A Little Less Conversation, A Lot More Action on Blatchford

Update March 17, 3:30pm: Council voted in favour of Administration pursuing more information on the potential utility models and the opportunities to include other renewable sources in the Blatchford vision. This will delay the start of infrastructure construction on the project for one year.

When Council made the decision to use the City Centre Airport lands to develop a residential neighbourhood, we made a promise. That promise was to build a 100% carbon neutral, renewable energy dependent community that would be a point of pride for Edmontonians. We committed to doing something that was bold and cutting edge, that would make this city demonstrably better.

Each time we discuss Blatchford, we are asked to waver on this promise. In the past we have made some pragmatic and smart concessions, which I wrote about here. Today, we were asked to reduce the size of the district energy system to include natural gas or biofuel boilers in the early phases of the build-out at Blatchford. In my view, we cannot waver on the onsite district energy and the emphasis should be on biofuels.

A motion was made to consider the district energy system within a utility model where we share risk and opportunity with EPCOR and to consider a variety of off-site energy sources, including purchase agreements for wind and solar power. I think that we need to put as much of the renewable energy on-site as possible because it is a sustainable energy best practice to do so. While some considered these details today, some Councillors went so far as to suggest that we halt the project altogether to undertake an independent audit of the whole project even though many outside experts are part of the Blatchford development.

In my opinion, this is not a useful exercise. Whatever the outcome of this navel-gazing, whether it’s just a delay or more wavering on our promise, it’s not going to be positive for the Blatchford project. We need to get on with it and proceed with the district energy model we committed to. 

If we are going to spend more time looking at anything, it should be how we can make the model more renewable, not less. We should be looking at the full range solar electricity opportunities that could be used at Blatchford like roof-top solar, community-share solar programs, PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) programs, options for leasing and financing of PV systems, and other emerging technologies.

If we are going to do this, let’s do it and stop beating around the bush. With the Energy Transition Strategy coming into force and with provincial and federal governments that will be looking for shovel-ready, forward-thinking projects to fund, we are not going to have a better moment to take action on Blatchford, and we will be kicking ourselves months from now if we waste anymore time being fearful of the future.