Power struggle

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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Food truck owner says Newfoundland Power making it difficult to stay open

Long Dick’s Sausage Emporium owner/operator Steve Smith serves customers at his location on Duckworth Street Friday. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

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.”

 

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Newfoundland Power, The Telegram

Geographic location: Duckworth Street, Ontario

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Recent comments

  • ang
    June 24, 2012 - 21:21

    If mr Long Dick really wants this business of his to survive, he will do everything in his power to make sure that it does, instead of calling up every media avenue in the city to whine because he cant get his own way. I am all for the small business owner, but nothing is handed to you on a silver platter in this life. If you dont work hard for it, you dont deserve it! No one is saying he cant have his business there, they have given him options - saying "I just dont have time" is an utter cop out. He wants this to work, he needs to make it work. Let me tell my five year old "You can have ice cream but not until your room is cleaned up" The five year old whines and crys, but until his room is cleaned up, there is no ice cream. Case in point here with NLP. They want Mr Dick to stop being a dick and follow protocol. DIg the hole, follow procedure and clean up your room, or you dont get ice cream (power). Its really very simple, kindergarten etiquette. stop enabling this man to revert back to his child hood, and encourage him to grow up and face his business woes like the business man he claims to be.

    • John Gamble
      August 04, 2012 - 10:04

      Well said! From what I have heard, this individual reverts to his childhood quite a bit. Apparently he left a lot of unfinished business in another province as well. Stop making excuses due to your lack of commitment. You get what ye deserve mate, you get what ye deserve.

  • Trevor
    June 24, 2012 - 09:00

    PUT THE METER ON THE TRUCK

  • Politicaly incorrect
    June 24, 2012 - 08:31

    As a privately owned utility, Newfoundland Power's first and only consideration is profit -- nothing more. If supplying hydro to Long Dick 's doesn't earn increased income for Fortis, then Mr. Smith is out of luck. If it was a public utility, that might have been a different story.

  • Idea
    June 23, 2012 - 22:33

    Get a good generator switch to propane and say to NLP....thanks....but no thanks.....

  • blair
    June 23, 2012 - 18:15

    Nfld. Power by now are trying to figure out how to convince the P.U.B to give them a general rate increases to cover the cost of hooking up this snack truck.

  • John Smith
    June 23, 2012 - 17:38

    Does this guy have any documented proof? Other than a supposed conversation with a customer service person? Where is the paper work? NL power is just doing what they have to to proctect us from fire, and buddy from electricuting himself. This should be the responsibility of the city, or buddy should get a generator...

  • John
    June 23, 2012 - 15:52

    It is these kind of stories and experiences that make people pack their bags and join the ever growing list of ex pats on the mainland where you are REALLY WANTED and will be given a FAIR CHANCE!!!!

  • Political Watcher
    June 23, 2012 - 13:22

    What are we coning too? Food trucks operate in just about every City in the world; in some areas they serve better food than the restautants. Yet again, something done everywhere can't be done in St. John's. Reminds me of the time when Shannie Duff and company wanted to get the fresh seafood stands off the waterfront so they constructed a little tiny shell for them, problem was that the place could only hold one vendor so man others were left out. What happened to that shell, it is used to sell tour boat tickets out of. Here we are, a Seafarers city and can't get a piece of seafood anywhere from a local street vendor and soon we won't be able to get a dog. Hey Doc, if you are going to worry about big oil and piss them off maybe you should spend a little time working to keep the litle guys IN business.

    • fred
      June 24, 2012 - 03:53

      You're absolutely right.

  • Rob
    June 23, 2012 - 13:22

    Two sides to every story. True St John's is one of the most business unfriendly cities in Canada, but this guy is pretty rough to deal with too. Unfortunately, NL Power and the City will probably end up running the guy out of town.

  • Darrin
    June 23, 2012 - 12:18

    Funny how the owner has time to speak to The Telegram, The Scope (on two occasions in May), CBC, and VOCM, but "he’s found himself too busy with the business to do the work necessary to get the work done".

    • Ida
      June 23, 2012 - 15:54

      Good for Mr. Smith for publizing his issue. Sounds like the first NLP rep he spoke to didn't know the rules so just made something up on the spot. Couldn't be bothered to say, "I'll check into the rules and get back to you" and then (this is where it gets radical), actually find out the rules and get back to him. Take the easy way out; bluff your way through. Name of the game for too many people.

  • Devil's Advocate
    June 23, 2012 - 12:13

    Newfoundland is not very small business friendly is it.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    June 23, 2012 - 12:12

    Please correct that, I meant "Long Dick's"... my apologies.

  • Brett
    June 23, 2012 - 12:07

    Maybe a small claims court case should be taken up - if Smith has the e-mails and commitments then maybe he should have sued NL Power in small claims to cover the cost of the new pole - since his business plan didn't take into account the additional costs. And get an injunction against NL power from unhooking the temporary meter until the new work is put in place.

  • Sunny Daze
    June 23, 2012 - 11:29

    maybe if he changed the name of his business NL Power might be a little more cooperative? :)

    • GJN
      June 23, 2012 - 13:04

      I can see how the name could come across as offensive to some people, but if you visit any major city you'll find these food trucks are becoming a huge thing and a sort of culture in their own, and their names and presentation are all a part of the draw. I think the city should be making an effort to accommodate this sort of business, as it's definitely an up-and-coming trend in dining and there's certainly a lot of potential.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    June 23, 2012 - 10:42

    Sounds to me like NLP's service policy was penned back in the day when the Water Street merchants may have had a say in such things. It's probably high time NLP reviewed the policy and brought it into the 21st century. Case in point, there are RV parks where the owners can leave their RV's plugged into 110-volt/30-amp/60 Hz AC service all year long if they wish. And in terms of having to buy NLP's equipment, why can't Big Dick just lease-to-own it? Auto manufacturers have been providing that option to customers for decades. No doubt NLP is a topnotch outfit; having experienced the service provided by similar agencies such as NSP I can confidently state that. However, the policy-makers at NLP should realize, that in this day and age, they should be trying to find ways to facilitate economic growth and accommodate entrepreneurial ventures such as Big Dick's, rather than trying to stifle them.