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Hydro One sheds light on ambitious plans for west Orillia

Construction of regional operations centre and provincial warehouse a 'testament' to Hydro One's 'commitment to Orillia,' says official
grid control centre construction aerial
This aerial view shows the progress of construction of the new provincial grid control centre being constructed by Hydro One in west Orillia. The new Orillia OPP detachment is shown in the foreground.

Hydro One is making good on its promises, says Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke.

A little over five years ago, Hydro One approached Orillia with the idea of purchasing the distribution arm of Orillia Power.

Initially, the city balked at the proposal. But “when we realized what was on the table, we decided we should listen,” said Clarke.

Eventually, the municipality agreed to the sale, while retaining the generation component of Orillia Power. 

It took longer than expected, but the Ontario Energy Board eventually agreed to the deal that came into effect Sept. 1.

But that is just one part of this pact. Hydro One also promised to build a new provincial grid control centre in Orillia; that massive $150-million facility is taking shape in west Orillia.

The utility also vowed it would build a provincial warehouse and a regional operations centre in Orillia.

Last month, they officially purchased 21.5 acres of land in the Horne Business Park, where those two facilities will be constructed over the next few years.

The moves are a “testament” to Hydro One’s “commitment to Orillia,” said David Lebeter, Hydro One’s Chief Operating Officer.

“We’re excited to be joining Orillia and growing that community and we’re going to serve that community for a long time,” he told OrilliaMatters.

Lebeter said the construction of the grid control centre is “progressing very well.” He said equipment and staff will be moving into the building later this year and he expects the full complement of staff - up to 200 employees - will be in place by the end of 2022.

He concedes many of those jobs will be filled by people currently working at the grid control centre in Barrie; that facility will become the province’s back-up centre when the Orillia location is operational.

Clarke likens it to the OPP General Headquarters. When the building opened on Memorial Avenue, many employees simply commuted from Toronto.

But, over time, many grew tired of the drive and “fell in love with our quality of life,” said Clarke.

Today, more than 800 employees at GHQ now “live in Orillia and area. I can see something similar happening with Hydro One.”

Lebeter says he’s unsure how many employees might be needed for the planned regional operations centre, which will be home to field crews of regional line maintainers, electrical maintainers and, likely, engineers in addition to people who work in various substations.

“It’s too early to tell” how many jobs might be involved. “We just bought the land and now we’re going through design … but we will keep the community informed.” 

Meanwhile, the provincial warehouse will be a place to store materials that allow those field crews to do their work, said Lebeter.

He said Orillia is the ideal location for these facilities, citing the “great access from the north, south, east and west,” adding the proximity to the grid control centre provides “some subtle synergies.”

Lebeter stressed Hydro One wants to be “part of the communities we serve.”

It also fits in with their strategy, which calls for expansion in the province.

“As we expand our footprint and as we expand our customer base in Ontario, we’re going to need additional facilities and we felt West Orillia and the Horne Business Park was a great place to build our next regional operation centre,” said Lebeter.

For the mayor, it’s the realization of a long-time goal of council.

“To see it coming together the way it was envisioned … it’s wonderful and exciting for Orillia,” said Clarke.

“As a result of these three facilities, there will be great quality jobs for Orillians for decades to come.”

It also means a steady supply of reliable power, vowed Lebeter.

When Hydro One took the reins on Sept. 1, “all distribution customers enjoyed a 1% rate reduction and that’s frozen for five years,” he explained. “And we’re looking forward to rolling out new tools they can use that Hydro One has that Orillia Power didn't have.”

He said Hydro One was happy to retain the Orillia Power employees as part of the transaction. He said every employee that wanted to stay in Orillia has been accommodated.

“Any employee who is leaving is because they chose to (as an) opportunity to expand their career,” he said, stressing the employees are a valuable resource.

“They have the knowledge - knowledge of the system, customers … we don’t want to lose that. We want to bring things we can add of value to customer experience, but we don’t want to take away the things they enjoy,” said Lebeter.

“We’re very focused on meeting the needs of the employees and equally focused on meeting the needs of the customers,” he said.

Lebeter said the pillars of the company’s strategy revolve around expansion, developing partnerships with the communities they serve and improving reliability.

“We are focused on reliability and, hopefully, (customers in Orillia) can actually see some improvement over the service they received from Orillia Power.”

Clarke conceded some people expressed concerns about reliability when negotiations began.

“But hats off to them because they have raised the level and reliability of service - something they’ve been able to demonstrate over the last few years,” said Clarke.

He also stressed Orillia is classified as an urban area and says the “poles and wires” here have been well maintained by Orillia Power - a stark contrast to some sparsely populated rural areas where the bulk of reliability issues were experienced.

“I believe the reliability and service will be very comparable to Orillia Power,” he said.


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Dave Dawson

About the Author: Dave Dawson

Dave Dawson is community editor of
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