Ottawa firm complains to Competition Bureau about ‘unethical’ behaviour by Hydro Ottawa
An Ottawa electrical firm has sent Hydro Ottawa a “cease-and-desist” letter and complained to the Competition Bureau, accusing the utility of “unethical” practices for allegedly bad-mouthing the company and its products to potential customers.
“I can’t just sit by anymore,” said Samantha Newman-Corrigall, operations manager for Power Systems Technology, a four-person company headquartered on Colonnade Road. “It’s just not right. It’s bullying and it’s not OK.”
Power Systems makes and sells transformers called “MiniSubs” (for mini sub-stations) that connect customers to the power grid, stepping down high-voltage electricity from the transmission lines to safe levels and providing circuit breakers to shield equipment from power surges. It has clients in Europe and Africa, and counts among its customers Carleton University, a CN Rail operation in Calgary and the new Metrolinx commuter rail line in Georgetown, west of Toronto.
Power Systems has had a testy relationship with Hydro Ottawa for years, but launched its David-and-Goliath battle with the utility last week after one of its sales reps listened as a Hydro Ottawa employee told the prospective client that Power Systems’ equipment was unreliable, with more than 20 failures in Ottawa in the past year. Newman-Corrigall suspects the Hydro Ottawa employee didn’t realize a Power Systems rep was also attending the meeting.
“He listened as (the Hydro Ottawa rep) went on for five minutes saying not only is (our equipment) unreliable — which is completely false — but he was saying one of them that failed was in a seniors’ home and that his mother was in a seniors’ home, and he couldn’t imagine what would happen if her home had been without power,” Newman-Corrigall said.
“I was shocked,” said Heng Ting, the Power Technology’s engineering sales representative in the Jan. 22 meeting. “I had to calm myself down and decide what I was going to say to him. Then I started questioning him and asking about the project he was talking about. He wouldn’t answer me.”
Power Systems emailed Hydro Ottawa after the meeting to ask for clarification, but received no response, Newman-Corrigall said.
Just one of Power Systems MiniSubs failed last year and that was the result of a power surge from Hydro Ottawa’s transmission lines, she said. The MiniSub blew, but successfully protected any of the other customer’s equipment from damage, she said.
On Feb. 8, Power Systems’ lawyer sent a letter to Hydro Ottawa urging it to “cease and desist making false and defamatory statements regarding Power Systems Technology Ltd.”
It filed a complaint to the Competition Bureau on March 8, alleging that Hydro Ottawa had made “false and defamatory claims” against Power Systems and its products; made false calculations about equipment costs; underpriced its own equipment to undercut competitors; stipulated that equipment needed to meet Hydro Ottawa standards for efficiency, but not revealing the efficiency requirements; and even threatening penalties to clients that chose to install third-party transformers.
The complaint lists four projects where it alleges Hydro Ottawa used unfair practices, including one involving a not-for-profit charity.
“Power Systems Technology Ltd. feels that it has exhausted all other possible avenues to resolve this situation and that since we are not the only ones being affected by it concrete actions must be taken.”
In an email, the Competition Bureau acknowledged the complaint and said it had been referred to an investigator “to be reviewed for further consideration under the Act.”
Newman-Corrigall, herself a trained electrician, says she felt the company had no choice but to make the complaint.
“For years we sort of put up with it. But at the meeting where they said it right in front of our faces, I said, ‘That’s enough. We’re going to file a complaint with the Competition Bureau. We’re going to file a cease-and-desist letter. We’ve got to try and help these guys.
“This isn’t right, what’s happening. We said, ‘Enough’s enough.’ ”
In an email to the Citizen, Hydro Ottawa said it was aware of Power Systems Technology’s complaint.
“Hydro Ottawa is aware of concerns raised on behalf of Power Systems Technology about comments alleged to have been made by employees of Hydro Ottawa as it relates to the performance and reliability about products proposed to be supplied by Power Systems Technology to customers of Hydro Ottawa.
“Hydro Ottawa intends to respond to representatives of Power Systems Technology directly about these concerns in the near future.
“Hydro Ottawa does not comment on the performance or reliability of products supplied to customers including those supplied by Power Systems Technology,” the email said.
Power Systems Technology has worked with other utilities such as Hydro One and B.C. Hydro and has never had any problems like it’s had with Hydro Ottawa, Newman-Corrigall said. And she worries about the repercussions after taking her complaint public.
“Am I a little bit scared? I guess I’m more angry than scared. What other possible damage could they do? We’ve hit a point where there’s nothing left to lose and it’s not just affecting us. It’s affecting everyone else in this market.”