Hydro Ottawa celebrates a century illuminating the capital

Vintage Hydro Ottawa
(photo provided)

Slightly more than a century ago, Ottawa’s first municipally-owned utility was born.

In January 1916, the City of Ottawa’s Municipal Electric Department officially became the Ottawa Hydro Electric Commission (or Ottawa Hydro), enabling the city to provide reliable, continuous power and improve the quality of life for all residents by offering electricity.

Few organizations directly touch the lives of so many residents, or are so fundamental to the success of local companies, as Hydro Ottawa.

From illuminating Ottawa’s early office buildings to powering the futuristic telecom labs in the city’s technology corridors, the history of Hydro Ottawa is closely intertwined with the city’s economic success over the past 100 years.

While much has changed over the past century, Hydro Ottawa continues to focus on providing reliable and affordable electricity – the same mandate that led to its creation.

In the early 1900s, the privately-owned Ottawa Light, Heat and Power Co. had a monopoly on power in the nation’s capital and charged rates that not all residents could afford.

However, once Hydro Ottawa – then known as the Ottawa Hydro Electric Commission – started operations, Ottawa Light, Heat and Power Co. was forced to match the city’s considerably lower rates.

Bringing affordable electricity to the masses unleashed a new era of growth, innovation and prosperity to the city and its residents. Municipal electricity was solidified in 1950 when the city-owned Ottawa Hydro Electric Commission bought the Ottawa Light, Heat and Power Co. for $7.6 million.

There have been many milestones and turning points since, including:

The provincial Electricity Act: In 1998, the Ontario government introduced a requirement for all hydro utilities in Ontario to operate as business corporations with the goal of facilitating a competitive marketplace for electricity.

1998 ice storm: More than 85 millimetres of freezing rain, ice pellets and snow fell on Ottawa during a series of storms, creating a thick ice that downed power lines and forced tens of thousands of people out of their homes. Often working double shifts in frigid temperatures, hydro employees came together to restore power as quickly as possible.

Amalgamation: In November 2000, Gloucester Hydro, Goulbourn Hydro, Kanata Hydro, Nepean Hydro and Ottawa Hydro come together to create Hydro Ottawa. Casselman Hydro would later join in 2002. As such, the company became the third-largest municipally-owned electrical utility in Ontario.

Energy Ottawa: Established in 2000, the new entity took ownership of two generating stations at Chaudière Falls, later refurbishing them to double their renewable generation capacity while maintaining their heritage nature. It is now the largest municipally-owned producer of green power in the province.

Today, Hydro Ottawa is at the forefront of a changing future. For example, it’s converting some 58,000 streetlights across the city to LED technology, generating significant financial savings, as well as installing electric vehicle charging stations at its offices.

Hydro Ottawa continues to provide effective and efficient service to customers while being a strong strategic partner for the city by helping it deliver on its economic development and environmental agendas.

“One thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to provide reliable and affordable electricity to the residents of Ottawa,” says Hydro Ottawa president and CEO Bryce Conrad. “This ideal is what our company was built on, and it’s a mission we strive to uphold today.”