By JUDD WILSON
COEUR d’ALENE — Half of the architects behind the Avista-Hydro One sale are gone.
Fulfilling his oft-repeated promise made on the campaign trail, new Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday the immediate resignation of Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt and the subsequent resignations of the entire Hydro One board of directors. Hydro One is Ontario’s largest electricity transmission and distribution company. The provincial government owns 47.4 percent of the company, according to the Ontario Ministry of Energy.
The proposed $5.3 billion cash sale of local energy provider Avista to Toronto-based Hydro One ran into heavy opposition at a June 14 public meeting in Coeur d’Alene. The scene was repeated at similar meetings in Moscow and Sandpoint, and via letters to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.
What impact the Hydro One housecleaning might have on the proposed purchase of Avista is anybody’s guess. An Avista representative issued a brief statement Wednesday expressing surprise at the resignations and adding, “We are monitoring developments at Hydro One and wish Mayo Schmidt well. We remain focused on serving our customers, communities, employees and shareholders.”
Schmidt was brought into Hydro One from the private sector when the company made its initial public offering in 2015, and had led the charge to acquire Avista. In an interview with Bloomberg News on Nov. 21, 2017, Schmidt revealed that he intended to purchase multiple energy companies in the U.S. Northwest.
Hydro One chief financial officer Paul Dobson will serve as interim CEO until a new board of directors is appointed and a new CEO hired, the company said in a press release Wednesday. The company plans on having a new board of directors in place by Aug. 15.
Schmidt will not receive severance but was granted a one-time $400,000 lump sum, explained the press release. Ford had labeled Schmidt “The Six-Million Dollar Man” on account of his $6.2 million salary.
In addition to slashing high executive pay, Ford had vowed during the campaign to reduce Hydro One’s prices by 12 percent “so people don’t have to choose between heating their homes or putting food on the table.”
In an official statement Wednesday, Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford explained that the province’s new leadership had been elected “on a promise to lower electricity bills for the people of Ontario.” He added, “After years of rising electricity bills, this is a step towards our main goal — bringing down electricity rates for all Ontarians.”