By Mike Williscraft
Anyone looking to the recently installed Grimsby Energy board for immediate answers and quick decisions regarding the Sobie Road biodigester is looking in the wrong direction.
While last week’s special council meeting sustained bombshell after bombshell regarding the now-$15-million-in-debt biodigester, work is ongoing to prepare for the next report, which is expected at February’s Finance and Administration Committee meeting.
Delight Davoli, who made last week’s presentation to council as the recently appointed chair of Grimsby Energy, which oversees the biodigester operation, said work is slow, but purposeful.
With no minutes found for any GEI meetings pre-2017 and next to no minutes at all for any meetings of Grimsby Hydro, which was responsible for Niagara Regional Broadband Network (NRBN), getting to the financial bottom of the organization has been more than challenging.
“We have very, very little to go on. We’re working on it but we have a weak or non-existent paper trail,” said Davoli.
NRBN was sold in 2016 for $9 million with the net proceeds from that sale eventually being spent to prop up the biodigester as spending continued to skyrocket far beyond the initial $3.5 million budget.
The project, which has had many problems over many years will still take another $100,000 per month it continues to operate until an ultimate direction is decided upon by the new GEI board and town council, which is the shareholder
of the hydro operation.
The current debt is comprised of $7 million to GHI, $4.5 million for a bank loan on which the Town has to sign on as a guarantor, $2.4 million to another of Grimsby’s hydro companies Niagara Power with $2.4 million, another $600,000 in leases and overdue accounts to suppliers.
The initial drivers behind the project were former Mayor Bob Bentley, James Detenbeck, Joe Panetta and Shaffee Bacchus.
The board GEI ran the operation – up to Dec. 3 when council put through wholesale changes with Bacchus, Sean Straughan, Bentley, former Aldermen Carolyn Mullins and Steve Berry coming off the board – were formally replaced by Davoli, James Howden, Rob Hattin and Coun. Lianne Vardy.
Panetta has also had other “hats” in the hydro operation including acting as procurement officer for the biodigester.
“He is no longer a board member and, as of today, he is no longer our director of procurement,” said Davoli of Panetta.
Davoli noted the board is working through Steps four and five of an eight-step process before taking any action. Steps four and five are developing ideas and assessing their validity.
“It could operate as is, but is it worth it? It could go bankrupt. Somewhere in the middle would be selling it, leasing it or handing it to a new operator,” said Davoli.
We are trying to get our arms around what the costs are of the different options. We have asked council for support. If they choose not to, we’re immediately at that (shutdown) point on the continuum.”
Davoli reiterated what she said at council last week in that any option chosen will take considerable additional funds even if decommissioning is chosen. Decommissioning can be as much as 50 per cent of the build cost it was estimated.