Art Gallery of Alberta grand opening – sneak peek

art-gallery-of-alberta-edmontonI was one of a group of lucky Edmonton bloggers to get a sneak peek at the new Art Gallery of Alberta building in downtown Edmonton. The new AGA building is set to officially open on January 31, 2010.

I’ve heard that some people aren’t so fond of the design of the place, from the outside, but I actually don’t mind it. It’s certainly not the style of building I’m used to seeing in Edmonton, not that it’s a bad thing. I think it’ll be something that grows on people as well. You certainly won’t forget it!

Personally, I think it’s a fine addition to Edmonton’s downtown. The new art gallery is adjacent to Churchill Square  and has already attracted a great deal of attention downtown. I’m sure they’ll see a lot of walk-in traffic to the gallery during Edmonton’s many festivals held in Churchill Square.

I would like to thank Gilles Hébert, Executive Director, and Sarah Hoyles, Media Relations and Communications Coordinator, for taking time out to talk to the large group of Edmonton bloggers assembled there. I can imagine that January has been an extremely busy month for them as they work towards their grand opening in less than a week.

Quick facts: AGA Edmonton:

  • Grand opening day: January 31, 2010
  • 85,000 square feet
  • 30,000 square feet of exhibit space
  • Permanent art collection of more than 6,000 pieces
  • Designed by Los Angeles architect Randall Stout
  • AGA was founded in 1924
  • Cost – $88 million

I hadn’t been sure of what to expect of the gallery tour, but I love art so I was curious to have a look at what’s going on. I’m not an art snob either, so I wasn’t too worked up about not seeing the displays or galleries yet. There will be time for that later.

Art Gallery of Alberta – Edmonton – Q&A session from Alain Saffel on Vimeo.

Check out more of my Art Gallery of Alberta photos on Flickr.

I also wasn’t too worried, as apparently a couple in our group were, that our two guides didn’t have every answer during the question and answer period. One question in particular, about whether the theatre could show Super 8 movies, was controversial (not that you’d know if from the video). (The Super 8 exchange starts at 1:45 in my Vimeo video.) Sarah and Gilles weren’t sure and I don’t think that’s a big deal. Ask most younger people today and they’d probably wonder why you were talking about movies from a motel. As any good reporter knows, you can always follow up and get that information.

Yousuf-Karsh-displayOutside of that tempest in a teapot, I enjoyed the tour and the photo opportunities. I was actually quite caught up in taking photos, which I really hadn’t expected this day. With the facility not being complete, I’ll get a fuller look around once the galleries are open to the public. I think the intent of this tour was to get a little word of mouth happening in social media, and I applaud them for that.

Edmonton has been lucky to get some major art exhibitions in the past, and this new, expanded gallery should further assist in that effort.

Upcoming AGA exhibitions

  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Edgar Degas: Figures in Motion
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Franciso Goya: The Disasters of War and Los Caprichos
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Yousuf Karsh: Image Maker
  • Jan 31–May 09, 2010 – The Murder of Crows by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Building Art: Photographs of the Building of the AGAby Edward Burtynsky
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – BMO World of Creativity: Play on Architecture!

art-gallery-of-alberta-interiorI don’t know what the daily admission will be, but I noticed that an AGA family membership is only $85 and gives your family free admission for a year. Talk about cheap! Worth the investment I think. The individual and student rates are also quite low. The art gallery is also working on corporate sponsorship to be able to offer free days for public visitors.

If you’re a fan of architecture or art, looking for something different to do, or just trying to occupy the kids for an afternoon, the new Art Gallery of Alberta is definitely worth a visit.

Edmonton snow clearing & budget rant

edmonton-snow-clearing-end-of-seasonEdmonton had its first major dump of snow. Winter is upon us! And, of course, many are complaining about the state of the roads. You know what? They have good reason to complain.

Yes, I know, Edmonton is a big city and it’s a big job. Tell me something I didn’t know. What I do know is that I grew up in a place that got a hell of a lot more snow than Edmonton and it was dealt with just fine. Obviously when you get hit with a big dump of snow, the roads will suck for a while.

