By Trevor Busch
The Town of Taber is weighing a variety of energy conservation options that could offer a cost savings to the community in future.
The town’s Energy Conservation Committee is tasked with researching and implementing projects that will reduce energy usage for town-owned properties. Established in 2016, the committee is responsible for determining projects that could be funded through a portion of franchise fee revenues from ATCO Gas and Fortis Alberta.
“We do the legwork to try find as many projects as we can that will save the town as much money as possible,” said communications and project co-ordinator Meghan Brennan, speaking at town council’s Nov. 28 regular meeting.
The committee has researched numerous projects since its establishment in order to determine what will work best for the town and offer the largest benefits, whether financially or in terms of efficiency.
Some of the projects under consideration include solar panels for every town-owned building, natural gas retrofitting for town machinery, LED cobra-head lights for the Community Centre parking lot, arena LED light replacements (currently ongoing), solar-powered heating pad for the Bulk Water Fill Station, insulating the large ice arena, insulating other town-owned buildings, lighting at the dog park, and power factor correction machines.
“The reason we don’t bring every single project to you, is that they’re not viable,” said Brennan. “So the CNG (compressed natural gas) fuel replacement, it was just not cost effective. We’d spend more money than we’d get back, so the committee deemed it not worthy of council’s attention and money.”
In early September, town council declined to pursue a municipal solar project for the Aquafun Centre, which could have taken advantage of a provincial government program designed to financially support and facilitate the installation of solar energy projects on municipal buildings in the province.
“Other things we have brought to your attention was solar power,” said Brennan. “We don’t just deem it viable based on funds, but also on PR (public relations) value, whether it’s something the community has requested, whether it provides a unique aspect to Taber, or gets us ahead of the curve in some ways.”
According to administration, “With the projected rise in energy costs associated with the planned shutdown of coal-powered generators in Alberta, the Town of Taber should look for ways to mitigate the projected increase in expenses. Technology has improved exponentially over the past few years, making renewable technologies more efficient than ever. There is a push to move towards more renewable energy sources, so the Town of Taber has an opportunity to be one of the leaders in energy reduction.”
“We’re currently doing the arena LED lighting, so we’re looking at both the small and large ice arenas as one, and we’ll hopefully bring that to you for your consideration.”
Funded exclusively through the town’s franchise fee revenues, the energy conservation reserve has been a source of some criticism in the past since its inception under previous CAO Greg Birch. In 2013, council established a capital reserve fund where 7.5 per cent of franchise fee revenue is directed into a fund to support energy conservation projects.
Taber is one of a handful of Alberta communities currently charging the maximum-allowable rate of 20 per cent as a franchise fee. Across the province, franchise fees have increasingly been criticized as a “hidden tax” by utility consumers, a “tax” which raises revenue for municipalities through charges to a resident’s utility bills and not through their property taxes.
Out of a list of 137 communities in 2014, only Blackfalds, Bon Accord, Breton, Calmar, High River, Morinville, Provost, Stony Plain, Thorsby and Vulcan charged a rate of franchise fee of 20 per cent. A majority of communities included on the list only charge franchise fee rates of between zero and 10 per cent. Franchise fees provide a significant amount of revenue to the town, with estimated franchise fee revenues for 2016 for FortisAlberta representing $1,194,550 and ATCO at $631,607.
The Town of Taber has franchise agreements with FortisAlberta for electricity, and ATCO Gas for natural gas. The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has established maximum percentages for both franchise fees at 20 per cent, and historically the town has maintained its percentage rates at that maximum.
The town’s original contract with FortisAlberta signed in 2001 (with rates effective for 2002) had a zero per cent rate of franchise fee. In 2002 (with rates effective for 2003) council of the day voted to increase the franchise fee rate to five per cent. In 2003 (with rates effective for 2004) council of the day raised the franchise fee rate to the maximum allowable 20 per cent, where it has remained for more than a decade.
Five administrative staff members currently sit on the Energy Conservation Committee, and would be responsible for tendering and ensuring the implementation of any projects. The committee is made up of Meghan Brennan (communications and projects co-ordinator), Trent Smith (recreation manager), Ramin Lahiji (engineering manager), Bill Brezovski (master electrician), and Jason Wilms (facility maintenance co-ordinator).
“I wanted to let you know that at any time if you have any ideas please don’t hesitate to contact myself or another member of the committee,” said Brennan. “We’re happy to do the legwork for you and to research those projects.”
At their Nov. 28 regular meeting, town council voted unanimously (6-0) to accept for information the Energy Conservation Committee’s report to council. Coun. Jack Brewin was absent from the meeting.