Opinion: Hydro One here for Snettisham, a public asset

  • By Randy Sutak
  • Monday, February 5, 2018 7:28am
  • Opinion

I am writing to support the City and Borough of Juneau intervention to protect the Juneau public interest from the Hydro One acquisition of Avista and Alaska Electric Light &Power (AEL&P).

The Juneau public interest is significantly impacted by the sale of our local utility and hydropower to a foreign government entity. The Canadian province of Ontario owns 47.4 percent of the outstanding shares. Furthermore, no other shareholder can ever own more than 10 percent of the outstanding shares which means the Province of Ontario by Ontario law effectively owns and controls Hydro One. This is what they call a de facto Crown Corporation utility seeking to own and operate AEL&P

Hydro One is hot politics in Ontario. All three Ontario opposition political parties have either vowed or have party platforms to regain total government ownership of Hydro One, stop foreign acquisitions like Avista and AEL&P or fire the overpaid Hydro One CEO and management. The next Ontario Provincial election is June 7 and the ruling party is last in polls with a very low approval rating and is not apt to get re-elected. Change is coming to Hydro One and we have all the risk and no vote. Is this a mess we want to get involved in? Should Juneau ratepayers take Hydro One promises and vague commitments that are not backed up with RCA conditions on the AEL&P license transfer? President Reagan stated, “Trust but verify.” Do we deserve less?

The Ontario Auditor General published a report saying Hydro One has $4.472 billion in deferred maintenance. Ouch. This poor maintenance record places our reliability of energy at risk and begs the question why Hydro One is acquiring AEL&P when their money could be invested improving the energy and reliability of Ontario ratepayers? Assemblymember Rob Edwardson asked a question that Hydro One and Avista never answered. “What are you getting out of this?” However, I think we all know that they want to own the $500,000,000 Snettisham Hydropower infrastructure for nothing. Congressman Don Young, Rep. Tammie Wilson and others have called this Snettisham heist a serious breach of public interest and a hijack of a public Snettisham Hydropower asset. If Hydro One is not trying to hijack this asset, then they will agree in writing to condition the AEL&P license transfer that all the Snettisham infrastructure and land will stay in state of Alaska or public ownership. This fix will not happen unless the CBJ intervenes and gets this promise in writing. A simple common-sense Juneau fix.

The only other reason Hydro One would want our little local utility is that our hydropower cost is very low relative to the amount AEL&P charges Juneau. In other words, it’s a very high-profit utility. Our dollars should stay local and not enrich the Canadian government. In the 2016 Avista Annual Report to shareholders, AEL&P made $7.968 million and paid another $5.23 million in federal income taxes. Our city could use that $13.2 million to pay for fire, police, our school teachers and a host of other services (note that the city-owned utilities do not pay income taxes) and lower our electrical utility rates if CBJ was the controlling shareholder of AEL&P. The Juneau Chamber touts “Shop Local, Buy Local,” and as a local business owner, I wholeheartedly agree. However, instead of just talk, let’s be local and keep our energy dollars local.

CBJ mayor and Assembly, I humbly suggest that it is your duty and responsibility to intervene with the RCA to protect the Juneau public interest. After all, you represent us, your Juneau constituents, not Canadian government shareholders. Save our Snettisham assets from being financially carted off to Canada. Enforce that Avista and AEL&P do not block energy investments and Juneau jobs with transmission as a market barrier. Hydro One and Avista provide non-discriminatory and open access in Ontario and Washington, why discriminate against Juneau? Hydro One and Avista are lowering Washington rates and have no intention to treat us equally because they make binding promises to other states but leave us with vague commitments. That is how colonies are treated. It is not in the Juneau public interest to have a colony utility in Juneau. Please intervene. Trust but verify.

• Randy Sutak has been a Juneau resident for over 20 years.

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