April 27th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 17
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One step closer to selling utilities
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Stock photo
EZRA BLACK
Pass Herald Reporter
On April 19, council passed a motion to proceed with the sale of the community owned electrical distribution system to FortisAlberta.

The motion ends the community engagement phase of the sale process and gives Fortis the signal to draft the terms and conditions of an agreement.

The terms and conditions of a sale will come back to council for final approval. CAO Sheldon Steinke said they would include a Fortis storefront and power linesman for the community.

Mayor Blair Painter and council were unanimous in their decision.

“Our system is tired and it’s time we passed it on to someone who knows how to run it,” said Councillor Bill Kovach. “Especially with the shape it’s in. So I’m in favour of this resolution.”

“As a municipality, we don’t have the capacity to run an electrical system,” said Councillor Char Cartwright.

“I think it’s a wise move,” said Councillor Marlene Anctil.

“Honestly, I don’t think we have a choice with [Tony Vastenhout, municipal linesman] retiring you’re not going to find someone who looks after the system like he did,” said Councillor Dean Ward. “From a dollars and cents point of view, it makes sense.”
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In a telephone interview, Painter said the decision to sell “doesn’t have anything to do with the financial situation in the municipality.”

Council considered selling the municipally owned electrical distribution system after Fortis undertook a review of the municipal utility system, at council’s request.

Fortis recommended system upgrades worth $1.5 to $2 million, which would bring the system up to industry standards and increase the power of the electrical distribution system from 4,160 volts to 25,000 volts.

Matters were complicated when Vastenhout announced he would retire by mid-summer.

“That left us scrambling,” said Painter. “We knew this was coming for a while. We started looking for a linesman but it became apparent they’re very hard to find and quite expensive.”

Painter added they would need a total of two linesmen to upgrade the municipal system. Their combined salaries and purchasing equipment would mean running the utility at a deficit, he said.
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The municipality owns 20 per cent of the community’s power lines. The majority are located in West Coleman, East Blairmore and parts of Frank. They serve about 40 per cent of the community’s electricity customers. Fortis owns the other 80 per cent of the power lines and serves the remaining customers.

Fortis has offered $3.7 million to purchase the municipality’s system. The offer price is based on a formula provided by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC).

I think, in this day and age, it’s in the best interests of the municipality to sell the system,” said Painter. “If we had the funds to be able to buy Fortis’ 80 per cent then we would own the whole electrical distribution system it would make more sense to keep it but we don’t have the capital or the expertise at this point in time to be able to do that.”

As part of their community engagement efforts, Painter said Fortis phoned 3,000 citizens and handed out 2,000 flyers. About 45 people attended the first open house on March 3 and a second open house on April 13 attracted 25 people.
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April 27th ~ Vol. 85 No. 17
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