It has been almost a year since the electricity franchise for the Town of Hay River officially expired with Northland Utilities (NWT) Ltd.

Doug Tenney is vice-president for northern development with ATCO Electric, the parent company of Northland Utilities (NWT) Ltd. NNSL file photo

However, the company is still distributing power to the community as a process continues that may see the franchise change hands.

The town previously decided in March 2016 that it wants to award its electrical franchise to the Northwest Territories Power Corporation.

Under the franchise agreement which expired on Nov. 30, 2016, the Town of Hay River can buy the assets for power distribution from Northland Utilities.

Right now, the matter is in arbitration, including to determine the valuation of the assets.

“It’s in the process of the legal side of it,” said Mayor Brad Mapes. “There’s a lot of going back and forth.”

Mapes said the town has no control of the process to speed it up.

“It’s in the hands of legal and the arbitrator,” he said. “It’s frustrating. There’s no doubt that we felt that this should have been done sooner. It’s very important to our town to understand how we can figure solutions on lowering our power costs and this process is hopefully going to find a solution or some way to go forward.”

Hay River town council was updated on the process at an in-camera meeting on Nov. 14.

Mapes said he does not know how much longer the process will take.

“We knew that it was going to take upwards of over a year,” he said. “So it’s not surprising.”

Doug Tenney, vice-president for northern development with ATCO Electric, the parent company of Northland Utilities, said the process is at the stage where each party will be filing evidence with the arbitrator, there will then be a hearing before the arbitrator, and both sides will then wait for the arbitrator’s decision.

Tenney said the evidence is to be filed by the end of this month, and a hearing with the arbitrator will probably take place in the third week of January.

“Then I don’t know how long we would expect before the arbitrator makes a ruling on the process,” he said.

One of the parts of the process is to determine valuation, but it is also determining what is actually an asset.

“How I would categorize it is step number one is we need the arbitrator to determine exactly what constitutes the franchise assets,” Tenney said. “And what I mean by that, is it the distribution assets within the town boundaries? Is it the standby power plant that’s within the town boundaries? Is it the transmission line that goes all the way from Pine Point to the power plant in Hay River? So those are the three buckets of assets, if you would, that are being discussed.”

The ATCO Electric official said there are obviously differences of opinion on what constitutes franchise assets.

Tenney said the next step is to determine the methodology to value those assets, and then actually determining the value.

“So once the arbitrator decides what the assets are and what the value is, then I suspect it will be up to the Town of Hay River to decide is they still wish to proceed with purchasing those assets,” he said. “Because if the price is too great or if the assets that they thought should be included aren’t included, those will give them pause for making a decision about whether to proceed.”

Tenney said Northland Utilities remains opposed to a possible sale.

“We would still very much want to be the service provider for the Town of Hay River,” he said.

As for how long the process is taking, Tenney said Northland Utilities always assumed it would be a bit of a process to get through.

“I don’t know if we had in our mind exactly how long it was going to take,” he said. “It’s not an insignificant transaction. There’s lots to it even if you had a willing buyer and a willing seller. So it just makes it that much more difficult when we have the current situation.”

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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