N.L. municipalities exploring options for power rate increase

Published: May 05 at 3:40 p.m. Updated: May 07 at 10:26 a.m.

Rising energy rates expected to increase exponentially in the coming years place additional pressure on municipalities. Councillor Chris Palmer said Bauline is working towards an alternative energy plan to reduce its carbon footprint. – Adam Randell

GANDER, NL – The message was clear: embrace efficiency measures and green energy, or face the consequences.

At the Muskrat Falls and Beyond – alternatives and savings for municipalities component of the Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) Symposium, May 4, municipal leaders were told energy bills could double in less than four years. The session was to address the expectation that power rates would increase dramatically after the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project comes online.

Ashley Smith, owner and director of Fundamental Inc., said projections indicate consumer energy rates could reach 23.3 cents per kWh by 2022. The consulting firm helps clients understand and effectively exploit energy efficiency and the potential for cost savings, according to its website.

Currently Newfoundland and Labrador’s power rate is about 11 cents per kWh.

One solution offered to municipalities during the session was green energy alternatives to offset the upcoming increase. This, as Smith explained, could be accomplished through net metering – which allows customers to create their own renewable energy up to 100 kW per hour.

Power is generated for personal use, with surplus energy being fed back to the electrical grid. It’s a concept that has been wholly embraced by Chris Palmer, a town councillor from Bauline on the northeast Avalon.

According to Palmer, after the town had completed its $2 million-complex, serving as a town hall and recreational centre, it was soon noticed the bills for heat and light were becoming expensive for the community of 420 people.

“We were looking at between $1,500 to $2,000 per month,” said Palmer.

Given the increased projections, he said, “it would cause our bills to go through the roof.”

The group looked into the possibility of using new alternate forms of energy, focusing on solar, wind and water.

The concept developed has 120 solar panels, with a 10- to 20-kilowatt wind turbine to supplement the electrical needs of the complex and streetlights from the centre to the main road. Furthermore, a water turbine would supplement a water pump.

“It has come to the point where it seems to be a no-brainer; convert the building to become 100 per cent dependent on solar and wind to come off the grid. Through net metering you could pay it off in nine or 10 years and get to the point where you were getting money back,” he said.

While he didn’t provide concrete numbers, Palmer said the conversion would cost the town “a couple hundred-thousand dollars.”

Still, the figure presents a money issue. The town’s tax base isn’t able to foot the bill on its own.

Which moves Palmer into the strategy stage.

“We have the raw data saying this is a no-brainer, but it’s going to need federal funding to make this happen,” he said. “There’s lots of money out there and we just need to be able to access it.”

Gander councillor Rob Anstey says his community continues to explore measures to reduce its energy costs.
Gander councillor Rob Anstey says his community continues to explore measures to reduce its energy costs.

Net metering a possibility

The need to find savings is something Gander councillor Rob Anstey agrees with.

According to the 2017 budget, Gander’s electrical consumption topped $1 million.

In 2018’s budget, the central town allocated $1.1 million – 6.8 per cent of its budget – for energy costs.

It’s something Anstey, who is also the urban municipal director for MNL, said the town has tried to address in the past.

“A number of years ago we brought in a company to do a full assessment of all our buildings,” he said. “We were able to implement a number of cost-saving measures for energy consumption, and, at that time, we actually looked at a wind turbine for the stadium, and a water turbine for the pump house down at the lake.”

However, net metering wasn’t an option at that time.

Now that it is a viable option, Anstey said it’s something Gander is looking into once more.

“We are again sitting down, to see what it would take to do this and what kind of savings we would get assuming rates are going to double,” he said. “We would also look at what could be done to help home owners and what they could do.”

It would also require the town look at policies and procedures for residents who might want to start using home-based forms of alternative energy.

“We have got a format, through what was already done, we just have to go back now and look at certain parts, to come up with exactly what we would have to do,” Anstey said. “It’s one thing to say we are going to put in a wind turbine, but we have to look at health issues, where it would be located too, and to make sure it’s actually feasible to do.”