City of Red Deer power linemen Darren Trautman

City of Red Deer exploring options to use less energy

Red Deer is flipping the switch on traditional street lights in its latest effort to become a greener city.

Red Deer is flipping the switch on traditional street lights in its latest effort to become a greener city.

And that’s not the only thing the city is doing to reduce energy use, which is a goal in the Environmental Master Plan.

The street light switch comes with a $4.9-million pricetag to replace 11,000 bulbs over three years starting in 2015. Traffic lights are already using more energy efficient bulbs.

But city officials say swapping out the common street light bulbs with LEDs will pay off in cost savings and energy conservation in the long run.

LED lights are more energy efficient than current bulbs and have longer lifespans.

Some cities, like Lethbridge, have already made the change while others, like Calgary, are in the process.

Red Deer’s street lights consume 10,300 megawatt hours each year. About 1,000 LED street lights have already been installed in new subdivisions.

Jim Jorgensen, Electric, Light and Power Department manager, said the switch is expected to reduce consumption by 50 per cent or more and knock about $600,000 off the city’s electricity bill based on 2014 numbers. The city’s electricity bill for the entire year is an estimated $5.4 million, based on 47,675 megwatt hours.

“That conservation piece is really good bang for your buck,” said Jorgensen.

New light bulbs have not been purchased since 2010 and the old ones will be recycled.

The expenditure was approved last month as part of the 2015 capital budget.

Among other energy-saving initiatives, the city buys 25 per cent of its corporate power through a green energy supplier. That’s a significant increase in green energy consumption from 2009, when 15 per cent of the city’s facilities were powered by green energy in 2009. The goal is to reach 30 per cent by the end of 2015.

The city purchases green electricity as a way to offset its corporate usage of natural gas and coal-generated power. Buying “green power” simply means that for every kilowatt hour taken off the grid, one kilowatt of green power is put back into the grid. Whether power is produced through conventional or green options such as wind or solar power, it is all mixed together on one set of power lines.

The city will use the equivalent of 11,842 megawatt hours of green power in 2014.

In general, the city’s philosophy is to use less energy.

“The biggest thing for everyone is use less or eliminate the waste piece,” said Jorgensen. “When you don’t need it, don’t use it.”

Last year, however, there was an eight per cent spike in energy usage in city-owned buildings.

Nancy Hackett, Environmental Initiatives supervisor, said the city is investigating. She said the cold temperatures may have played a part as energy use typically goes up when the temperatures drop.

Down the road, the city wants to pick three city buildings or renovation projects to pilot higher energy efficiency standards.

Hackett said this could mean installing better lighting and windows, or it may be solar or onsite generation.

The city’s Civic Yards buildings on the east side of the Riverside heavy industrial region may be an example of what the future could hold for city facilities.

Those buildings were built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

Solar panels were installed in April 2010 on the transit vehicle wash building, which has three 5.0kW arrays each consisting of 25 modules (200W each module). The administration building has one 1.1kW array consisting of 13 modules (85W each module).

Power produced from the solar panels is used in the office building and the leftover is sent into the general power grid.

From April 2010 to October 2014, some 28.8 megawatt hours have been sent to the grid, enough to power by a typical household for four years. This year alone the panels have produced 6.5 megawatts hours, enough to power one typical household for under 11 months.

There are 21 sites with solar panels in the City of Red Deer, including the ones in the Civic Yards.

Starting as early as April, the city’s wastewater treatment plant will operate as a co-generation facility. Biogas or digester gas is formed during the breakdown of organics or solids. Currently the gas is flared off several times a day. With the upgrade, the facility will capture the biogas in order to generate power and heat for the facility.

About a third of the facility’s power usage and natural gas costs will be offset.

Alex Monkman, project manager at the wastewater treatment plant, said biogas can either be flared off or used to produce electricity.

This is not unusual for cities in Alberta — Calgary and Edmonton operate co-generation facilities.

Red Deer’s wastewater treatment plant is a regional facility that accepts waste from communities such as Penhold and Springbrook, and the phased construction of the new wastewater lines will bring more waste into the facility.

Monkman said the city will not generate enough gas at the facility to sell back to the grid.

“Some of the cities in Europe are actually sustainable in that they don’t have to use any electricity in the grid,” said Monkman. “We’re kind of hopeful to get to that point, but our plant is not big enough that we can sustain all the power for the plant but that’s our goal.”

Last year, the city was recognized with a Sustainability in Action Award for communities over 10,000 population by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. The city adopted the Environmental Master Plan in 2011.

“The best type of energy is the energy that you don’t use,” said Hackett. “Conservation in your home or in city facilities — we have become very conscious of that. Is there more that we could do? Yes, but we are becoming more efficient in how we use it.”

Hackett said municipalities could use a helping hand from the provincial government with expertise and more grant opportunities.

In coming weeks: Read about a Red Deer family’s experience with a home energy audit and learn tips to save energy in your home.

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