Hydro One seeks excellence in every facet of our business, to the benefit of our customers, employees, communities and all shareholders. This approach became immediately clear to me after joining the organization in early 2018 and was further driven home in the sense of pride I felt being a part of a high-performance team that accomplished tremendous feats in a challenging year.
Hydro One’s safety performance was a top priority for management in 2018. Following the tragic loss in late 2017 of four Hydro One team members, we heightened our resolve to realize a vision of an injury-free workplace through our
Journey to Zero initiative.
Driving improvements in network reliability last year resulted in a 14.2% improvement in total average power outage duration for our distribution system over 2017. This is attributed to our application of modern technology to the grid, new storm prediction tools that allow for improved restoration response and our state-of-the-art vegetation management program.
In fact, this new vegetation process is an example of how the company is increasing productivity, driving costs down and generating efficiencies to improve our service to customers. In 2018, our forestry teams completed approximately 30,000 kilometres of work along power lines, nearly three times the work they did in 2017, with only a marginal increase in cost.
While we saw results drop for transmission reliability due mainly to highly abnormal weather, the quick, effective and innovative responses deployed by our crews to these events was laudable. For example, after our Merivale transmission station was destroyed by a tornado in late September, a temporary solution was implemented within 48 hours to return service to customers and the facility was rebuilt in just 12 weeks.
Due to a renewed effort to improve customer service and reliability in addition to other initiatives, residential and small business customer satisfaction, as well as transmission customer satisfaction reached the highest in five years and company history, respectively, in surveys last year. These results demonstrate a consistent dedication to putting customers first at all levels of the organization.
We actively seek to learn what is important to our customers and take action. For example, we repatriated approximately 400 employees in our Customer Contact Centre to provide better service and we conducted countless face-to-face meetings with customers to identify ways we can facilitate growth and strengthen local economies. Our First Nation outreach efforts also demonstrated ongoing efforts to support all customers’ needs. In 2018, we met with the 88 Indigenous communities we serve and held over 700 one-on-one customer sessions.
Our transmission system serves as the backbone for the economy, and our business plays a critical role in communities across the province. In 2018 alone, we injected approximately $1.3 billion into local economies by buying goods and services from businesses across Ontario, including a 63% increase in spend with Indigenous businesses, as well as directly providing approximately 8,600 highly skilled jobs through the year.
While we were naturally disappointed in the outcome of the Avista transaction, we will continue to pursue opportunities that make sense for our business and add value for all stakeholders.
In January, we were honoured to be recognized by Forbes in its list of Canada’s Best Employers for 2019. Based on a survey of over 8,000 people working at Canadian businesses with over 500 employees, our performance demonstrates efforts to create an engaged workforce and positive working environment.
In 2019, we will maintain our focus on continuous improvement and operational excellence, delivering efficiencies and exceptional customer service.
Finally, I would like to thank all teammates for their resilience and support during the leadership transition and for their dedication to driving improvements across the Hydro One business. I would like to thank the Board for their efforts during the transition.
Acting President and CEO