will be able to cover peak periods in town if necessary, says Curtis.
The new equipment replaces a 35-year-old, 25 MVA transformer, which will be moved to a new location within the NOTL station, to be connected in the near future.
“Right now we have three transformers across two stations. When this is done we will still have three, but bigger.”
Closer to homes and businesses, the power is converted to the household and business voltages by the smaller transformers — the ones we see in the green boxes on the ground, or the grey cans on the poles.
The cost of this project is already included in NOTL Hydro’s existing rates, which remain the lowest in Niagara Region and some of the lowest in Ontario.
The York station was named after Cheriton last summer to “recognize the leadership, ethics and common sense that Bob has contributed” during his 17 years as a NOTL Hydro board member.
When the Province offered municipalities the ability to sell their local utilities in 2002, there was some division among town councillors. Some believed it was best to sell and use the money to pay for infrastructure, but those who felt it was in the best interest of the town to keep it represented the majority vote — one that has proven to be a wise decision, says Curtis. Since then, the board has developed and implemented long-term plans to invest in the local grid and to look at revenue-generating opportunities for the Town, NOTL Hydro’s sole shareholder.
Improvements included the purchase of the two transformer stations, one in 2003 and one in 2005, says Curtis, and a new transformer in 2015.
How can the utility spend money on costly improvements and still have the lowest rates in the region, and among the lowest in the province?
“One of the keys is not doing everything all at once,” says Curtis.
“We’ve been slowly improving the utility over the last 17 years. When towns were given the right to sell the utilities, NOTL looked closely at doing that. The decision was made not to sell, and I’d say there have been no regrets.”
He says rates are kept low through good management of staff and operating costs, consistently spending on upgrades within a board-approved budget, and keeping equipment well-maintained so there are no surprises.
“There is also a lot of growth in NOTL,” he says, both business and residential. “That helps.”
The board runs the utility “very conservatively,” he added.
The philosophy of the board has been to keep a low debt ratio, and the result of that is when the utility needs money for improvements, “we have no problem borrowing from the bank.”
The utility is allowed to operate at up to 60 per cent debt, but NOTL Hydro keeps it to about 25 per cent, he says, also the lowest in the region.
‘The best thing about the board is everyone is trying to do what is right for Hydro, and for the ratepayers of NOTL. It’s a board with its feet very firmly on the ground.”