Platform: Edmonton Power and a Bright Future for All Edmontonians

From a media release, Sept. 11, 1998

Thank you for attending today’s news conference on the theme: Edmonton Power And A Bright Future For All Edmontonians.

I will start off by saying clearly and unequivocally that I am opposed to the sale of Edmonton Power. And I challenge Bill Smith, and all other candidates, to be equally clear about their position. Do they support the steps being taken to privatize the company? With elections on the horizon it is time to be honest with the voters.

It is clear to me that unless citizens make their voices heard, Edmonton Power will be sold off next year. The $350,000 Royal Bank study commissioned by City Council makes that abundantly clear.

We have not gotten into this mess by accident, or due to natural forces. We are facing some rough waters thanks to Steve West, the Alberta Government, and their drive to “deregulate” the electrical industry. It is not really “de” regulation at all. It is a process to radically change the rules of the electricity game.

World experience with “re-regulation” has raised serious questions about the wisdom of making such drastic changes. Edmontonians probably still remember the crisis Auckland, New Zealand went through last year when their recently privatized electric utility was unable to provide power to the downtown for well over a month. The core of this city of one million suffered severe economic damage as a result of Mercury Energy’s drive for profits.

I will explain why I am opposed to the sale of Edmonton Power, and then I will outline a bold, ecological plan for the company’s future.

Let me begin with a story.

You may have heard that, according a recently released United Nations report, Canada is the best place in the world to live in. We like to think of our country as a leader. But a second report pointed out that Canada was tenth out of eighteen industrialized nations in addressing issues of poverty.

This fact was brought home to me Monday while attending the Labour Day picnic in Caboto Park. Thousands of impoverished people showed up, and it was obvious that poverty is a growing problem in our city. A distraught woman dealing with her son’s suicide told me of her struggle to pay the rent, and her frustration with attempts to get Edmonton Power off her back since she had fallen behind in her bill payments. I believe that a publicly owned company could better show compassion, and meet community goals of equity and fairness than a private company focussed solely on the bottom line.

Why is public ownership of our electrical utility a good idea? Here are five reasons:

  1. The company can meet other important community goals beyond just profit. It could advance important community values like equity and fairness;
  2. Edmonton Power has been, and will continue to be, highly profitable. Those profits will continue to benefit our community and help to keep taxes down;
  3. Edmonton Power can be a significant vehicle for advancing industrial, commercial, and community development. A citizen-owned Edmonton Power can help to advance community and ecological health.
  4. Edmonton Power helps us to remain self reliant and secure.
    City Council is being intimidated by privateers trying to scare them with the future. The RBC Dominion Securities $350,000 report was slanted, and written to in such as way as to create fear. Much of the problem has been created by Steve West, and it has made our future less secure.
  5. And if we sold Edmonton Power, what might we buy with the cash? What would we invest in? Would we ship the money we earned off to Bay Street?

The best place to invest is, I believe, in ourselves. Since 1902 Edmonton Power has been owned by the citizens of Edmonton. It has been highly profitable, and there are considerable tax advantages to the city owning the company.

If Edmonton Power was sold, the head office could move to Houston or Los Angeles. They would be happy to have us burn dirty coal for their cheap kilowatts. We would get the pollution, they get the benefits.

What we need is security of supply. A private company has other priorities: they could choose to sell kilowatts to L.A. at a profit while we literally freeze in the dark. This is not fear mongering – it is, in fact, the driving force behind private enterprise. Sell it where you can realize the greatest profit.

I am not new to studying and trying to understand the electric industry. With twenty years of research into the issue, as City Councillor I with the rest of City Council was the sole shareholder of Edmonton Power. I sat through many meetings and developed many proposals.

I was in New York at the General Assembly and heard Prime Minister Chretien make a promise to the world to address the climate change crisis. I shook hands with the Prime Minister last month when he was in Sherwood Park, and he assured me that he was committed to implementing the Kyoto accord in Canada.

We must now go forward and meet our promises. If it were bitter medicine, perhaps some squirming would be in order. But the truth is we can easily harvest a lot of very tasty fruit. We just have to go out and grab it.

Another story. While on Council I met with Ed Kyte, General Manager of Edmonton Power. I encouraged him to look at renewable energy as an option. At numerous Edmonton Power Board meetings I encouraged the Board to renovate their Headquarters for energy conservation.

To my delight, they went ahead and did it. They renovated Capitol Square, a 20 story office building. By spending less than $700,000, they’re saving $223,000 per year. That’s better than a 30% rate of return. Now that’s an investment shareholders can be proud of.

They could be doing much more. In fact, I believe that Edmonton Power is not meeting its fiduciary duty to the shareholder. They are required to pursue the path of greatest rate of return. They should be drastically increasing their investment in energy efficiency. Green investments are good for the earth, and good for the pocketbook.

