A few small business/money related stories, each capable of being much bigger...

OILSANDS RE-TOOLING

Operating and capital costs in the oilsands have been reduced by a most impressive 30% since the Great Oil Price Crash of 2014, thanks to full-press utilization of cleaner, greener, safer, faster, cheaper technologies, plus more productivity per worker and wages coming back down to earth.

How ironic that low oil prices have spurred these innovations, as beneficial to the environment as they are to the economy. Innovation was slow as molasses during the oilsands’ pre-2014 glory years – why look for efficiencies when there was so money to be made?

The current slow recovery of the Alberta economy is likely more about the retooling within the non-renewable energy sector (and the re-building of Fort McMurray after last year’s fire) than any other business.

But more bad news for oilsands labour is coming. As is happening in mining operations the world over, within two to three years, the great trucks hauling raw bitumen around the surface mines of Suncor, Syncrude, Imperial Oil and CNRL will be driverless. Hundreds more once-$100,000-a-year jobs will be turned over to automation.

BATTERY POWER

Why nobody in Edmonton is buying electric cars … yet,

According to Green Car Reports, the 2018 Nissan all-electric compact Leaf vehicle will be sold in North America for $30,875 Am ($37,359 Cdn), with a battery range of 240 kilometres.

Time needed to recharge the Leaf, using regular 120V household power, 16 hours: Time to fully recharge using large-appliance 220V with a “level 2 home-charging station”, eight hours: Time to recharge to 80% using a home-charging 220V station, 40 minutes.

The 2019 Nissan Leaf will have a 320 km range. Would you make it to Calgary?

BIKE LANES

So far, $8 million has been spent by the city on downtown bike lanes.

With apologies to Sir Winston Churchill: Never has so much been spent, on so few, for so little in return.

Here’s a cost-recovery suggestion. Impose a $10 a year municipal licence fee on ALL bicycles to cover the cost of bike lanes — including the bike in your garage you ride once a year. Imagine the squawk!

BRIDGING THE GAP

Something’s not right about this story. Walterdale Bridge contractor Acciona Pace Joint Venture is reported to have paid $10,000 a day in late penalties from June to September 2015, then $17,000 a day thereafter.

If true, if the bridge actually opens in early October, Acciona will have paid around $13.3 million in late fees. Even on a total cost of $155 million, the penalty would take the mickey out of Acciona’s profit margin. That figure must be under much negotiation between City and contractor.

Or, as one retired contractor estimator tells me, every bidder builds a multi-million-dollar late fee into the original estimate which is partly why the small but new Walterdale replacement bridge with its two great arches ends up costing an astounding $155 million.

RUST NEVER SLEEPS

Why would the city be so mad (as in crazy) as to start using road salt on our roads in winter?

Cheaper? Everybody knows the rust damage done by road salt to the vehicles of relatives and friends in Quebec and Ontario. An Edmonton city manager claims the new brine will include an anti-corrosion agent. Yep, that sure has worked Down East!

In an Edmonton CBC report, a corrosion expert who is skeptical about the effectiveness of anti-corrosion agents estimated the cost of road salt corrosion to be in the $400 to $600 range, per person, per year.

Let’s say it’s roughly $400 per vehicle – in accelerated depreciation and rust repair. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta has 5.1 million vehicles. Let’s say one-quarter are in urban Edmonton.

By these numbers, to save a few million in snow removal and de-icing, the city is actually adding ($400 per vehicle x 1.27 million vehicles) $580 million in additional costs per year to vehicle-owning taxpayers.

Which reminds me of water softening. Many years ago, due in part to new federal water-treatment rules, water softeners were removed from Edmonton’s water treatment plants. The city conveniently saved a few million a year in the purchase of water-softening agents.

I’ve never seen an estimated total price tag, but the inconvenience and damage caused by calcium build-up in water pipes, humidifiers, shower-heads etc. must collectively cost us in the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars every year.