Pincher Creek council defers energy management decision

·5 min read

Albert Einstein’s famous E=mc^2 equation encapsulates the revolutionary idea that energy can be converted into matter and matter into energy.For example, multiplying 79.34 kilograms by the speed of light squared gives you 7.14x10^18 joules, or the amount of energy a typical Breeze civic reporter contains. That’s enough energy to boil over 17 trillion litres of water or write roughly four to five articles a week.

Although managing energy bills might not be quite as complicated as fundamental physics, keeping tabs on energy efficiencies can help a municipality save operating costs and contribute to a greener planet.

To that end, council for the Town of Pincher Creek considered a program offered through the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre during the March 8 regular council meeting. The MCCAC program offers to help fund an energy manager position for Alberta municipalities that want to improve their energy consumption.

The energy manager will work for a two-year term, building a customized energy management plan to identify where improvements to a municipality’s facilities and operations can be made. Such improvements can identify potential projects to lower energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The MCCAC offers the energy manager program to municipalities with populations under 150,000 people and encourages smaller municipalities to apply as partners. As such, the Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative suggested the town could partner with the MD of Pincher Creek and act as the managing municipality that oversees the program application.

The program would cost $100,000 per year, with the MCACC covering $80,000 and the two municipalities splitting the remaining $20,000.

The $10,000 bill, said director of community services LaVonne Rideout, would be an investment that would help increase the town’s future finances.

“By securing the energy manager, the community itself is then eligible for a lot more grants to potentially do a lot more cost savings for our community,” Ms. Rideout said.

“Being a bit more energy efficient would save not only us but the taxpayers money down the road,” she added.

Not all council members, however, were sold on the idea.

“Where are these funds going to come from?” asked Coun. Brian McGillivray.

“We’re on a tight line here folks, and I know I’m the ogre, and I’m sorry, but we haven’t discussed this before. This is a new ask,” he said.

Coun. McGillivray added he was hesitant to approve the expenditure without clearer information on what cost savings could be secured after hiring the energy manager, especially when considering that suggestions from the energy manager would more than likely be expensive projects themselves.

“It’ll be a major amount of money because you’re talking about changes in heating sources, insulation, building construction, envelope security from the weather — where is the money going to come from?” he repeated. “We need to know where we are and keep our eye on what we’re spending.”

Coun. McGillivray also expressed concern the town could be stuck with the full $20,000 amount if the MD decided not to support the program and suggested the item should have been discussed at a joint meeting with both councils.

Coun. Lorne Jackson agreed.

“I think we need to have a conversation with municipal partners, where all the councillors attend, where we can discuss this amongst ourselves,” he said.

Determining exact dollar amounts, said chief administrative officer Laurie Wilgosh, was a difficult task to do before hiring the manager because gathering that information was the purpose of the program.

“That’s why we’re looking to hire an energy manager who has that expertise, who can fill in those gaps for us,” she said.

Should the MD decide not to participate, added Ms. Rideout, the town could still re-evaluate its decision and opt out of the program. Talks with SASCI and MD administration, she continued, had been “pretty positive moving forward.”

Despite not having specific details, Coun. Scott Korbett said council could trust administration in moving forward with a project that would ultimately benefit the community.

“If they believe that this is a good thing, collaboratively we should be listening to them and saying yes, we can make it happen,” Coun. Korbett said.

Though agreeing with the intent of the project, Mayor Don Anderberg said a little more information was required to ensure the town wasn’t trying to fix problems that had already been solved.

“We have invested a lot of money in efficiency over the years,” he said. “I suppose it’s a good thing to see how much more efficient we can get, but I think we have to keep in mind that we spent a lot of money on making sure that when we retrofit that we’re doing what we should be doing.”

Council deferred voting on participating in the energy manager program until more details could be gathered, like cost-benefit analyses from municipalities that had participated in the program previously.

The lack of specific information, added Coun. McGillivray, led him to believe that MD council would follow a similar route.

“I think they will probably come to the same conclusion when they have their meeting tomorrow,” he said.

As it turned out, MD council voted in favour of providing the $10,000 to qualify for the initiative during its March 9 meeting. Council also approved appointing the town as the managing municipality for the application.

The opportunity to audit all of the MD’s facilities, said CAO Troy MacCulloch, along with establishing a benchmark energy consumption, would provide valuable information for the municipality.

“It’s a good starting place just to see where you are and where those opportunities are,” CAO MacCulloch said, adding that looking for ways to improve efficiencies at the MD’s water treatment plant was top on his list of facilities to inspect.

For Coun. Bev Everts, the co-operation behind the project was worth pursuing.

“I think it’s a great collaboration,” she said. “It’s really neat to see SASCI picking this one up, and the three-way partnership looks like a fantastic initiative.”

The MD’s $10,000 portion for 2021 will be spent from the tax rate stabilization reserve, with next year’s contribution being included in the 2022 operating budget.

The next meeting for Pincher Creek town council will be held Monday, March 22, at 6 p.m. The next meeting for MD council will be held Tuesday, March 23, at 1 p.m.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze