March 3rd, 2024

City eyes short-notice power conservation options

By COLLIN GALLANT on January 25, 2024.

After a potential power emergency made headlines in Alberta, the City of Medicine Hat - which was never in danger of using more than it had - is looking at ways in which it can conserve power at city facilities on short notice.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

City officials are determining the feasibility of turning off the lights on short notice at large city facilities in case of another provincial power emergency.

On Jan. 13 the city’s communications office sent out a message on social media asking Hatters to turn off unnecessary lights as the Alberta power grid operator asked for help to avoid rolling brownouts in frigid weather.

Local supply was never in jeopardy, but since Medicine Hat’s power plant exports to the gird, conserving power was advertised as an opportunity to pitch in.

Hatters and Albertans generally responded, but some residents also commented wondering why they should delay doing laundry while city hall and other city facilities were brightly lit.

Officials told the public services committee on Monday that managers are now examining how to reduce the power load at rinks, fire halls and office buildings in future situations.

“This was an extreme situation, but in light of the (power) alert we are looking at how to minimizing our lights at all times,” said public services managing director Brian Stauth.

Facility managers and the heads of parks, cultural development and the fire services, are now evaluating what level of power use is needed and how to best reduce power.

“There’s a lot of shoot-the-messenger going on, but it could led to greater conservation,” said committee chair Coun. Ramona Robins.

Coun. Robert Dumanowski said the city has been criticized in the past for lights at city hall when it promoted “Earth Hour” – a call to reduce energy use during one hour on Earth Day in April.

Even though grid emergencies are rare, he said, the issue should be examined.

Administrators said some buildings, like fire halls, the police station and utility shops, must maintain operations 24 hours per day. Maintaining streetlights is an important safety consideration.

Others like arenas or the Esplanade may be open to the public in evenings.

Shutting down events or cancelling hockey games might not be needed considering the relatively small gain in balancing power supply and demand.

As for city hall, city manager Ann Mitchell told the committee that lights are already lowered during non-business hours and several years ago fixtures were replaced to run high efficiency LED bulbs.

What gains might be possible will be studied and considered, she said.

Private office managers in Calgary told reporters last week their buildings already operate at about half energy demand on evenings and on weekends – times when residential use is highest and when alerts are most likely to occur.

The City of Calgary is also looking to plan co-ordinated power reductions throughout that city’s downtown core.

The News has previously reported that large industrial customers in the city typically work with knock-off clauses in power contracts that limit electricity use during alert periods.

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