Hydro One Inc. concluded its bruising eight-month search for a new leader on Thursday by announcing B.C. Hydro executive Mark Poweska is the utility’s new president and CEO.
Mr. Poweska spent 25 years at B.C. Hydro and is currently executive vice-president of operations for the government-owned company. He replaces Mayo Schmidt, who was forced out of Hydro One last July by Ontario Premier Doug Ford after an election campaign in which the Progressive Conservative Leader railed against compensation at the utility. Hydro One was partly privatized four years ago by Ontario’s previous Liberal government, and the province owns 47 per cent of the company.
During last spring’s campaign, Mr. Ford repeatedly targeted Mr. Schmidt’s $6.2-million compensation package as excessive. Since being elected, the PC government has introduced legislation that caps Hydro One’s CEO pay at $1.5-million. At B.C. Hydro, Mr. Poweska made $405,720 last year. In a press release, Mr. Poweska said: “I am committed to Hydro One being a customer-friendly company delivering safe, affordable and reliable power.”
The fallout from the Ontario government’s meddling in Hydro One’s governance included cancellation of a planned $4.4-billion takeover of U.S. utility Avista Corp. The new chief executive is expected to focus on running the province’s 153,000-kilometre electrical grid and 8,600 employees, and steer clear of investments outside Ontario.
“Mark’s proven record in building a strong safety culture, exceeding customer expectations and improving operational performance will help to ensure that Hydro One is strong now and into the future,” said Tom Woods, chair of Hydro One’s board. Mr. Poweska is expected to start at Hydro One in early May.
Colleagues say Mr. Poweska combines a strong engineering background with people skills, such as a track record for a proven ability to work with Indigenous groups. Lesley Cabott, chair of Yukon Energy Corp., brought in Mr. Poweska as an adviser to the territory’s electric utility last year and said he helped solve thorny issues, such as where to use limited resources to best build a network that serves cities as well as far-flung rural customers.
“Mark is skilled at anticipating problems and thinking about solutions that work for all our customers, including Indigenous communities and extremely isolated communities,” Ms. Cabott said. She added that Mr. Poweska has a sense of adventure, and would head out before dawn on a “fat-tire trail bike, wearing a headlamp, to get exercise in the middle of frigid winter.”
Hydro One’s board of directors has been sparring with the provincial government for months over compensation for the CEO and executive team. The board interviewed more than a dozen CEO candidates when it was offering a compensation package of up to $2.75-million annually. Many of these executives lost interest in late February, when the Ontario government cut the CEO’s paycheck to a maximum of $1.5-million and reduced pay for the rest of the management team. The contracts of several Hydro One executives expire this spring, and one of Mr. Poweska’s first challenges will be retaining senior managers and replacing those who depart.
“We’re confident that Mr. Poweska’s extensive background in generation, transmission and distribution is the experience Hydro One needs as they continue to move forward as a company,” said Greg Rickford, Ontario’s Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines. In an e-mail, Mr. Rickford said: “I firmly believe that Hydro One’s best days are ahead and the company will be stronger than ever.”
Hydro One went public in 2015 by selling shares priced at $20.50 each. The stock subsequently hit highs of $26, but has declined in the past three years, in part due to political uncertainty around the company. Hydro One shares last traded on Thursday at $20.58 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, giving the company a $12.3-billion market capitalization.
With a report from Laura Stone