January 24th, 2021

All options for power division must be looked at, councillors say

By COLLIN GALLANT on January 14, 2021.

City councillors want more details on potential sale or partnership for the power division before claiming in full support.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Council members are waiting to see what’s all involved as administrators evaluate a potential deal to sell the city’s power generating company.

All three council members of the city’s utility committee say they support administrators looking at potential sales options or seeking private sector partnerships for what is one of the oldest municipally operated generation companies in Canada.

Though hugely profitable at this point, and set to expand next year, the entire sector faces major adjustment over the next decade due to technological change, carbon pricing and a rising green power industry, utility chair Coun. Phil Turnbull told the News.

“We need to know exactly where we’ll be in the future,” said Turnbull, stressing that City Hall and utility divisions are evaluating all assets and are getting out of the gas production business as a result.

Coun. Robert Dumanowski says he considers the initiative as “exploratory” but “it’s a heritage asset, part of our legacy industry and not to be dealt with haphazardly.”

That means if the city is advertising it must be considering a deal, and should be prepared to accept one, he said.

“We need to see what opportunity is there for the city and, by extension, the taxpayers,” said Dumanowski, who supports the review, but also said public support is needed.

That requires transparency up front, said Dumanowski, but also potentially pausing any action until next fall’s election.

“Timing is sometimes a consideration, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration … I’ve said that we’ll have to take this to the shareholders.”

The timeline is officially open-ended at this point, but another committee member, Coun. Jim Turner, said he would like to see it resolved over the next two months.

“I have to see what the deal is, and there’s a lot of discussion that will have to take place,” said Turner, vice-chair of the utility committee.

“We certainly didn’t want to surprise the citizens of Medicine Hat with this, but it’s come up.”

He said his support for a sale would depend on the terms firstly, but also some sort of price guarantee going forward for consumers, and a strategy to safeguard the proceeds as an endowment fund.

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