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New president ready for challenges.

New president ready for challenges

A new man has taken over the presidency of Great Lakes Power Ltd.

Don Watson was appointed at the beginning of March and assumed his duties Feb. 19.

Watson comes to GLP from Belleville, where he was Ontario Hydro's director of the eastern region, which included everything east of Peterborough.

In his former position, he noted he was responsible for 1,700 people. "It was a pretty big operation."

His reasons for coming north are varied.

"First of all, it was a change," he said, explaining that he had done everything he could with Ontario Hydro.

At GLP, Watson said he also has the chance to personally set the direction of the company.

"The notion of running my own company and taking that role was important to me at this time of my life," said the 55-year-old. "I wanted to have a go at it while I was still a warm body."

One of his goals is to have the company concentrate more on safety.

Watson noted GLP already has a safety record near the top of the industry's scale. However, he said, "I believe even that can be improved upon."

He believes he can bring some positive changes for safety to his new company. "I've got a strong safety background."

His idea is to take a technological approach to safety, instead of just concentrating on rules and regulations.

"The best approach for safety is to design the hazards out of the business."

Watson said better planning is also needed, recalling a time when plans were drawn on the back of a cigarette pack.

Procedures are more formal now and more discussion occurs. However, procedures are not foolproof, he said. "Human beings are not infallible."

Watson also noted that he spent 20 years in the nuclear side of the business, including time at Hydro's head office, where he was in charge of nuclear production.

In the nuclear field, he noted there were challenges to create new ways of doing things.

The new president also wants to see the company's generating potential increased by working on undeveloped sites.

Currently, GLP can generate about 260 megawatts, but at peak use it must supply about 430 megawatts to its customers. It buys the difference from Ontario Hydro.

Only recently, three new projects came on line on the Magpie River, near Wawa, with a total of 45 megawatts. The last of the three projects was Mission Falls, which began operating in early April.

The other sections of the project were Steephill Falls and Magpie Falls.

About 430 people worked on the $115-million project during the peak of construction last summer.

Watson's predecessor, Hugh Harris, is tying up the Magpie project until its scheduled official opening on May 15. Harris has been with GLP for 13 years.

Watson said undeveloped sites could conceivably generate an additional 80 to 100 megawatts.

The new president said preliminary discussions are underway with the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources on rights to Denison Falls on the University River. That site could produce 16 megawatts.

"That's only one current level of discussion going on," he said.

Watson said the advantage of having GLP develop those sites is the creation of local employment by a local company. In addition, tax payments to the townships would be about $1 million.

The president also noted that there is a possibility that there could be as much as 60 megawatts produced from co-generation projects jointly developed with industry.

With the potential sites and co-generation, he said the company could get up to where it would like to be in total generating capacity.

However, Watson noted that the exclusion of power generation from parks has removed a lot of potential sites in the territory.

"Our challenge here is to keep our rates competitive with Ontario Hydro and provide good service," he said.

Even though it is a small company surrounded by a large utility, he believes GLP has a good future.

"At Hydro you're always certain you have a future," he said. "At Great Lakes Power, you're going to have to earn it."

The game is fairly simple, he added. "The game inside the company is to focus on good service and to focus on costs. That's the key to the future."

Although he is already planning his new company's future, Watson said it was hard to leave Ontario Hydro and the friends he had made after 30 years with the corporation. "I had a real heartfelt relationship with people there."

The B.C. native was recruited by Ontario Hydro as an electrical engineering graduate from the University of British Columbia in 1959.

Watson's father had been a lineman and he grew up in the business.

Great Lakes Power has a service area of approximately 5,000 square miles and has provided electricity to the Sault Ste. Marie region for more than 70 years.

It is one of the few independent electric utilities remaining in Ontario.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Focus on Sault Ste. Marie; Don Watson takes over Great Lakes Power Ltd.
Author:Bickford, Paul
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:May 1, 1990
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