How the City of Prince George, B.C. deals with the roads now, I don’t know, but I know they actually did a pretty good job when I was growing up. They’d have graders and loaders out clearing main roads and residential streets and make pretty quick work of them. The graders even had drop gates to clear the front of your driveway so you didn’t have a three foot tall mountain of ice to clear.

Before I moved to Edmonton I had been here in the winter before, including during April 2005 when it snowed about a foot in one day. What a gong show! It seems better now, but marginally.

Now we have a house here and pay taxes here. So, we have a right to complain. Period. If the city isn’t doing a good job of spending the tax dollars of Edmonton residents and is proposing to raise taxes by eight to 10 per cent, we have a right to complain. Period. It would also help if we suggested ways of improving how they go about spending our money.

In that vein, I will throw a few suggestions out there and make a few observations.

In this sprawling city (whose fault is that?) there are a lot of streets to clear and the major routes should be the priority. I do find it puzzling that when I was sitting in a restaurant at 137 Ave and 97 St. on Friday night I saw nine snow plows in a row heading north on 97 Ave. Spread out a bit guys.

I was out driving the next day on 137 Ave and it was a mess, and that was down towards 66 St. They can’t even cut the snow back to the curb. I would think three plows should be able to clear the entire two lanes to the curb. Done.

And get the windrows as close to the curb as possible. I know it can be tough. God knows driving in Edmonton can be brutal when you’ve got people chit-chatting on the old cell phone, even in snow. I saw that yesterday too. Seriously.

I do wonder about how efficiently those resources are allocated out on the streets when this kind of dump of snow happens. I understand they won’t get to my street for a while, if ever, but at least do the major routes properly! They really aren’t.

I was also puzzled last year when I watched out my window after a snowfall, as at least three or four graders cleared snow on my street one day. I swear they must have made three or four passes each, and it’s a two lane street.

WTF? I’ve never driven a grader, but I’m convinced I could clear my damn street in fewer passes. I might even move a few neighbours’ cars off the street in the process. (Snow route anyone?)

End of season snow clearing

I have talked about the city’s end of season snow clearing a few times, perhaps even ranted. I’m prone to that, but I’m justified. (Usually)

Why, particularly on a residential street, do I need the snow cleared from the side of the roads at the end of the season? I took a bunch of pictures of the City of Edmonton snow clearing efforts in the early spring of 2009. There were:

  • Three graders
  • One large snow blower
  • One flag person
  • Someone in a City of Edmonton pickup following the snow blower
  • A fleet of semi-trailer trucks hauling away the snow

I understand the city likes to recycle the gravel it spreads on the roads. Recycling is a shrewd and lofty goal. Sand and gravel are expensive, and recycling it makes sense. Here’s an idea though: let the snow melt. Novel, I know, but you’re going to send the street sweepers around anyway.

One sweeper with a couple of trucks (smaller and cheaper ones, I might add) to haul the gravel away is far more efficient than a whole fleet of people hauling away snow that will melt.

I would love to see the accounting analysis on this. Considering all the machines processing and hauling away that snow, I just can’t see them hauling enough loads of gravel per hour to make the activity pay.

How much does the city pay per load of sand? What’s the total cost per hour to do this snow clearing to recover the sand?

So, why not let it melt and let the sweepers pick it up? Yes, there will be more loads of sand, but it will be concentrated. You’ll need fewer, smaller trucks and they’ll only be hauling sand, not larger, more expensive trucks hauling a fraction of the amount of sand. That should save some money in the budget.

Street sweeping obsession

I have also noticed that Edmonton seems to have a bit of a street sweeping obsession. It’s not a bad thing that we like clean streets here, but I think there are limits. I swear I saw a sweeper on my street at least three times this summer, well after the spring sand and gravel had been picked up and well before my street had been repaved.

I would watch as they drove by, sweeping up virtually nothing! I was a little puzzled at that. Why not only sweep areas that actually need it? Don’t just sweep for the sake of sweeping. More money saved in the city budget.

