Horizon merger won't bring bigger bills, Hamilton mayor says

Mayor assures residents it won't mean higher electricity bills, and customer service will remain the same.

The new company would be Ontario's second largest electricity distribution company

Not everyone wanted it, but Hamilton's mayor has signed an agreement to merge Horizon Utilities with three other power companies to form the second largest electricity distribution company in Ontario. And he says it won't mean higher bills for residents.

Fred Eisenberger joined five other mayors — and the heads of EnerSource, Hydro One Brampton, Horizon and Power Stream — to sign an agreement on Thursday to form one massive utility company.

Under the plan, EnerSource, Horizon and Power Stream will jointly purchase Hydro One Brampton. Now it's up to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to approve the merger, which should happen within six months.

Eisenberger said the as-yet-unnamed utility will mean better customer service and lower bills for residents. It will also keep rates low in the long term.

The companies estimate individual customers will save about $40 per year after the merger, or collectively, about $1.1 billion over 25 years. And they say shareholders, including the city of Hamilton, will see healthy dividends.

"(The merger) will help contain costs and provide an additional dividend to participating municipalities that will be re-invested in our communities," Eisenberger said.

Meanwhile, the parties will pay $607 million for Hydro One Brampton. The province will use that money for transit and transportation projects, said Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli. That includes light-rail transit in Hamilton.

Any job losses that happen will likely be through attrition, said Max Cananzi, Horizon CEO. He also said he doesn't anticipate any problems getting OEB approval.

The "legal agreements signing ceremony" included Chiarelli, and the mayors for Mississauga, Markham, Vaughan, Barrie and St. Catharines. 

In Hamilton, the vote to merge Horizon with other companies was far from unanimous.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger of Hamilton and Mayor Walter Sendzik of St. Catharines sign an agreement to merge Horizon Utilities with two other utilities to form the second largest electricity distribution company in Ontario.
After a marathon 12-hour meeting in October, councillors voted 10-4 to pursue a merger. Those who voted against it said it worried them that Hamilton will have less sway in the new company.

Hamilton is a nearly 80 per cent shareholder in Horizon, and will own 18.15 per cent of the new utility. 

"The only guarantee we have is the fact that we lose control," Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor, said then.

On a 13-person board, Hamilton would have two representatives, Mississauga three, Vaughan three, Markham two and Barrie and St. Catharines one each.