The 2007 Community Energy Initiative steered Guelph down the financial rabbit hole

By Gerry Barker

July 29, 3019

Opinion

Part Two of Seven

This part of the series outlines the objectives of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI) plan that was formed with excitement across a range of citizens when the non-elected consortium produced the future plans for the city. It was the beginning of the greening of Guelph.

The CEI was created by former mayor Karen Far bridge and supported by her majority on city council. As a result there were no checks or balances to question the decisions made by council for the following seven years.

The founding group was composed of members of the city administration, Union Gas, (now Enbridge), Guelph Hydro, representatives of business and Industry, University of Guelph, school boards and the Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

Without doubt it was a blue chip group from many interest groups in the city.

Here are the reported CEI goals:

* Use 50 per cent less energy per capita

* Produce 60 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions per capita

* Encourage and facilitate community-based renewable and alternative energy systems

There is no estimate of the costs of these goals or details of achieving them.

The CEI report, at the time, said that the goals would position Guelph among the top energy performers in the world.

How has that worked out for you?

Let’s start examining goal One to use 50 per cent less energy per citizen.

Setting goals is one thing but forcing people to change the way they live is another matter.

In 2007, the Farbridge administration initiated expansion of bicycle lane networks on major city streets to help reduce dependence on fossil fuel emission by motor vehicles.

Piggy-backed on this goal was increasing use of alternative transportation, (bicycles) and public transit.

The first major project was installing dedicated bike lanes on Stone Road in 2009 by taking advantage of the tri-government infrastructure program in which Guelph’s share was one third of the $66 million approved by all parties.

That project cost $2 million. Then council approved a ten-year bike lane development plan, spending $300,000 per year. But here’s what happened:

The city embarked on resurfacing portions of major streets all of which were to accommodate bike lanes. Part of the individual projects was to shrink the road to three lanes to two for traffic and a centre lane for left turns. The shrinking included painting in bike lanes on either side of their freshly resurfaced road.

But this accommodation for cyclists did not extend beyond the portion being resurfaced in most cases. These include Silver Creek, Woodlawn, Stevenson, Speedvale, Woolwich, Victoria, Gordon, Downey, and Clair Road to name a few.

This attempt to provide alternative transportation, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was thwarted by a growing population that was 119,000 in 2007 when the CEI was approved, to 131, 000 by the last national census in 2016.

Does more mean less?

Accordingly, more people mean more cars, trucks and transit vehicles. That adds up to increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The new housing enclaves of attached strip houses, low-rise condos and high-rise apartment buildings, has further exacerbated the building boom of new housing. Then add the undergraduate population of the University of Guelph that has expanded with 22,000 now attending.

Traffic congestion, intensification following new housing development and improving rail service to Toronto, These are factors in increasing energy use, not decreasing it when the CEI goals were approved.

The same events apply to the second goal of producing 60 per cent less of greenhouse gases per capita. The timing of this vision is not mentioned in these goals’ report. As it turned out, it was an open cheque book opportunity for city council to introduce personal ideas and projects to achieve these CEI goals.

WE now know that more people driving more fossil-fueled vehicles does not reduce the greenhouse gas emissions

Let’s follow the money

Who benefits from all this housing built in Guelph since 20017?

Well, the Chamber of Commerce should be happy with the growth of commercial business in the city. The building trades have prospered and last, but not least, the development industry and supporting cast of architects, town planners and lawyers who benefit from the housing and commercial growth since 2007

In Mayor Guthrie election financial report presented to the city, it revealed an interesting fact. The mayor collected some $86,000 for his campaign from people who did not live in Guelph. Most were developers and service corporations seeking access to the Guelph market. Of this group, out of the 100 individual and corporations who donated some 29 per cent were from the development industry. Most of the donations were $1,200, the maximum allowed by Elections Ontario.

Did all this development meet the 2007 CEI goals of reducing energy in the city by 50 per cent, or reducing 60 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions or facilitate and encourage community based renewable and alternative energy system?

WE now know how that last goal went. All it costs citizens more than $66 million with the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. district enery projects.

The irony is that despite the loss of millions of dollars by two administrations, is that the remnants of the Farbridge eight-year social engineering adventure is why does the CEI still exist? Its premise and goals are still influencing today’s council.

How did all this lower energy use reduce greenhouse gas?

This part will explain in 2009 how the wheels falling off when Guelph Hydro announced its subsidiary, Ecotricity Corporation, reported a loss of $3,945,000. The report stated that the loss was due to declining extraction of methane gas used to generate electricity at the Eastview landfill garbage site. This is contributed to an “impairment charge” of $2,984,000 of the corporation’s total loss in 2009.

An “impairment charge” is an accounting term based on the amount of an investment is less than the carrying charge, then the assets are deemed to be impaired. The amount of the investment must be eventually written down to the recoverable amount, if any exists.

In 2014, Councillor Cam Guthrie defeated Mayor Farbridge. There was hope that reform would occur and civic sanity would arrive.

In other words, it’s Act Two of the Farbridge CEI legacy and citizens are all empty-pocket endangered species.

There is only one way out and that is to elect a council of moderate, thinking, and responsible candidates to change the menu and reform the administration.

Stay tuned to more information that will be revealed in future parts of the Guelphspeaks seven-part series on the pathological odyssey of corruptive practices. There are other examples of losses and impairment charges that slammed city finances.

Miss the introduction and Part One? All published parts are located in the Guelphspeaks archives located on the website and are filed post publishing’s usual comments are welcome

Next, Part Three: is  to be published August 1, 2019.

How irritated spite increased the cost of the new city hall by $23 million

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

4 responses to “The 2007 Community Energy Initiative steered Guelph down the financial rabbit hole

  1. Glen

    Why has there not been a forensic audit by accountants, engineers, & lawyers of all the money wasted,$66Million, on the crap shoot called District Energy that was part of CEI? Is the city still subsidizing the cost of supplying heating & cooling to businesses in the Hanlon Business Park as well as the downtown condos?

    • Glen: There was an audit of Guelph Municipal Holdings by KPMG. That resulted in the shareholder’s liability of $66 million that was not recoverable. Yet both the CEI and GMHI are still operating. The last info I received was that GMHI was operating at a loss in 2017, was some $17 million and counting. GMHI had to service the the thermal cooling and heating contracts with the small collection of buildings downtown and at the Hanlon Business Park, still connected to the system. This means that the District Energy pumps in the Sleeman Centre and Hanlone Park are still operating using natutal gas to keep on pumping.

      You are right to have a forensic audit done to ferret out the truth about this failed operation. It is impossible to obtain the pertinent details of this debacle because council, using its power to discuss the details in closed session, blocks public participation and covers the mess up.

      My suggestion at this point is to ask the province to investigate this GMHI file and its links to the giveaway of Guelph Hydro to Alectrs Utilities, to reveal the truth of this monumental mismanagement of the public’s money.

  2. Glen

    Any forensic audit has to include engineers knowledgeable in the sizing of heating & cooling systems as to the volume of super heated steam to be transferred from the gas fired generating site thru the supposedly insulated pipes to the using facilities as well as the return flow of the condensed spent steam back thru additional piping to the generating site in a closed loop system. How many using facilities would there have to have been to make the central heating pipe dream economically feasible? I suspect the decision makers did not have the technical expertise to understand the whole central heating & cooling process.

    • Glen: Your point is well taken. GMHI CEO Pankaj Sardana in his May 16 2016 report to council, made your point when he said the GMHI business plan did not include a minimum service footage of some four million square feet to make the project viable. That was the heart of the mismanagement of GMHI and its District Energy plan.

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