Blatchford project put on hold for 1 year

Edmonton city council has just voted unanimously to delay the Blatchford redevelopment for one year.

'This is the place where we fail the most, because we will not make up our mind'

A conceptual image of the west part of the Blatchford development. (City of Edmonton)

Edmonton city council has voted unanimously to delay the Blatchford redevelopment for one year.

Some councillors have grown nervous over the practicality of the carbon-neutral energy vision for the project on the former City Centre Airport grounds. 

Coun. Ben Henderson expressed frustration that the city has been talking about this development for six years already.

"We make fun of the fact that the city doesn't do things as well as the private sector," Henderson said Thursday. "This is the place where we fail the most, because we will not make up our mind. We will not get on with things."

Despite that, he supported the delay, saying there is some work that needs to be done in terms of putting the utility together. 

Over the next year, a memorandum of understanding is to be finalized between the city and Epcor on Epcor's involvement in the project.

Could see money from province, feds

Henderson is also hopeful the delay will give the federal and provincial governments the opportunity to see how the project meets the goals the two higher levels of government have set to achieve with climate change.

"If they're prepared to come to the table quickly, we will be able to respond quickly. Otherwise an opportunity may pass us by," Henderson said.

Regarding the risk to Edmonton taxpayers, Henderson said the city pursued a carbon-neutral project for Blatchford because the city is prepared to take on risks the private sector cannot.

"We have a $200 million cushion before we start losing money on the project. That's a risk that we can afford to take that the private sector will never be able to take," he said.

The Blatchford redevelopment is an opportunity for the city to be the first to try something new, which can be difficult, he said.

"If everybody waits for somebody else to go first then nothing will change." 

Mayor Don Iveson agreed.

"Previous councils said we would close this airport and do something special here", Iveson said.

Tough to move first

Innovation is always more expensive, so it's tough to move first, he said.

To those who say the technology is unproven and new to Edmonton, they are totally wrong, he said.

He points to the University of Alberta which has been operating a large district energy system for decades, which uses natural gas to produce heat and electricity. 

Blatchford would harvest heat from "nothing more complex than warm water running through a sewer pipe," he said.

The delay also provides time for an independent review to determine if the project makes sense, and to re-check the market analysis, that there are indeed builders and buyers who would want to take part. 

There may be a learning curve for builders who are not familiar on how to work with the heat-exchanger system instead of a furnace, the mayor said.

"If we keep doing everything the way we've done it for the last 30 years, we're not going to achieve our climate goals," he said.

The delay pushes the completion date of the first homes in the Blatchford development from late 2017, to 2018.


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