Police directing traffic

edmonton-city-police-directing-traffic-epsAs if the preceding cases weren’t insane enough, I have repeatedly seen Edmonton city police out directing traffic. At first, I thought there was an accident. Drug bust? Murder? Umm, parade? Nope.

Construction! Yes, our police, who apparently cost around $100,000 per officer, are out directing traffic through construction areas. Are you kidding me? I don’t care if they’re part of traffic services. They should be out stopping the speeders, red light runners, drunk drivers, texting drivers and others who make this city such a danger to drive in.

Instead the City of Edmonton installs green light cameras, like that’s going to solve the problem. It’s certainly going to chip away at the $20 million extra the Edmonton Police Service was hoping to get this year.

Why do they need $20 million more this year? I guess the City of Edmonton is going to be doing a hell of a lot more construction next year!

Why not get the EPS out stopping drivers causing problems and not directing traffic? Are we to believe there are no flagging companies who would like to bid on a city contract to control traffic in Edmonton construction zones? Are there not enough unemployed people in this city to fill the inevitable positions that would come out of this?

I know flag people don’t each cost $100,000 per year. More money saved in the budget and hopefully some dangerous drivers off the road.

Citizen auditor: Alain Saffel volunteers

Maybe our city needs to start ripping apart a few departments at a time and make sure they’re doing things properly. I have cited only a few examples here that just don’t make sense. Maybe an outsider perspective is needed? I’d be happy to help out. I’ll be a citizen auditor. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the city who would also like that opportunity.

For those who are telling people to leave the city if they can’t handle a bit of winter, you’re missing the point. It’s about efficient allocation of resources, and there are legitimate questions about how the City of Edmonton allocates its resources. I would prefer that the City does not waste a single tax dollar, especially when they want to raise taxes again. Every citizen in this city has the right to hold our city councillors and the accompanying bureaucracy accountable for its actions.

I’m sure we can find plenty of money to save in these tough times, with a sharp pencil, creativity and a critical eye. Can I just ask for one teensie weensie little favour please?  Could we spend some of those savings on taking care of the sewer smell that seems to be so pervasive in this city?

Should Edmonton close the Edmonton City Centre Airport?

edmonton-city-centre-airportShould Edmonton city council close the Edmonton City Centre Airport? This is the questions facing council today, after much debate.

I’ve only been in Edmonton since early 2008 and I’ve sat on the sidelines of this debate listening to both sides. I really haven’t had an opinion on it until recently because I wanted to get both sides before deciding.

I’ve listened to the each case and I believe that Edmonton city council should make the decision to close Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA).

I understand the argument for having scheduled service available right inside the city limits, but it seems that was decided in the 90s to consolidate scheduled passenger service at Edmonton International Airport (YEG). Makes sense because there’s absolutely no room to grow at ECCA, nor would it make sense to split scheduled passenger service between Edmonton’s airports. Making connections to different airlines would be a nightmare.

Mack Male has been blogging about the issue quite a lot lately and started the website NotMyAirport.ca. Check out this video with him debating about closing ECCA.

So, who does the ECCA serve now? It seems that it’s private pilots, charters, medevac flights and flight schools. Of course there are a number of businesses related to the operation of ECCA that rely on it, including a number of hotels.

It’s never easy to make a big decision to close this type of facility and not one to take lightly. While I am in favour of closing the airport, despite the negative impacts it may have on the businesses related to it, I believe that it will be a positive thing for Edmonton in the long term.

Benefits to closing ECCA

  • NAIT will have room to expand
  • Taller buildings in downtown Edmonton – Edmonton’s had height restrictions on its buildings due to safety issues related to the airport. Taller buildings around Edmonton will allow for greater density of development. The benefit? Perhaps this will alleviate some of the sprawl Edmonton is notorious for.
  • Development – imagine the amount of economic activity that would be generated by developing an area larger than Edmonton’s downtown. Alberta’s still got one of the strongest economies in North America and it would have one of the hottest development areas in the world too. Vancouver experienced a huge boom in development with the Expo lands redevelopment. There will also be economic activity created by the businesses moving from their locations at the ECCA.
  • Certainty – by finally putting the issue to rest, the city can focus on what is going to happen with the ECCA land. While it will cause consternation among users of the airport and those who rely on it economically, it will also (I think) excite the rest of the city about the possibilities the land could be used for.

