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Pam Frampton: N.L. Hydro has a team working on it

Hydro Place in St. John’s, headquarters of Nalcor Energy and subsidiary Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.
Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. — Telegram file photo

Now, I know a lot of you out there — and I can include myself in this — are worried about your electric bills.

You worry about paying them as it is now in the dead of winter, when it feels like your hard-earned money is leaking out through the tiny gaps in your windows and doors just as the icy drafts creep in.

And now you’re worried about how you’re going to pay those bills when your electricity rate jumps by five or six cents per kilowatt hour if — and that’s only an if at this point, because we’ve been told nothing definitively — the province brings in rate-mitigation measures to subsidize the price of Muskrat Falls power in a couple of years’ time.

You can’t even let your mind go to what happens if the best the province can do in terms of rate mitigation is offer you a break on a new heat pump and the rates soar to 22 or 23 cents per kilowatt hour.

But don’t despair. Because even as Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is at the Public Utilities Board (PUB) pressing for a 1.2 per cent rate increase for Jan. 1, 2019 — hot on the heels of the 6.6 per cent increase that took effect July 1st of this year — behind the scenes they have assembled a team that’s out there busily innovating.

Will it save you money in the long run?

Who the heck knows. But they’ve got some impressive sounding titles and a terms of reference laced with more corporate jargon than you can shake a multi-sided wooden implement at.

The mandate of the Hydro Innovation and Productivity Team is outlined in documentation filed with the PUB this month.

The terms of reference sagely observes (and please note: comments in parentheses are mine) what you might reasonably have expected the Crown corporation to realize some time ago, given that exorbitant Muskrat Falls power is just a couple of years off:

“Hydro is facing a time of immense pressure both internally and externally from stakeholders and customers to manage the business more efficiently and help manage electricity rates in the province.

The mandate of the Hydro Innovation and Productivity Team is outlined in documentation filed with the PUB this month.

“Hydro has heard from employees that there are opportunities to improve its business, improve service and save costs for customers.” (I’m thinking they heard that from the employees who aren’t making twice their salaries in overtime or raking in those hefty performance bonuses.)

“Now is the time for Hydro to take action and move forward with a company-wide approach to embedding innovation as a core driver of how it does business.” (Uh, now is the time?)

“The Innovation and Productivity Team is being established to drive productivity improvements, find efficiencies, eliminate waste, add value to customers and embed innovation as a sustainable part of Hydro’s culture.”

That’s terrific news.

And get this: the “Team” as it is innovatively referred to, has a “Core Team” of four people seconded from their regular day jobs to work full-time on this. And there’s a “Team Lead” and a “Co-Team Lead” (both positions helpfully defined for the hard-of-thinking), an “Executive Sponsor,” and a whole bunch of “Champions” (who I can picture chanting “rah-rah-rah!” and “go team!” from inside their work cubicles), ideally trained in “lean six sigma” and “go-productivity” (both business-speak for figuring out how to do more with less.) They’ve got a $720,000 budget for salaries, travel and other expenses and an initial time line of 18 to 24 months.

Now, as you can imagine, the thought occurred to consumer advocate Dennis Browne — and he raised it with Hydro’s VP of financial services, Lisa Hutchens (a.k.a. the Executive Sponsor) — that if you can move four people out of their jobs and not replace them, were they necessary in those jobs at all?

But his bigger question was this: what exactly is the “Team” supposed to do?

Hutchens’ response: “Their purpose is twofold. One is to drive out innovation and productivity and then the other one is to aid in promoting a culture of productivity and innovation.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling better already.

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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