October 19th, 2017

Varying ideas for boosting energy revenue


By Collin Gallant on October 4, 2017.


cgallant@medicinehatnews.com
@CollinGallant

Two high-profile projects from late in the current council’s term are off the official agenda this week as the municipal election enters its final two weeks.

A presentation on proposed helium exploration was nixed from Monday night’s council agenda. As well, a planned ribbon-cutting on a $55-million north-end power plant set for Friday has been rescheduled.

Mayoral candidates show a variety of opinion on the endeavours but showed general support for boosting revenue in the city’s energy business unit.

Challengers Scott Raible and Tom Fougere were intrigued by helium drilling that was only released last month.

Former alderman John Hamill said the department should concentrate on conventional oil and renewable power production, rather than gas-fired, such as the new north-end unit.

However, they stand as two major points in the campaign of incumbent mayoral candidate Ted Clugston, who said on Monday the next council term could be in better shape financially because of the endeavours.

“There’s bright news,” said Clugston, referring to the city’s latest financial report that forecasts a small overall profit in the he city’s energy division

“If (the next council) can stick with it, the oil exploration, the helium, they might have an easier go of it because revenue will return, and they won’t have to deal with the capital construction program that we’ve had.”

Clugston — long a booster of expanding into oil production as well as power exports — has said the 2018-2022 term should be a time to build reserve balances.

His three opponents this month also said the city needs to consider its financial position, and new revenue is key.

Hamill supports new drilling, but remains skeptical about helium exploration set to get underway this fall.

“I think it’s a puff of air,” he told the News last week, saying that with revived oil prices, efforts are better focused there.

“The goose isn’t dead yet; it’s still laying eggs,” he said of traditional petroleum production.

Hamill said he was a strong voice behind the city’s move toward windpower in 2009 that resulted in an agreement to buy power from the three-turbine Windriver facility in the north Box Springs area.

He said with changes to the provincial grid underway, a wait-and-see attitude would have been a better route than greenlighting a $55-million gas-fired project in 2016.

“I’m certainly no member of the NDP, but I think they’re getting that part right,” he said.

Clugston has also said the 43-megawatt north plant is in place now for when power prices rise as the economy improves.

Raible said further diversification of the petroleum production company away from gas is needed, and he supports boosting oil, helium and power production.

“With low gas prices, Medicine Hat needs to continue to diversify and increase its revenue streams,” he wrote in an email to the News. “The City also needs to continue to increase the production of electricity that can be sold off to generate revenue. That’s one of the motivations for the new power plant, to sell city power to other clients in other markets.”

Fougere was not available on Tuesday but has written about the possibility of helium production in glowing terms on his Internet blog.


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