The owner of a St. John’s food truck says Newfoundland Power wants him out of business. Steve Smith, owner of the recently opened Long Dick’s Sausage Emporium, truck told The Telegram this week the utility has reneged on an agreement to let him draw power from a pole beside his Duckworth Street location.
“Last November, when I started planning this, I contacted Newfoundland Power and I said, ‘OK, no holds barred. Don’t hold back on me here, what do I need to get power at this location?’” he said.
Smith said the customer service representative told him getting power wouldn’t be a problem; he just needed to have the truck properly hooked up to the pole, with a meter, and have it inspected by the city.
At the beginning of April, he brought the trailer in from Ontario and set about hooking it up. “I had my electrician come in, we drew the permit, we went to work on it. Next thing I know, a representative from Newfoundland Power shows up on site and says, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not allowed to put a meter on this pole.’”
Noting the numerous conversations he’d had with the customer service rep — who’d told him he could put a meter on the pole — Smith asked how it is he’s seen meters on poles for other vending trucks or other needs, and was told those are temporary hookups, good for two years, used for projects like construction sites.
“I said, ‘Well, give me one of those, and I’ll figure it out in two years.’ And he says, ‘All right, that’s what we’ll do.’”
Another permit drawn, meter installed, work continued. Smith had it inspected by the city, and all that was left to be done was to have Newfoundland Power connect it.
“I needed it done quickly, because they’d held me up already, because of this, and I needed to get going or I was going to lose the business before I even got open,” he said, adding that he asked Newfoundland Power for an expedited hookup. That’s when, he said, Newfoundland Power informed him that he shouldn’t have been told he could use the pole in the first place. He asked for a meeting, and when a week went by with no results, he took his story to Backtalk on VOCM and wrote letters to Newfoundland Power management. After that, he was invited to Newfoundland Power, where he was given a letter.
“The letter states that they’re going to allow me to have the meter on the pole for three months. After three months’ time, I have to have a separate post or mast installed, a minimum of six feet away from the pole,” he said, adding that it will need all-new underground wiring, requiring the sidewalk to be dug up. Smith estimates it will cost him another $4,000, even though he’d already spent a few thousand doing the work he was told he needed to do by Newfoundland Power.
“I said this won’t work for me. I’m going to be three months into it. I’m going to be in the middle of my busy season of my startup year. There’s no way,” he said, adding he was told “take it or leave it.” After discussing it with his business manager, Smith advised Newfoundland Power he would sign the paperwork but he was doing so under duress. “I’m an ex-insurance adjuster, so I was covering my ass. I said they’re forcing me into a situation here, and I’m covering my ass.”
He signed the paperwork April 21, and started slinging sausages five days later. Since then — with the three-month deadline looming July 21 — Smith said he’s found himself too busy with the business to do the work necessary to get the work done, and has been met with a shrug when he’s talked to Newfoundland Power officials visiting the truck to remind him of the deadline. As it stands, power will be cut off July 21 if the work hasn’t been done yet.
“I have no problem with them not allowing meters on poles, but they allowed me a meter on a pole, one of their representatives,” he said. “In their words, the representative didn’t know what they were doing it and shouldn’t have allowed it.” Smith figures Newfoundland Power should be responsible for its employees, and wants to know why others are allowed meters on poles when he’s not.
“They don’t want to deal with this segment of business,” he said. “It’s an abuse of their power because it’s a monopoly.”
Michele Coughlan, the director of corporate communications for Newfoundland Power, said she couldn’t comment on an individual client’s situation due to privacy concerns. Speaking generally, she said if a mobile food vendor such as Smith leases a site without electricity service, it’s required to install permanent electricity service.
“Our standards do require that a permanent structure be put in place to house that customer-owned equipment,” she said. Temporary options are available for construction jobs until a project is completed, she said, because once a building is finished, the customer-owned equipment can be installed on the building.
“Adequate timelines are provided, and that stuff is agreed to by the customer,” she said. As for whether Newfoundland Power should have agreed to a two-year temporary meter — or any temporary meter at all — for Smith, Coughlan said, “I can’t get into specifics of a particular customer issue, other than to say we are certainly focused on working with our customers on an ongoing basis.”
Temporary service is just that: temporary, said Coughlan.
“That service is provided for the short term until a permanent structure or permanent service can be installed,” she said. “And again, those details are worked out with the customers and agreed to by the customer.”