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New Town of Banff position to work on climate change action

Banff's governance and finance committee has tentatively approved a new municipal energy coordinator position and another large-scale solar panel array on the Fenlands recreation centre. Final decisions will be made at budget.
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The Fenlands recreation centre in Banff looks set to get additional rooftop solar arrays as part of a $400,000 project. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF– Action on climate change seems to be an immediate priority for most Banff town councillors.

Leading the charge is Banff’s new mayor, Corrie DiManno, who is fighting tooth and nail for every climate and transit-related project put forward by administration at service review to move ahead next year.

On Dec. 1, the governance and finance committee gave the tentative go-ahead to spend $400,000 to put more rooftop photovoltaic panels on the Fenlands recreation centre and approved a new municipal entry coordinator position – both to be funded from the non-taxpayer funded environmental reserve.

In response to ongoing comments about putting off some projects to save money during these economic hard times associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor DiManno said there is an urgency to act on climate change.

“I am no scientist, but it’s like six degrees and raining outside on Dec. 1; in B.C. their roads, their railroad tracks are falling into earth; we had heat domes this summer, and we see wildfires all over North America and beyond,” she said.

“The time for climate action is absolutely right now.”

The new municipal energy coordinator position, which would replace the current contract position that expires at the end of May 2022, comes with a funding request of $64,400 in 2022, $112,330 in 2023 and $114,530 in 2024.

The costs are to be covered from the environmental reserve, which is funded through Fortis franchise fees collected on residential and commercial utility bills. The balance in the reserve at the start of service review was just over $1 million.

The role of the municipal energy coordinator is to reduce electricity and natural gas consumption across the Town’s facilities, and in doing so reduce corporate energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change by trapping and holding heat in the atmosphere.

It is estimated that projects managed by the contracted municipal energy coordinator since 2020 have reduced the annual corporate utility bill by $44,000 and reduced annual emissions by 210 tonnes CO2e.

The municipality’s combined electricity and natural gas bill is $1.1 million per year.

Michael Hay, the Town of Banff’s environmental manager, said electricity bills are expected to rise significantly as Alberta phases out coal.

In addition, he said natural gas bills are expected to increase by more than $200,000 per year by 2030 under the federal government’s carbon pricing schedule.

“This is carbon pricing in action. By creating a carbon tax, we’ve created incentive to reduce energy consumption,” said Hay.

“Put simply, administration really needs to dedicate more staff time to energy management to ensure that our utility bills don’t spiral over the next five to 10 years.”

If council gives the final nod during at budget, the municipal energy coordinator’s responsibilities will be expanded to include the entire scope of the renewable energy transition roadmap, essentially a climate action plan, as well as energy and sustainable transportation initiatives in the environmental master plan.

Going forward, the role would be responsible for developing new incentive programs including the Town’s proposed clean energy improvement program, which will provide financial incentives for large-scale energy efficiency upgrades to existing homes and businesses.

With a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050, the Town of Banff also has an ambitious target to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

Hay said long-term implementation of creative and evolving solutions to save on municipal energy costs and to reduce emissions need to be supported by dedicated and well-trained "boots on the ground".

“I want to emphasize that greenhouse gas emissions really is an energy management problem," he said.

“The fundamental solutions are about managing our energy and transforming how our communities use energy and we do need boots on the ground to help the broader community solve this problem.”

Councillor Ted Christensen said Hay made a very convincing argument, but not enough to have him vote in support of a new full-time position.

Throughout service review, Coun. Christensen has fought to save money, noting even though some funds are coming from non-taxpayer funded reserves such as the environmental reserve, council could choose to use that money to ease the tax burden during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have had a lot of feedback about the concept of hiring other full-time positions at this stage,” he said, adding that he might be more inclined to support the position on a contract basis.

“Environmental work and activities is like health care, it’s like education, there’s never too much we could do. We need to find in our service review and deliberations the balance, and at this time, another full-time position doesn’t help the balance.”

Also looking to save money, Coun. Hugh Pettigrew ran the idea by administration of sharing the position with Jasper and Canmore.

“I think we could achieve a lot of common ground by looking at our neighbours and sharing their positions,” he said.

Hay said a shared role was initially talked about when the municipality applied for the grant funding for the contract position, but the workload was enough for Banff to have its own position.

“Working with other communities can be challenging because you are dividing time and you’re sort of fighting over one person,” he said.

Mayor DiManno said the reality is the municipality needs the staffing capacity to move the needle on Banff’s climate action and environmental plans.

“If there’s no resources behind that in terms of staffing, then they just get shelved and it does not get done,” she said.

Councillor Barb Pelham threw her support behind the position for a number of reasons, including the fact that it’s paid for through a non-tax funded reserve.

She said the fact that Whistler, Revelstoke, Jasper, Okotoks and Canmore all have similar positions is also inspiring.

“This position is critical for our environmental goals, for our children, for our grandchildren, and for next generations of Banffites,” she said.

In another climate action-related project, the governance and finance committee gave the tentative nod of approval for an additional solar photovoltaic panel installation on the roof of the Fenlands recreation centre.

The $400,000 spend would support an additional 220-kilowatts of solar to be combined with the existing 280 kW array on the roof of the Fenlands. It is projected to pay for itself through operating cost savings in approximately 27 years.

Administration is also asking that $2,000 of the estimated $15,000 energy cost savings a year as a result of the new solar panels be transferred to the environmental reserve for reinvestment in other energy efficient and green energy projects.

Hay said reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a core driver behind the municipality’s solar strategy, which already sees solar panels on many facilities such as the new transit operations building, the waste transfer station and public washrooms among others.

He said, overall, the solar arrays on all facilities would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent.

“A 10 per cent reduction to our facilities’ emissions is pretty huge when you consider the fact we’ve achieved this in a matter of a few years and that these arrays are going to pay for themselves over time,” he said.

Hay said the Fenlands project will likely be the last major solar installation the municipality can do.

“We’re kind of running out of roof space now… we do need to continue working hard at motivating, inspiring and incentivizing solar PV installations among residents,” he said.

“I hope we can get to more than 4000 kW installed by 2030. That’s kind of my personal goal.”

Councillor Grant Canning said the solar installation at the Fenlands is the kind of project the environmental reserve was intended for.

“I also like the fact there is a bit of a multiplier effect here so when the revenue is in fact saved, it actually goes back into the environmental reserve, so we can multiply that and create even more projects down the road,” he said.

All decisions made at service review can be changed or reaffirmed during deliberations on the 10-year capital plan and 2022-24 operating budget, which are due to get underway later in December.