Caveats

edmonton-mapWhile I am in favour of ECCA’s closure, I wonder if the current Edmonton city council is the right council to lead the charge to redevelop the Edmonton City Centre Airport lands.

Redeveloping Edmonton’s City Centre Airport lands would be a huge job and I would hope that council would get a lot of community input on it. I would also hope that they would take the windfall from selling off and developing those lands and maybe do something like, oh, I don’t know, build an LRT extension to the airport?

Looking at a map, the area of the ECCA is larger than Edmonton’s downtown. This is a rare opportunity to create something great, so we need to make sure it’s done right. That opportunity we’ll never see again.

We need people on council with vision. Do we have that now? I can’t comment with any authority there. What do you think? I look at the state of Edmonton now and wonder, who do we blame for the absolutely stupid sprawl, ridiculously limited LRT, etc?

I hope council makes the right decision and closes the airport completely. The spineless route would be the phased route. I understand the rationale is to give businesses time to adjust and relocate, but if the lands are going to be redeveloped, then just do it.

Edmonton moves forward by closing ECCA

There is some speculation that the decision won’t be made today, and I think that’s fair. It’s a big decision and better that it be an informed one than not. Ultimately though, the decision needs to be made to close the airport entirely, not in phases. Edmonton needs to move ahead.

(Related post: Summer 2010 – With the city moving ahead with its decision to close ECCA – Edmonton Centre Airport & Envision Edmonton calling for a plebiscite, there’s a debate on again about what should happen to ECCA.)

Edmonton Transit Camp #yegtransit

transitcampedmontonOn Saturday I attended Edmonton Transit Camp at the World Trade Centre.

It was a half-day event where attendees could find out all about what the plans are for the Edmonton transit system and contribute their views on what should happen with the Edmonton transit system.

There were about 50 to 60 people attending the event and I thought it was worthwhile attending. It was interesting to be able to share ideas on the future of Edmonton’s transit system. We even had a few visitors come up from Calgary to join the discussion.

What will Edmonton LRT look like in the future?

...forecasting for a 100 year transit plan that fuel prices will double to $1.66 per litre

There have been a few stories in the news about what Edmonton’s LRT system will look like so we have a basic idea of what’s being proposed. There are also a few online resources.

What worried me early on in Transit Camp was a presentation from an Edmonton Transit official. I’ve forgotten her name but I thought her presentation was interesting.

So, here are my thoughts in general on Edmonton Transit Camp as well as the Edmonton transit and LRT system in general and what I would like to see in it. So it’s a combination critique and wish list.

I was worried because of the underlying assumptions ETS has used to decide on how Edmonton LRT will expand. At the end of her presentation we had a chance to quiz her on a few things. She had talked about one of the assumptions being that world oil prices would double. Hmm. Ok. Double from what price?

A little more probing and we discover that the assumption is actually from 2006 and it’s based on a doubling of the then gas price of 83 cents per litre. So, they’re forecasting for a 100 year transit plan that fuel prices will double to $1.66 per litre! Granted, I have not seen the plan, so I don’t know how that works into the plan or if they’ve assumed that we’ll be floating around Edmonton like the Jetsons at some point.

$1.66 per litre. Really? We nearly reached that last summer and I’m not sure when this 100 year plan is supposed to start. $1.66 a litre doesn’t seem too pessimistic to me! In fact, if gas is going to top out at $1.66 a litre for the next 100 years, why would anyone even use transit, aside from the population of the area being projected to grow to 3 million over that time (and the requisite parking problems).

I don’t know if the consultants on this project or the people at Edmonton city hall have taken peak oil into account on this. It is a reality. It’s going to make travelling by automobile a very difficult, if not impossible thing at some point in the future. Will Edmonton’s transit and LRT system be prepared for the huge influx of transit users? I’m worried it won’t be.

