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OPUC backs out of hydro merger

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

After nearly a year of deliberations, the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation has backed out of possible merger talks with the Whitby Hydro Commission and Veridian Corporation.

In a news release shared by OPUC on March 1, the local utility says the three CEOs have agreed that the OPUC will be “amicably withdrawing from further merger discussions.”

Both Whitby and Veridian will be moving forward with the review of a possible merger.

“It was an informative process and one that we were pleased to participate in together with our partners,” states Ivanno Labricciosa, OPUC’s president and CEO, in that release.

“We conducted a thorough review of the potential merger and, for us, it was in the best interest of our customers and shareholders to withdraw at this time.”

Reached for further comment, Labricciosa says there isn’t much more to be said as the company remains bound by a confidentiality agreement set out in the original memorandum of understanding signed between the three parties.

“It’s not fair to comment on an ongoing process,” he tells The Express, noting that Whitby Hydro and Veridian remain in talks about a possible merger between them.

The process has been ongoing since April 2016, when it was announced that the trio had entered into an MOU to investigate the possibilities of joining together. After the announcement, Mayor John Henry and council noted that the first time they’d heard of the merger was in a meeting prior to the announcement. However, an Ontario Ombudsman report surrounding a closed education and training session with the OPUC in December 2015 showed that, in fact, council was aware and asking questions about the merger months prior to the April announcement.

The ombudsman’s report created a backlash from members of the public who turned out at a Unifor town hall meeting in December to talk about hydro rates, but discussion more often than not turned back to the OPUC’s potential merger and its impact on the cost of power.

When reached for comment, Mayor John Henry said he didn’t have much to say, as the information was just being released, and would have more information in the coming days.

“Our commitment was it had to be a great deal for the resident of the city and the board made a decision and we honour their decision,” he says.

The dissatisfaction was also noted in an OPUC phone survey, the results of which were shared with council at their final meeting of 2016, attached with the power company’s third quarter report.

Of the 10,000 calls across the six municipalities affected by the merger, 2,300 were completed. Of those, 320 were in Oshawa and 46 per cent voiced their opposition. It was also noted that 30 per cent of respondents were not even aware of the merger.