HICKS ON BIZ Edmonton looking at three big deals with EPCOR, regional planning and bus buying BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED, EDMONTON SUN, SATURDAY, JUNE 25, 2016
A spate of Metro Edmonton reports, recommendations and proposals have been pumped out over the past month. All have wide-ranging implications, but few have been analysed or debated in wide-reaching public forums.
Within all these issues, what’s the best, most efficient use of taxpayer’s money?
EPCOR’s latest bid to take over the city’s drainage services: What’s there not to like about this deal?
Twenty years ago, CEO Don Lowry transformed the city’s electricity department into EPCOR, a private company owned by the City of Edmonton. EPCOR then pivoted out of power generation (by creating Capital Power), took over the city’s water and waste-water treatment plants, plus the pipes in between – and springboarded that water expertise into a profitable company running municipal waterworks across North America.
EPCOR now pays a $140 million a year shareholder’s dividend to the City of Edmonton every year. Imagine removing that $140 million from the city’s bottom line. We’d be screwed.
Based on the track record, please, turn the city’s drainage system over to EPCOR. The deal looks reasonable. EPCOR gains flood-proofing expertise it can sell world-wide. The profits come back to the city as owner. New jobs are created. New wealth flows back to the city.
Tax pooling and regional planning: Like the TV series Game of Thrones, Metropolitan Edmonton is an illogical patchwork of cantankerous, too-small, independent kingdoms (municipalities) surrounding one big bossy kingdom. Rarely is there agreement on anything involving regional planning or revenue-sharing.
Based on the past 100 years, Metro Edmonton’s voluntary regional planning and coordination have been fitful at best, disastrous at worst. It’s only when Big Brother — the provincial government — has stepped in with an iron fist or the threat of an iron fist — that anything gets done.
So the Notley government is doing nothing — nada, zip, zero — for the region’s economic well-being by kicking this can of worms further down the road.
The latest amendments to the provincial Municipal Government Act give regional municipalities three more years to come up with their own solutions to regional infrastructure, land-use and tax-sharing issues.
What was needed was decisiveness from Premier Rachel Notley. A new Municipal Government Act could – should – have gone ahead and imposed regional industrial tax revenue-pooling, with a percentage — say 50% — of each municipality’s industrial taxes pooled for use in regional initiatives.
The province could have insisted that Metropolitan Edmonton set up one overall economic development authority and one regional planning body with serious powers, funded from that industrial tax revenue pool. The current Capital Region Board is a smart start, but remains a toothless tiger.
Municipal politicians would have screamed blue murder. Nothing irritates a politician more than loss of turf. So what? For future efficiency and global competitiveness, Metropolitan Edmonton has to be governed (in certain aspects) as a single entity, not a loose coalition of oft-quarreling kingdoms.
Without strong, predictable regional governance, all the ideas from the Metro Edmonton “Panel to Evaluate Global Competitiveness” — a single economic development organization, a regional transit authority, regional infrastructure planning — will be for naught.
Bus buying: What’s wrong with this picture? Electric bus technology, according to most mass transit experts, is not yet ready for widespread use.
Pure battery-powered buses — still prototype — cost $1.2 million each. Proven diesel buses — where all the operating costs can safely be forecast — cost $400,000 to $500,000.
Proponents claim less operating and maintenance costs for electric buses. What law of unintended consequences do they not understand?
Yet city transit boss Eddie Robar is proposing Edmonton Transit purchase five electric buses. Mayor Don Iveson wants a second option of buying up to 40 electric buses.
Yet diesel buses can be had at one-third the cost, and diesel buses are dramatically lowering emissions with every successive generation.
Why is the mayor so anti-diesel, when we make the stuff in our backyards … and when the new Sturgeon Refinery will make diesel with 100% carbon capture?