Spark Power Corp. of Oakville, Ont., to purchase Ascent Solutions of St. Thomas
By Ian McCallum, St. Thomas Times-Journal
Call it structural reorganization or perhaps fire sale – either way, Ascent Group of St. Thomas is continuing to shed its assets and pare back to its core business.
On Monday, Ascent Group announced it has received an offer from Spark Power Corp. of Oakville, Ont., to purchase Ascent Solutions. The sale will not impact St. Thomas Energy, which will continue to be owned by the City of St. Thomas.
Leaving the Ascent fold are Tillsonburg-based Tiltran – acquired in 2007 – and Belleville operation Tal Trees – acquired in 2009. Ascent previously cut loose ECM Controls, purchased in 2010.
All three units were snapped up with great fanfare under the leadership of former St. Thomas Energy CEO Brian Hollywood, who retired in June of 2012.
In March 2015 Ascent laid off about three dozen employees at ECM Controls and at its Tillsonburg operation and in November of last year approximately a half-dozen employees were let go, however Ascent acting CEO John Laverty stressed “we added the same number back in different areas of the company. So the net loss to the corporation is zero.”
Laverty calls the Spark Power deal a “win-win” for everyone involved.
“After several years of financial difficulty and some uncertainty we decided that it was in the best interests of everyone involved including the shareholder and employees of Ascent Solutions Inc. to move forward and begin a new era. We know that Spark Power is committed to growing their business and will move ahead with integrity and transparency.”
In 2014, the Ascent Group rang up an operating loss of $6.8 million. That compared to a $1.4 million profit in 2013.
Furthermore at the end of 2014, Ascent owed the city another $7.9 million for deferred payment of water bills.
Approximately 70 employees of Ascent Solutions are impacted by the proposed purchase by Spark Power Group which provides development and asset
management services to the renewable energy sector and technical services to the high voltage power sector.
With its head office in Oakville, Spark Power operates in Hamilton, Burlington, Blenheim, Markham and Perth.
Spark Power Corp. founder and CEO Jason Sparaga confirmed they are acquiring the assets and not the shares which means “we are not acquiring the Ascent brand itself. In fact the plan is to go back to the predecessor names.
“What we find very attractive it the best-in-breed technician base. Our plan is to grow the employment base, not shrink it. That’s our history and that’s our plan going forward. The technicians like those employed by the services group we are acquiring are in high demand. They are best-in-breed along with the techicians in the companies we have acquired previously.”
Sparaga stressed St. Thomas Energy customers will not see any changes in service related to this acquisition.
“We are not acquiring the hydro or any of the operations that are within it.”
He suggested the deal is likely to close in 30 to 60 days.
Speaking with the Times-Journal late last year, Laverty noted “Ascent ventured out of them (core areas) into the renewables and that wasn’t our competency area.
“We need to do our core competencies really well. Once we’re back doing them really well and profitable again, then there will always be opportunities to reach out. We may have reached too far. Perhaps some of the processes around which jobs we bid on needed to be better.”
Previous CEO Ron Osborne had identified those core business areas as “substation construction, traffic and streetlighting, pole line construction and high voltage maintenance services. That’s what we’re going to focus on going forward.”
Laverty predicted it could take up to three years to get Ascent “back on stream.”
City manager Wendell Graves said excluded from the sale “is the core, the hydro and wire business in the city and still attached is the fibre optic business and a little piece of business operated out of Toronto that is street lights and traffic controllers.”
Graves stressed the utility side “is financially strong. The challenges are on the other side, the Ascent Solutions side. We want to make sure our hometown utility is strong. All utilities across the province face where the province itself is going with utilities and it’s a huge if. It’s going to be challenging in the next couple of years.”
As sole shareholder of the Ascent Group of companies, Graves confirmed the City of St. Thomas “has been part of the conversation” revolving around the acquisition by Spark Power.
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