Hydro One seeks to shake bad reputation

ST-ALBERT – The world-renowned cheese plant in St-Albert is getting a much needed boost from Hydro One as the power company continues efforts to reframe its perception among paying customers.

St-Albert Cheese Co-operate general manager Eric Lafontaine (left) and provincial energy minister Glen Thibeault toured the sprawling facility Thurs., Oct. 5. Press Photo – Uhrig

Provincial energy minister Glenn Thibeault toured the sprawling St-Albert Cheese Co-operative Thurs., Oct. 5 as part of a swing through the region. Hydro One representatives, including Fero Pugliese, executive vice-president of customer care and corporate affairs, joined him.

For St-Albert employees, it was a good news visit. Since fire destroyed the historic factory in February 2013, there has been a mixture of emotions in both the village and the surrounding area.

Without work, employees suffered through temporary layoffs and visitors stopped making the commute to St-Albert.

Just a year later, however, the co-operative was up and running again, thanks in large part to a $1-million injection from the provincial government. The new site is more modern and efficient, and also features a restaurant and shop.

Holding it back, however, was electricity, or more to the point, the lack of it.

“During the reconstruction process, we learned that the electricity available for the plant was limited,” general manager Eric Lafontaine said. “We were only given 1,000 amps of service from Hydro One for an industrial plant our size. We were surprised when comparing to other industrial plants in the industry as most others with similar space and equipment have bigger services.”

For two years, peak season has been a challenge of managing electrical consumption, despite modifications made to use the least amount possible.

St-Albert representatives went calling to Hydro One for help, and were instead turned away due to a lack of capacity. Even Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Grant Crack failed to sway Hydro One.

Now that the firm is mostly privatized, however, suddenly some wiggle room was found.

This was the news Thibeault brought with him Oct. 5, as St-Albert’s capacity will be increased by 500 amps.

It is all part of a change to the notoriously bad customer service at Hydro One.

“Hydro One is fundamentally changing the way in which we operate to put our customers first,” Pugliese said. “The availability of power is a major factor for growth and expansion of businesses in the province. We need to be flexible to find innovative solutions to help Ontario communities and businesses grow and expand.”

Added Thibeault: “It’s all a matter of using the system more efficiently, and keeping businesses in business.”

Beyond capacity increase at the cheese plant, Pugliese noted that further investigation is going into the possible implementation of a 44-kilovolt line that would substantially increase electricity needs through the region given its continued growth.