Sunshine And Red Ink

It’s finally spring and everything’s coming up buses at council

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

It’s spring. For really reals this time. Which means I should be… I don’t know… churning compost or raking Safeway fliers or digging tiger pits or whatever it is you do with a yard once the snow melts. Actually, what I do is blow my nose a lot and complain about the one-tablet per day max dose on my allergy meds when clearly they only work for like 20 minutes.

So let’s get this highlight reel of the April 30 city council meeting done fast so I can get back to inhaling pollen and grit.

Solar Rollers

I spent part of the Monday afternoon before the council meeting psychically steeling myself for a “No” vote on Councillor Mike O’Donnell’s solar panel motion. Twitter was the anvil on which I hammered sharp my cynicism, tweeting about the ways the motion might end up getting rejected. “B-b-but solar panels cost so much monnnnneeeeeey,” was what I expected to hear.

Turns out my worrying was a waste of time as the motion sailed through with a unanimous vote.

In short, Councillor O’Donnell’s motion requested city administration investigate whether it’s feasible for the city to put solar panels on city-owned land and on top of city-owned buildings. (I prepared my own report on the subject in my April 26 city column, which you can read on Prairie Dog’s website.) The goal being to start taking city facilities off the grid and, if surplus power is generated, see if there are ways the city could turn those excess electrons into a revenue stream.

“I was really pleased,” said O’Donnell of the “Yes” vote. “Council was supportive and wanted to add to it so there’s some enthusiasm, maybe even a little passion. And aside from that, I’ve been getting regular calls from people who want to be part of this and want to see the benefits for our community.”

Great! We’re one step closer to powering our city with renewables! You’d think it’d be time for unmitigated celebrations—

…but along comes Mayor Michael “Wet Blanket” Fougere to throw some “perspective” on the party.

Just to be clear, though, Mayor Michael Fougere fully supported O’Donnell’s solar panel motion. “I’m excited about that. It’s a good opportunity for the city,” he said.

But…

“I just want to caution that we can’t generate revenue. It’s not allowed by SaskPower. They have a monopoly on that. But the idea of having solar panels on city facilities, I think it’s a great idea.”

Okay. Fine. SaskPower has a monopoly on power generation in the province. [1]

But with the advent of cheap renewables, the electricity market in the province is changing. So who knows what fun new ways there are to make energy partnerships that profit everyone involved?

“I’m going to work from the positive,” said O’Donnell. “By that, I mean, SaskPower has a mandate to also look at alternative sources. Well, here we are, we have lots of assets — lots of buildings, lots of rooftops, lots of lands. We can help them solve that. We use the word “partnership” too much but maybe in this case we really can be partners to solve their problem but also [achieve] our solutions.”

Better Red Than Dead

Also on council’s agenda: Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) presented their 2017 annual report and, bad news, the organization that runs your new Mosaic Stadium, your even newer International Trade Centre and everything else at Evraz Place, lost $1,008,077 last year.

In his presentation to council, Tim Reid, the new CEO for REAL, noted that the organization saw huge growth over the last year, with revenue increasing by 32 per cent. Unfortunately, expenses increased by at least that much and the gap between the two left REAL in the red.

Reid chalked much of this up to the cost of getting Mosaic Stadium and the International Trade Centre up and running.

“I think what you see in the financials is the takeover of fairly large, fairly complex businesses on a short timeline,” said Reid. “We don’t believe this creates long-term risk for the stadium or for the operations of REAL. We think it just signifies opening of a new stadium and a new ITC in a short time for operations because we wanted them to be used by the public.”

Mayor Fougere was also un-worried by this year’s poor financial showing.

“Doesn’t bother me at all. We’re aware of the financial position of REAL. We’re in a year of transition,” said Fougere. “If we saw this four or five years from now, I’d begin to wonder about that. But I’m not at all concerned.”

More Bus Riders, More Rider Buses

If you were one of the many Rider fans who used the free buses to get to games, expect to see service improve this year. The program was so successful it forced council to pass an expansion.

In kicking off the service last year, administration anticipated a tripling of bus ridership from earlier seasons at the old stadium — so, an increase to 3,000 football fans using the bus up from 1,000 per game previously.

Instead, what they saw was 6,000 to 8,000 Rider fans taking the free service every single game.

To accommodate, the program will expand from 155 hours of bus service per game to 350 hours. This will increase the cost from $165,000 to $372,600 but, as with last year, the Saskatchewan Roughrider organization will be covering the bill in full.

“Fantastic. It’s very good,” said a clearly pleased Mayor Fougere. “We have a lot more riders than we thought we’d have.”

Oooh… more riders? To Rider games? I see what you did there, Mayor Fougere.


[1] ^ Except where they don’t have a monopoly. As we noted in last issue’s column, Saskatoon has its own electric utility in Saskatoon Light And Power. So does Brad Wall’s home town of Swift Current. When the province was taking over the utility rights in Saskatchewan and rolling them into SaskPower, those two municipalities opted to not play ball. And today they have local revenue streams coming in from power provision. And that’s pretty nice in an era when the province can spring budget surprises that roll back funding for cities with little notice.

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