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New Utility Sustainability Committee aims to conserve and save

From left, Councillor Bob Hildebrandt, Jeffrey Fee, Dave Cano, Gord Marasco; Deanna Allen, Climate Change Coordinator for the Town of Pelham; and Director of Recreation, Culture and Wellness, Vickie vanRavenswaay. GLORIA J KATCH PHOTO

Team charged up, ready to pare MCC, other costs

BY GLORIA J. KATCH
Special to the VOICE

According to Councillor Bob Hildebrandt, saving on energy bills through conservation can simply mean “turning the lights out when you leave the room.” However, as Pelham Town Council’s representative on the Town’s first Utility Sustainability Committee, Hildebrandt said that these simple approaches may just be the tip of the iceberg as far as strategies needed to lower utility rates, reduce energy consumption, and mitigate the effects of climate change. All of these topics and more will eventually be on the list for this committee to tackle.

The committee’s first meeting last week resulted in Gord Marasco being appointed as chair, and Dave Cano as vice-chair. Members decided to hold meetings on a weekly basis in July to bring everyone up to speed on many issues, especially those deemed urgent and financially detrimental to the Town. The committee decided it would determine its priorities in August, and attend August’s council meeting to introduce its membership to Town Council.

“Marasco from Dofasco,” is how Gord Marasco jokingly described his credentials to the Voice. Marasco headed up Dofasco’s steel construction department, in addition to being an engineer for the now defunct Atlas Steel, as well as chairman of the board at Grimsby Hydro for 18 years.

Dave Cano is currently the Energy Solutions Manager for the Town of Oakville, while Jeffrey Fee, the third resident on the committee, all selected for their expertise, is an Engineering Technician at Ridley College in St. Catharines.

“How wonderful is that,” said Councillor Hildebrandt, adding that sharing knowledge about “best practises” in operations is critical to the success of the committee. Overall, Hildebrandt said he was “privileged to sit on this committee,” for the wealth of knowledge it will offer. He thanked the Director of Recreation, Culture and Wellness, Vickie vanRavenswaay, and the Director of Corporate Services and Town Treasurer, Teresa Quinlin, for their assistance in ensuring that the committee operates accordingly to policies and procedures outlined by the municipality.

“’Together we are better,’ that is Teresa’s motto, and together we can do things,” said Hildebrandt.

His primary focus is on decreasing the community centre’s hydro expense of some $540,000 per year.

The committee decided to pass a motion to expand its terms of reference to ensure that utility rates would be tackled for the Town’s buildings, as well as businesses and all its residents.

“This is a big-ticket item, and I have a lot of people emailing me on this issue. I mean, we’re all stuck with hydro,” Hildebrandt noted.

Hildebrandt has been in consultation with the Operations Manager of the Leisureplex in Fort Erie, and other similar facilities, to determine how to pull the plug on hefty hydro costs, and “optimize the facility.” By examining the engineering, design, and hydro’s delivery of services, Hildebrandt said reducing hydro by 10 to 20 percent at the MCC would “make a huge impact.”

However, reducing hydro rates is a complicated issue, and the MCC is the biggest structure in Pelham, with an equally complex design, noted Hildebrandt. Regardless, this is where his personal and professional energies are focused. “One of the reasons I ran [for council] was because of the MCC,” he said.

The Town receives electricity through services provided by Hydro One and Niagara Peninsula Energy (NPEI). The Town owns 17% of the shares of Peninsula West Power Inc. and PWPI in turn owns 25.5% of Niagara Peninsula Energy. Peninsula West Power receives a dividend from NPEI and then declares a dividend to its shareholders, namely Lincoln, West Lincoln and Pelham, which yields the municipality a dividend return of about $55,000 annually, Hildebrandt said.

Approximately 1200 residences in Pelham receiving hydro through NPEI pay less than the remaining 4000 residences receiving power from Hydro One. While Hildebrandt wasn’t exactly sure what the rate difference is, he notes it is significant enough to warrant examining.

Gord Marasco agreed.

“We have to look at both resident and commercial rates. We want both hydro providers to be equal,” he said.

When asked about using windmills in Pelham, or solar panels at the MCC, Hildebrandt said that power generated by windmills costs 25 cents a kilowatt per hour, while the Town pays only 16 cents a kilowatt now. In the past, he acknowledged, several windmill contracts were held by foreign companies in other countries.

“It’s just like Highway 407 deal,” he said, alluding to a segment of the highway that was privatized through a 99-year lease agreement between the provincial government and a consortium of investors known as 407 International. The deal has garnered much criticism, as fees are paid to the investors and not returned to Ontario’s coffers. Currently, Hildebrandt is not aware of a solar contract that offers significant savings, but said he will be looking into it.

Dave Cano also pointed out that the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has a program that allows municipalities to purchase hydro at off-peak pricing, which can save about four to eight cents a kilowatt per hour. He said the Town can apply for this for program for “everything and anything,” and there is no deadline to apply. Cano noted that Oakville takes advantage of this cumulative savings program, which has “a big impact.” In August, Hildebrandt will attend the AMO conference, in Ottawa. Quinlin announced Pelham and Welland are jointly making a 15-minute pitch to the Ontario Minister of Energy minister at that time.

After monitoring hydro consumption rates at the counnity centre, Hildebrandt said he couldn’t understand why they were running at an average rate and then suddenly spiking within a 48-hour period.

“No one knew why,” he said.

Fee noted there is technology available now that will monitor every facet of a building’s energy consumption. He suggested looking into these systems, otherwise it would be difficult to determine whether changes made to reduce energy costs resulted in an improvement, and by how much. Cano told the Voice he hasn’t had a chance yet to determine how effective the building automation system is at the centre. Overall, Hildebrandt noted the community centre takes a high level of expertise to operate, and “everyone is learning a lot.”

When asked about a strategy to reduce the water and wastewater treatment bills, Hildebrandt said the only option was conservation, given that the Region controls these areas, and Pelham’s wastewater is treated at the Welland facility on River Road.

If the proposed amalgamation with Niagara Region were to occur? Hildebrandt replied that “bigger is not always better,” but there could be some savings as the duplication of services is eliminated in certain areas. He said his approach is “one day at a time.”

As a part of the Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plan, municipalities are asked to monitor their energy consumption.

“We have to try to conserve energy and we have to be more accountable for our emissions,” noted Deanna Allen, Pelham’s first Climate Change Coordinator.

Allen, who was previously involved in waste management with Regional Niagara, said that Pelham’s terms of reference must ensure the town will remain compliant and transparent with regard to energy emissions. All municipalities are required to measure greenhouse emissions and remain environmentally sound, she said. On the Regional level, Allen is working with the Niagara Adapts Partnership through Brock University, which is a research initiative through Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre.

Two weeks ago, record high temperatures and an unprecedented melting of the ice flows in the Arctic were noted by the scientific community, including Allen.

“It’s very scary, and we have to be very pro-active,” in mitigating the effects of climate change, she said.

Allen noted that the public needs to consider the policies of each political party on the environment when voting in the upcoming federal election this fall.

Allen informed the committee she would like to incorporate a climate adaptation plan for Pelham. She told the Voice that as this plan is formulated, community involvement will be necessary.

“Any community plan needs cooperation and it’s not just a top-down approach.”

Until then the committee will continue to meet, “merging ideas,” she said.

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