City council cools off on green heating plan for Blatchford

Citing millions of dollars in potential risk to Edmonton taxpayers, councillors asked city administration to go back to the drawing board when it comes to renewable energy plans in Blatchford.

'If it doesn't go well, then it’s on the backs of the taxpayers,' Coun. Michael Oshry says

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

Citing millions of dollars in potential risk to Edmonton taxpayers, some councillors want city administration to go back to the drawing board when it comes to renewable energy plans in Blatchford.

City administration presented their business case for developing a district energy-sharing system for the neighbourhood on Wednesday.

On the table for consideration were sewer heat exchange, solar energy and a geothermal exchange system to fulfil the project's goal of an affordable, carbon-neutral neighbourhood.

Both scenarios presented to council included cash infusions of $20 million for a minimum of five years, and utility rates that could be well above what residents in other neighbourhood are paying.

Coun. Michael Oshry said he's not sure if the plan is worth the risk to taxpayers.

"This makes me really uncomfortable," Oshry said. "Shallow geothermal has never been done anywhere in the world on this scale. So yes, it would be great if we did it, be a world leader, but being a world leader at something like this is really, really risky. And if it doesn't go well, then it's on the backs of the taxpayers."

Oshry said he'd be more keen on the idea if provincial and federal governments would be willing to fund some of the project. Until then, considering the current economy, Oshry said it might be worth revisiting the practicality of the entire carbon-neutral energy vision for Blatchford.

Committed to going green

But Mayor Don Iveson said council shouldn't lose the vision of a project he said Edmontonians "overwhelmingly supported."

He said the federal government's Green Infrastructure Fund and Alberta's carbon levy could help offset some costs, but the city won't know if it will be entitled to this funding until later in the year. It's worth taking the time to find out, he said.

"We're still firm on the vision of this being a carbon-neutral community," Iveson said. "There are some councillors who would be prepared to throw out the vision for a carbon-neutral community here and just try to flip and make a quick buck. But that's not the deal we made to Edmontonians."

Council will vote Thursday morning on Oshry's motion to have city administration hire a group independent development experts to audit the current energy plans, look for other options, advocate for provincial and federal funding, and develop a memorandum of understanding with EPCOR. The result will be presented to executive committee later this year.

"The market being what it is, it's not the end of the world if we're another year before we get to market," Iveson said.

"There's two kinds of delays: when things go wrong … but then there's when you take the time to get it right. That's what council's talking about in this case, is a healthy pause in order to get all the right information and explore every last opportunity to get partner funding from the province and feds to do environmental leadership on this project."


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