Use of electricity in Oshawa began when some enterprising citizens, E.S. Edmondson, J.L. Guy, and K.L. Murton created an arc lighting system for the little town and formed Oshawa Electric Light Company. On September 12, 1887 the electric lights were turned on for the first time for 15 arc light posts and the local businesses surrounding the light posts.
Originally the company operated in conjunction with a flour mill located on St. Lawrence Street, just south of Mill Street. The greater part of the power was developed by steam augmented by a small water power plant supplied from a dam in the Oshawa Creek. A steam engine and boiler system was available for back up should there ever be a water shortage in Oshawa Creek. Electricity was only available between dusk and dawn unless it was a bright moonlight night then it would be left off.
The mill was completely destroyed in a fire. It was rebuilt minus the flour mill and then sold to Stark Electric Co of Toronto. This company made one important change in the system. The arc lights were replaced with incandescent ones. The plant now has a load capacity of 600 kilowatts, being a 52 volt, 133 cycle system that served 400 customers.
Oshawa Railway Co. was built and it was decided that the cars should be operated by electrical power produced by Oshawa Electric Light Co. The first section opened on June 13, 1895. The entire town’s population turned out to watch Car # 12 trundle proudly down Simcoe Street on its first trip.
By August of that year the track had been extended to the Port on Lake Ontario and a large park was built there. This attracted a lot of tourists and visitors who would arrive by passenger ships from Toronto to picnic at the lake and also ride the train. On occasion, the electrical plant could not handle the load and the street cars would stall and have to be rescued by horses that would pull the cars back to the lake. As a result, Oshawa Railway Co. built their own electrical plant on Mill Street that was powered by steam.
Public Water Supply installed under a commission was elected and composed of W.F Cowan, Robt. McLaughlin, Robert McCaw, Dr. T.E Kaiser and F.L Fowke as Mayor-elect.
The Water Commission was in place until the City repealed the election of the Water Commission and the responsibility of the water system fell under the Public Utilities Commission January 1, 1930.
Oshawa Electric Light Co. was purchased by the Seymour Power Co. Electricity for both light and power for residential customers was made available, for the first time, on a 24 hour basis. The cost of electricity was around 15 cents per kwh.
Electric rail car
Oshawa Electric Light Co. was purchased along with many other systems under the control of the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario (set up in 1905). During the years following the First World War when Oshawa expanded to become a thriving industrial city, the demand for more light and power increased by leaps and bounds.
Oshawa Power Employees
March 8, 1924 reported that the power and lighting was 4300K.W or 5700 H.P, serving 4000 customers and operating 700 street lights
Discussions began in Oshawa City Council about purchasing the local gas distribution system and the electric distribution system.
Left: Construction truck equipped with chains for muddy roads. The Court Street Transformer Station appears in the right background.
Oshawa City Council passed a by-law to authorize a vote on purchasing the Oshawa electric distribution system and to establish a public utilities commission. After 2 years of negotiating since discussions began the purchase was finalized and the City purchased the electrical distribution system for $310,000 and the gas distribution system for $210,000. The Electric and Water Departments became joint responsibility of the new Commission.
The first Public Utilities Commission was elected from a population in Oshawa of almost 25,000 people and commenced operation in the old location at 26 King Street West.
These rented quarters were inadequate and one of the first objectives for the new Commission was to find more suitable office headquarters.
A newly built headquarters was erected at 100 Simcoe Street South. The foresight of the Commission became evident in the later years in respect to both strategic location of the building, and the provision of expansion which was included in the plans.
First Hydro Rental Water Heater Program was instituted which was operated until after WWII ended in 1945. The program was provided again from 1959 to 1966.
Left: Work Crew
Population (increase 140%) and demand for electricity (increase 600%) and water (increase 180%) drastically increased.
Left: Electric crews 1940
The Ontario government began to promote electric heating of homes. The Oshawa Commission quickly followed suit and created a sales department to obtain a substantial share of the heating market. The first residential electric heating installation in the city was in a model home at 824 Glencairn Street
CN Rail decided it no longer wanted to operate Oshawa’s local passenger buses. An offer to purchase the bus system was made from a private Windsor company and was voted down by ratepayers. The Bus Drivers were offered an opportunity to purchase jointly but they turned it down. Toronto Transit Commission was approached to gauge interest and they passed on the opportunity.
Without any further options the responsibility of running the bus transit system in Oshawa was assigned to The Public Utilities Commission at the request of City Council effective January 1, 1960. The City purchased the Bus System for $20,000 which included 21 buses.
First all-electric apartment building (The Governor’s Mansion) with 35 suites was built
1963: Left: Vehicles
1964: The Auto Worker’s Credit Union erected the first commercial building with an electric heat-pump.
1965: First all-electric subdivision (Rosslyn Heights) of 160 homes commenced building
Winter of 1964-65: Winter of 1964-65: Concentrated electric heating loads in certain areas of the City created low voltage problems and therefore the existing 4160 volt distribution system was replaced with a 13.8KV distribution system
Due to increasing demand and rapid growth the cost per kilowatt hour to a residential customer was as low as 0.85₵.
