There has been considerable information and press releases relating to District Energy Networks in Guelph. One is being developed in the Hanlon Business Park with a second one in downtown Guelph. The essence of the concept is to utilize a central heat generating facility with natural gas fired steam/ hot water boilers to generate heat that is piped to local user buildings via an underground loop of insulated pipes A similar loop can exist for cooling. The mayor and administration would like you to believe that Guelph is at the leading edge of this concept in North America.
An article in the Guelph Tribune “New condo a landmark first for district energy initiative” (Trib P19 28 Aug 14) was all political fluff with no hard facts. The statement “..an important step in Guelph’s plans to build North America’s first city wide district energy network…” is a blatant ignoring of historical facts. Circa 1912 (yes, over 100 years ago) the University of Manitoba had a central heating plant that piped hot water/steam to campus buildings for heating via insulated pipes in pedestrian tunnels between the buildings. I walked through those tunnels in the Winnipeg winters as an undergrad mechanical engineering student in the mid to late 1960’s. Similarly, the city of Winnipeg had district heating networks dating from the 1920’s. Members of Guelph council and the administration didn’t have to take a trip to Europe to find out about district energy networks.
What is missing from the article and any public disclosures is: who pays for the energy losses, both thermodynamic and piping, as either heated or chilled water is circulated from the central facility to user buildings and back? Who pays the capital costs of the central facility and piping loops? Has the city managed to convince the condo developer /owners to pay for heat content at the central plant before it is piped to the user site and thus absorb heating and piping efficiency losses? Under typical energy contracts using natural gas or electricity etc. to provide heat to an individual building, the energy is metered at the user building. For some reason I suspect that Envida Community Energy Inc., a Guelph Hydro subsidiary, will be absorbing the energy losses between the central generating facility and the user building. Does anybody in the council or administration know if this is correct and what this potential multi-decade ongoing cost will be? Why should I, as a resident of ward 6, subsidize a downtown condo owner or commercial manufacturing plant etc. in the Hanlon Business Park with their heating and cooling bill through Envida and Guelph Hydro? Why do I not have a warm feeling from the mayor’s announcement that the system provides ” .. cost competitive heating and cooling..”.. to the city taxpayers? Do I sense a hand on my wallet, again?
Once again, the lack of business experience combined with numeric illiteracy amongst members of council and the administration led to the building of a recycling centre (known as Guelph Material Recovery Facility) with capacity far in excess of what Guelph will use in the next decades. It is touted that by adding 28,000 tonnes of Detroit material it will allow the facility to operate at 95% of its processing capacity and generate an annual surplus/profit of $304,000.
During the council meeting of 28 April 14, a presentation was made to council by Dean Wyman, the General Manager, Solid Waste Resources Department. The public presentation failed to provide information that would have permitted a Guelph citizen to reasonably evaluate the business plan for financial credibility.
Prior to the meeting I had e-mailed requests for the following information to the mayor and both ward 6 councillors ( Karl Wettstein & Todd Dennis). The elected members of council did not reply to my request which was passed by a city hall staffer to the GM. The final reply I received from the GM, Dean Wyman, to the questions I had posed were:
- cost/tonne to process Guelph generated recyclables – confidential business information,
- cost/tonne to process non-Guelph mixed waste stream – confidential business information,
- what is the charge / tonne to the Michigan based company that is currently sending mixed waste to Guelph- confidential business information,
- what is the cost difference between processing the Guelph generated recyclable stream from blue bins and the non-Guelph based mixed stream – confidential business information,
- will the cost of processing the additional non-Guelph generated mixed stream be above that which is currently processed? – confidential business information.
I was advised by the GM to file a Freedom of Information Request with the city. There seems to be a lack of openness and transparency that keeps Guelph citizens from having the ability to see if the processing of non-Guelph generated recyclables is a solid business venture. In spite of this lack of information provided to the public at the council meeting, mayor Farbridge and a number of councillors (Dennis, Findlay, Hofland, Piper, & Wettstein) voted in favour of the Contract to Process Recyclable Material. These are names to remember on election day.
From 2000 through to 2013, Guelph property taxes have increased at a rate that is much more than the increase in CPI (Consumer Price Index). If a citizen has an income increase that keeps pace with inflation, as measured by the CPI, that person is considered fortunate. However, when you consider that property taxes are paid out of your “take home” pay which is what you have left after the statutory deductions ( federal & provincial income tax, CPP, EI, healthcare tax, and any other source deductions) are made before you get your pay cheque, the impact of the property tax increases really become apparent. The graph above shows that while the CPI increased by 31%, the property tax increased by 83%.
Take a moment to think if as a citizen of Guelph are you better off as a result of these tax increases. If you are on a fixed income , for how much longer will you be able to afford to pay these outrageous tax increase and continue to live in your current residence. Similarly, if you are a young family either saving for or in your starter residence, how long can you sustain such property tax increases?
To further aggravate the already unsustainable tax burden, the projected rates of increase are 14% over the next 3 years with an increase of 6.2% in 2015.
What can you do to put a stop to these unsustainable tax increases? The first thing is to look back and see who were the mayor and councillors that with a “tax and spend” mentality repeatedly pushed through tax increases above the rate of inflation to pay for their pet “strategic visions” that did not enhance your life in Guelph and led to the number of Guelph civic employees growing faster than the population growth of Guelph. Then having identified these financially illiterate members of council, strike them off the list of people you would consider to represent you as members of the next council following the October 2014 civic elections. It is time to VOTE for CHANGE & for a BETTER GUELPH, that will respect you as a citizen paying taxes for your city.