By COLLIN GALLANT on August 31, 2021.
Phil Turnbull says he will seek another turn on council to help usher in new stability for the city’s power plant in the face of a rapidly changing electrical sector.
That comes after controversy erupted when the city announced a strategic power plant review to determine the effect of renewable power on pricing and profits, but could also consider a sale or new partnership with the private sector.
Eventually a potential sale was removed.
Turnbull, the utility committee chair, said Tuesday that a new business and operations model for the gas-fired power plant is crucial.
“We were talking about the long-term future of producing power with natural gas, and where does that leave us,” he told the News about the January 2020 review.
“If the carbon tax goes to $150, it will cost about $60 million per year… So what are we going to do?
“We’ve got to be very careful about how we plan for that and make sure every councillor understands that.”
He joins a race council race currently has 25 candidates ahead of a Sept. 20 deadline and October 18 election.
Turnbull, a 77-year-old retired businessman, was first elected to council in 2009, then again in 2017 after finishing second in the 2013 mayoral race.
He was the first sitting council member last winter to announce his candidacy, and he plans to formally submit paperwork early this week.
He said he will stand on the city’s new “Accelerated Financially Fit” budget model to cut spending and a new investment attraction strategy, both of which he pushed for during the last term.
“We’ve been able to find a lot of efficiencies in the city budget, $15 million this year, and we’re looking for another $10 million (in 2022), and I don’t want to see that get lost,” he said. “We finally have an economic strategy that our city has been looking for for 40 years.”
This month, Invest Medicine Hat gave a mid-year report into its development subsidy program as well as launched a new strategy to promote hydrogen fuel production in the city coupled with a carbon sequestration strategy. Regional carbon capture, Turnbull says, will be paramount to local petrochemical manufacturers and the city power interests as carbon levies rise.
Utility analysts have said commodity prices may decline on the Alberta electricity gird as new renewable investment rises.
The city currently earns most of its profit on export sales and uses the proceeds under a new city dividend policy to cover losses in the natural gas division while most of the city’s wells are abandoned. The remainder is hived off for municipal construction projects and reserves which, until this year, also covered a tax revenue gap.
The original Financially Fit plan involved a 10-year plan to increase tax increases by 4% each year while cost savings were sought. Councillors approved steeper cuts last December to leave tax rates at 2019 levels.
Turnbull says service delivery may be spared from the worst of cuts, depending on the 2022 plan presented by administrators and when the 2023-27 budget is written by the next council.
“People are counting on a level of service, but things are going to have to change in the way our city is run,” said Turnbull citing savings in transit, with the advent of on-demand service on low-volume routes in the evenings and other measures.