1967: Oshawa’s Centennial Year (OPUC participated in the project of the Centennial Home)
The Commission became involved with computerized data processing for the time when it entered into an agreement with the IBM Data Centre in Toronto to process customer billing and accounts receivable control. It later signed an agreement with Honeywell Information Systems for the supply of necessary data processing equipment on a rental basis.
The Commission began offering billing, collections and election polling services to outside utilities and municipalities to generate revenue outside of the utility’s operations. For several years the OPUC also provided data processing service to other utilities such as Barrie, Bowmanville, Deep River and Pickering among others. This same computer, dubbed “Hilda” also automated the City of Oshawa’s municipal election for the very first time in 1970.
The population of Oshawa has grown to 92,058
The Equal Billing Plan was introduced as a convenience to electric heating customers. Original enrollment of 1,000 customers proved to be so successful that enrollment jumped up to 3,500 customer after the first summer.
By this time the Commission was producing 27,000 bills per month, 14,000 for Oshawa customers and 13,000 for other utilities. The price per kwh is 1.43 cents.
Left: Inside OPUC Office Building
Water supply in Oshawa & other municipalities became the responsibility of the Regional Municipality of Durham.
The Public Utilities Commission continued to provide administrative support for the Region of Durham and to operate electricity and transit.
Employees with the support of management organized an open house for the public to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Commission. There were demonstrations of pole climbing, pole top rescue as well as transformer, lighting and safety displays. Oshawa Transit also provided displays.
Oshawa Power completed a 20 year project that converted the electric system from 4,160 to 13,800 volts.
Oshawa City Council passed a by-law to create the Oshawa Transit Commission. After 36 years of managing the Transit Department it was then transferred to the new Commission. The Utility Commission continued to provide administrative support until January 1, 2000
After 30 years of using the Ontario Hydro symbol, Oshawa PUC held a public contest for a new logo design. The winning logo was designed by David D’ Andrade of Oshawa and adopted.
As a result of the Provincial Government’s Energy Competition Act, 1998, the electricity industry deregulated and after 93 years Ontario Hydro was dismantled and replace by new successor companies in preparation for the change.
OPUC’s first Board of Directors
As the century was coming to an end the OPUC became more community conscious. Participating in events such as the Santa Claus Parade, Festive Lighting Contest and becoming a sponsor of Share the Warmth. Customer Service was also a priority and an Indoor/Outdoor Meter Conversion was implemented to assist customer to cover some of the cost of moving their meters outside.
November 7, Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation and its subsidiaries including Oshawa PUC Networks Inc. was created in compliance with the “energy competition act”
May 1, Ontario moved from a monopoly based electricity system to a competitive electricity market (meaning hydro can be supplied and produced by any number of companies and sold by licensed retailers)
To expand its overall portfolio Oshawa Power purchased and installed 450 km of dark fibre optics communications network throughout Durham Region
Oshawa Power installed a 2.4 MW Combined Heat and Power Plant at Durham College which we continue to own and operate today.
Oshawa Power and Utilities takes the lead and installs solar panels on their building at 100 Simcoe St S as part of the provinces Feed in Tariff (Microfit/ FIT) program that began in 2009. Shortly after we began installing solar panel system at other City owned properties.
Oshawa Power and Utilities has initiated a solar photovoltaic power and energy management pilot project in Oshawa with private sector partners and the Japanese government. The project will involve building and commissioning approximately 30 residential rooftop solar PV systems that will be combined with energy storage and an energy management system. This is one example of utility-led efforts to drive the innovation needed to fully capture the potential of renewables.
Oshawa Power became the only Durham Region utility to reach beyond its service territories to participate in a district energy project. On May 1, we began managing and operating Regent Park Energy Inc. in downtown Toronto which provides heating and cooling through a massive district energy network to 18 buildings in Canada’s largest social housing project.
Oshawa Power introduced new technology that is capable of two-way communication between service staff and with the utility’s Outage Management System (OMS). The OMS automatically notifies crews of service interruptions and, before they arrive to service an outage, the technicians are being provided with details on the suspected cause and potential location of faults. At the same time the OMS will update our website and social media feeds with current power outage data for our customers as well as activate automated outbound calling to our customers to notify them of the outage in their area.
Oshawa Power coordinated all of the key components required to make up a micro-grid for the UOIT campus. The 500 kW lithium-ion battery storage, inverter system, 50 kW solar photo-voltaic generation and GE micro-grid controller/optimizer were installed and integrated with the existing 2.4 MW CHP plant that the utility owns and operates on the UOIT campus. This will be one of Canada’s largest micro grids.
Oshawa Power has a long history of innovation and continues to strive for industry “firsts”, all the while being community minded and a good citizen. We remain committed to our legacy that puts our customers first in everything we do, and will continue to keep in step with the energy needs of this dynamic community. The ongoing search for opportunities to grow our business to more than just a utility, are making us a leader in renewable energy and unregulated services. This diversification helps us to keep rates lower for ratepayers and increase overall value for the sole shareholder, the City of Oshawa. We look forward to a future where we will expand our role and continue to be a positive force in our community.