If elected as mayor on October 19 here is what I would do:

  • Stand up to Steve West and fight back for the security of Edmontonians. His drive to radically change the regulations is wreaking havoc. Bill Smith supports Energy Minister West re-regulation drive. I don’t.
  • As mayor I would work to bring the Edmonton Power board back under Council’s control. Edmonton Power is supposed to provide light, yet information about its future has been shrouded in darkness. Secrecy does not serve the company’s true owners – every Edmontonian.
  • I will fight privatization. Electricity is an essential service, like fire services, and should not be sold off for profit. As mayor I would stand up for the public interest. We should expect that all councillors, and mayor, will fight for the public interest.
  • I was in the UN General Assembly when Clinton committed the USA to installing 1 million solar roofs in the next decade. Pro-rated to Edmonton that equals 2000 here. I am committed to clean, renewable energy. I will work towards 2010 solar roofs by the year 2010. Edmonton Power has already innovated with two photovoltaic solar electric projects. As mayor I will work with them to do much more.
  • As mayor I will develop partnerships with companies and co-operatives working to offer green, ecological electricity, like wind power, to the customer.
  • I would greatly expand Edmonton Power’s good start in energy efficiency investments. I would work to renovate 50 downtown towers within 10 years. Edmonton Power could play a key role in expanding the city’s Energy Efficiency Revolving Fund. The fund was established following my initiative while on City Council. This fund has funded upgrades in city buildings, and has had an incredible 35% rate of return!
  • As mayor I would establish an Energy Efficiency Advisory Board modeled after the Water Conservation Advisory Board which was established with my prodding. That board saved the city over $300 million.
  • As mayor I would facilitate a meeting with the industrial and commercial sectors and bring in the world’s best and brightest in the field of energy conservation. Helping business to save energy costs helps them to become more competitive and successful.
  • As mayor I would get a second opinion on privatization.

Ralph Klein and Steve West’s re-regulation drive has caused fear that rates would go up with a privatized company.

We are also hearing of possible blackouts, something we have not known in Edmonton. Instead of spending $90 million to expand the Rossdale Power Plant why not invest $90 million in efficiency and conservation. Let me explain.

Edmonton Power could give away, or sell on a term payment, the following devices to save energy. Added together they could save more electricity than would be produced by a new turbine at Rossdale, and at less cost to the ratepayers, and the environment.

Let me show you the devices:

  1. Install Power Saver Cords: Electric companies have to build new plants to meet relatively short periods of time when demand for electricity is greatest. This is known as the peak demand. If the peak can be shaved, substantial savings can be realized by the utility.
    Edmonton Power’s peak is in the winter when people get home from work, plug in the car, and turn on the stove. Car block heaters suck a huge amount of electricity. But they needn’t do so. A simple cord, costing $5-$10, multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of cars would cut a huge chunk off the peak demand. Edmonton Power should partner with the AMA and all gas stations and repair shops in the city to try to get a cord installed on every car that has a block heater.
  2. Change The Fridges: Refrigerators that are more than ten years old are electricity hogs, and cost $150 or more to operate each year. New fridges, costing $800 or so, use one third the power. Buying a new fridge is a good investment, but many householders don’t have $800 lying around to buy a new fridge. It is a financing challenge, and Edmonton Power should finance the upgrade and make money on loaning the money.
  3. Change The Lightbulbs: An old style 100watt incandescent light bulb wastes 75% of the electricity it uses. New compact fluorescent bulbs use one fourth the energy. But they cost $20 in the hardware store. Edmonton Power should bulk purchase these bulbs, and sell them for a dollar or two.
  4. Plug The Leaks: Most homes in Edmonton have little cracks around the window and door frames that let cold air in during the winter, and heater air escapes, too. If you added up all those cracks, you’d have the equivalent of a hole as big as 2 metres square (6′ X 6′). Plugging those leaks with weatherstripping and caulking means big energy and dollar savings.
    Edmonton Power could lead the way in distributing and selling these tools. And thousands of sustainable jobs could be created in the process.

Let me conclude.

Other cities would give their right arms to have an asset like Edmonton Power. It is a terrific vehicle that will continue to be highly profitable in the future. Those profits should benefit all Edmontonians.

It can also help us develop community goals of economic development, community health, and leaving a healthier and cleaner future for our children. Let’s not be buffaloed by the big banks and the privateers.

We own it; but Bill Smith will not support budgeting $50,000 for a study to get a second opinion. Unless citizens wake up, we may find that council won’t support getting a second opinion. And I worry it will be sold next year.

If we want to keep Edmonton Power citizens must take it back. Elections just 38 days away.

Before you undertake major surgery you get a second opinion. Edmontonians are entitled to that. Along with many other Edmontonians I will be in Council Chamber at 10 am on Tuesday to witness what members of council decide to do.