August 5, 2016 – Terry Bridge, Sarnia Observer – When the Sarnia Hydro-Electric Commission was created in 1916, it initially serviced 276 customers in Sarnia and Point Edward and, in some cases, electricity was only offered at certain times of the day.
One-hundred years later, Bluewater Power Distribution Corp. – comprised of the former Sarnia company and five other local commissions – provides electricity at all hours to 36,000 customers in six communities. The system load has also exploded from the original 1,000 kilowatts (one megawatt) to its current peak of around 220 megawatts.
“The growth and people’s consumption of electricity over the years is amazing,” said Bluewater Power CEO Janice McMichael-Dennis.
According to historical information on Bluewater Power’s website, Sarnia Hydro-Electric Commission was created on Nov. 27, 1916 through a bylaw passed by Sarnia City Council, with its first office established at 201 North Front St.
In 2000, commissions in Sarnia, Petrolia, Warwick, Alvinston, Point Edward and Oil Springs were merged as part of provincial restructuring.
Now headquartered at 855 Confederation St., Bluewater Power has grown by more than just its customer base – it’s comprised of six companies with hands in all sorts of projects including local high-speed fibre internet, industrial maintenance services and large-scale solar panels.
There are approximately 150 staff across all six entities led by McMichael-Dennis, a Sarnia native who’s been CEO since 2005, and her board of directors. McMichael-Dennis said she is thrilled be involved with the municipally-owned company as it reaches the century mark.
“Really the 100 years of local service in my mind comes down to one thing, and it comes down to the people,” she said. “We have such an exceptional team here, and we had an exceptional group of retirees who came before us who built this company over the years.”
There have been obstacles to overcome throughout the last century. In 1942, a boiler explosion destroyed the Front Street office and the commission relocated to the corner Lochiel and Victoria streets. A tornado hit downtown Sarnia in 1953 and disrupted service to the entire city, but crews restored electricity to hospitals and major industries within hours.
Yet the most widespread local weather event to affect service was the remnants of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, McMichael-Dennis said.
“We’ve weathered a lot of storms,” she said.
To recognize 100 years, Bluewater Power is hosting four community barbecues next week. Monday’s event is at the Brooke-Alvinston-Inwood Community Centre Complex, Tuesday is at the Watford Arena, Wednesday is at Clearwater Arena and Thursday is at the Petrolia Farmers’ Market.
Each event is open to the public and runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with a ceremony at noon to “cut the ribbon on the next 100 years.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Bluewater Power 100 Years Community Barbecues
WHEN: Aug. 8-11 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Monday in Alvinston, Tuesday in Watford, Wednesday in Sarnia, Thursday in Petrolia