Star shaped LRT system, or grid?

edmonton-transit-platinum-bus
Checked out Edmonton Transit’s showcase platinum bus

Another issue I had with the Edmonton transit plan was the star shaped LRT network. The way they’re planning the LRT routes is to have all the LRT routes funnel through downtown. So, if you were wanting to take LRT from St. Albert to West Edmonton Mall, there wouldn’t be a route other than going all the way downtown, and then west to WEM.

Doesn’t seem to make much sense. Oh, and that’s assuming there will be LRT from St. Albert anyway. Outlying communities will have to get on the LRT at some sort of interchange between municipalities.

I believe that a loose grid network with branches out to communities outside Edmonton makes the most sense. I know the cost issue is a sensitive one, but a way should be found to connect the transit systems of all Edmonton area communities.

A loose grid system would allow travel throughout Edmonton without necessarily having to travel through downtown Edmonton. It’s one thing to project where transit demand will come from, but I know that when transit stations are built in an area, those areas grow. It’s an “if you build it, they will come” approach. Transit oriented design, I believe they call it.

Are there areas which would support growth away from downtown Edmonton? I think the current municipal airport is one. Not knowing the Edmonton region as intimately as some, I’m sure there are many others.

A loose grid works well in other locations and the value is where those lines cross, allowing transit users to access many areas quickly and easily via LRT. Toronto and Montreal have excellent systems with many cross-links. I know the bus and subway system in Montreal is very well integrated and it just makes sense to use it. I have, and I know from experience you can go virtually everywhere in the city quite easily.

Having lived in Vancouver, I have used Skytrain a fair bit. It was always a pain because it was one line. That’s it. It would have been far more valuable with good cross-linking transit lines. That’s the direction they’re finally going.

A star-shaped LRT system in Edmonton funnels everything through the bottleneck of downtown. And with the low step street level LRT they’re proposing (similar to Calgary), it’s going to be slow going, meaning inconvenient.

Time & budget considerations

free-scooter-parking-edmonton
Scooters & motorcycles should have free parking in Edmonton. More of these on the road would be good.

Edmonton is a big, thinly populated city, right now. They’re projecting a tripling of the population over the next 100 years though, so it’s going to fill in, increasing population density.

With transit now, it takes forever to travel across the city via transit, and I’m worried that won’t change with the proposed expansion of the LRT. I live in Northeast Edmonton, and am lucky enough to be within a single 10 minute bus ride of the LRT line. Still, if I want to travel south, perhaps to Ikea, I’m looking at anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours one way on transit. The end result? I’m not using transit.

The marginal cost of taking my family there with a vehicle is maybe a couple dollars of gas. Transit? If there are four of us, it’s $20 round trip. Transit is out and I’m clogging the roadway. There are many many areas of Edmonton where this calculation works more in favour of using cars over transit. I have used transit for many meetings in downtown Edmonton because the parking is so ridiculous, and if I don’t have other meetings elsewhere following it.

There were some good suggestions about group rates for events. I live close to Northlands and if my family wanted to go to a home show, it would make more sense to drive and park for $10 than to pay $20 round trip for transit. The cost of gas for the trip is virtually nothing. We have walked too, weather permitting.

My wife works out in Sherwood Park and transit isn’t even an option for her. Add another car to the congestion.

I bought a scooter last year, which is far more fuel efficient, but Edmonton’s parking system just views me as another car. There are few good options and certainly no financial benefits from a parking perspective for having it. You can park half a dozen motorcycles in the space of one car. There should be cheaper or free parking for motorcycles and scooters.

An efficient LRT and transit network might tip us into being regular users of transit. I’m not confident the proposed system will do that either.

Connecting with Edmonton airports?

And what about Edmonton International Airport? Apparently that is not in this plan. And what’s happening with the municipal airport? Well, nobody knows that yet, but you can bet it will be gone, given the ideas flowing from city council.

Here are some of the criteria used to decide on the LRT routes. Apparently the plan is being presented to city council as I write this. Not like I’ve got time to spend the morning there listening, but I wouldn’t have minded!

