Some Ontario municipalities look to replace aging, fossil fuel-using ice resurfacers with electric ones

·3 min read
A Zamboni resurfaces the ice on the skating rink that used to be in front of city hall in Kitchener, Ont., which is looking at buying an electric ice resurfacer in the next year. (Gary Graves/CBC - image credit)
A Zamboni resurfaces the ice on the skating rink that used to be in front of city hall in Kitchener, Ont., which is looking at buying an electric ice resurfacer in the next year. (Gary Graves/CBC - image credit)

Anyone stepping on the ice to play hockey or enjoy a public skate may not be thinking about their carbon footprint.

But some Ontario municipalities are — and, in particular, they're thinking about reducing emissions from machines that flood ice with water to smooth out the surface.

There are three ice resurfacers in Waterloo region, one each in Cambridge, Wilmot Township and Woolwich Township.

The plans include one arriving in Wellesley Township next month and another for 2023. Cambridge aims to buy two more in the new year and Kitchener says it will buy one by 2023.

Resurfice in Elmira makes Olympia ice resurfacers, and sells both fossil fuel and electric options. The company's general manager, Steve Kovacevic, said he's seen growing interest in electric models.

"We certainly have seen the industry starting to seriously transition toward battery-powered ice resurfacers," he said in an interview.

"Electric or battery-powered ice resurfacers have been around for a very long time, so it's not that they're necessarily something new, but certainly there's been a push to reduce carbon footprints and communities are seeing the ice resurfacing as another opportunity to do that."

Big initial cost difference

It costs approximately $100,000 for a fossil fuel-powered ice resurfacer and $150,000 for an electric ice resurfacer, Kovacevic said.

But generally, less maintenance is needed for an electric one, with no oil to change regularly or sparkplugs to replace. The arena where the resurfacer is stored would require a battery charger to be mounted on the wall.

There's also no difference in how the ice resurfacers do their job, but Kovacevic said people will notice the electric models are virtually silent and there are no exhaust fumes coming from an operating engine.

"A lot of people value that. There has been quite an issue over recent years of air quality in arenas, and people are looking to eliminate sources of air contaminants out of their buildings," he said.

But Kovacevic said it's also important to note resurfacers using fossil fuels that are used today are "extremely clean-burning engines."

"The level of contaminants coming from a properly serviced and properly operating fossil fuel ice resurfacer today is negligible," he said.

City of Kingston
City of Kingston

Waterloo region's municipalities aren't alone in Ontario in looking at electric ice resurfacers. Kingston recently purchased two and Ottawa is leasing two different electric models.

London started to use its first electric Zamboni at its Bostwick Arena in August. The city has said it plans to transition its whole fleet to be fully electric over the next four years.

Battery replacement a consideration

While electric ice resurfacers may reduce an arena's carbon footprint, Kovacevic said, one thing to keep in mind is battery replacement.

Terry Piché, technical director for the Ontario Recreational Facilities Association, told CBC Ottawa there's a need for more research into the environmental impact of producing and disposing of the batteries used in electric ice resurfacers.

Kovacevic said there's also significant costs to consider. He said in Ontario, the best practice is to keep an ice resurfacer for about eight years.

"Once it gets to that point, it's time to upgrade or replace," he said.

"So the decision at that point is: Is there any battery life left … The challenge there becomes, who's taking the cost on replacing the battery pack, which can be fairly expensive. It's typically somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000, depending on the machine."

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