I’m not sure how a 100 year transit plan can be discussed, let alone implemented, without making solid decisions on what is happening with the airports. The presenter I’d mentioned earlier said people on the LRT would be looking out the window at people on the freeway doing 100 km/h towards the airport. Sure, whatever, but those people also have to park, and it’s not cheap there! LRT would be fine to go to the airport.

Conclusion

I have serious concerns about this plan according to what I heard Saturday. I’m concerned that the assumptions this report is based on won’t lead to the kind of transit system Edmonton needs in the future. Once I’ve seen the plan I’ll be able to comment more on it.

There are so many issues that I could go into and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Even with the issues I’ve raised, I feel like I could write a book on them.

This isn’t the kind of issue that we can just hand over to consultants and run with it. We need to have a serious discussion about the future of Edmonton and the very important role that transit will play here in the next 100 years. It may seem costly, but I think it’s going to be more costly to build a system that doesn’t work well for Edmonton and surrounding communities.

Can you go off-grid in the city?

solar-panelsIs it possible to go off-grid in the city? It’s a question I’ve pondered for years. When I lived in B.C. I didn’t take it quite as seriously, but moving to Alberta, I have.

When I look at my utility bills it’s a little frustrating. I actually get charged for water drainage based on the number of square feet of my lot? Really? Epcor manages the groundwater too?

And gas. The fixed charges ever y month are ridiculous! In B.C., my gas bill wasn’t a whole lot more than that.

How would you go off-grid in the city?

There are several systems you’d need to replace, and it might not be easy. Possible? I think so, but you’d have to plan it. And when I refer to going off-grid, I’m mainly referring to major utilities such as electricity, gas, water and sewer. Phone and Internet are other possibilities.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be disconnected? I would love it.

Water

I have looked into water collection and filtration systems, and this one could be a challenge. I haven’t yet calculated if there’s enough precipitation in Edmonton to be able to pull this off, but I think it’s possible.

You need to have a roofing material that doesn’t leach chemicals into your rainwater. You’d need to collect all the runoff from your roof in underground tanks, and from there filter the water and direct it into your house. It would be key to reduce your water use, which could be done with composting toilets, low flow faucets and showerheads, efficient dishwashers and clothes washers.

Sewer

This one’s not as hard as you might think. Your sewer stream pretty much splits into two parts: black water and grey water. Black water comes from your toilet and grey water is from your sinks, tubs and washers.

The black water is easily dealt with in a composting toilet. They’re not expensive and are environmentally friendly. They turn human waste into compost. Do you want to put it on your garden? Well, that’s up to you, but you could put it in your yard in good conscience.

Grey water is a little tougher to deal with, mostly because city government would probably stand in the way. You simply need to gather your grey water, send it to a holding tank, end disperse it underground. You can use it to water plants, etc.

I’m not fully familiar with all aspects of a grey water system, but I know that houses in the country use the same principle, except they discharge grey and black water. The beneficial aspects of a grey water system are that they aren’t dumped into a river but replenish ground water, make it so you’re not using treated municipal water on your yard (which seems like a waste) and it disconnects you from the municipal services.

By using a composting toilet you reduce the amount of water you use.

Gas

If you use gas for heating, this one wouldn’t be that hard to get rid of. One of the primary considerations is to reduce your heating load and switch your clothes drying to solar and electricity. I would also switch to geothermal heating and make sure your hot water is heated with electricity and solar.

My goal is to eliminate my gas connection. Bye bye furnace. Bye bye gas hot water tank. The furnace would be replaced by geothermal and the hot water tank is electric and is supplemented by solar hot water.

Reducing your heating load

By reducing your heating load, which just means insulating and reducing heat loss, you make it easier to provide the power to run your other systems.

The steps may be simple or they might be more complex and costly, depending on your home. The previous owner here was smart and put on two inches of extra insulation on our house and installed triple glazed windows. That’s a good start!

You can make sure your doors are insulated, seal up all the cracks where heat might escape, insulate crawlspaces and especially your attic.

Insulating really well is common sense whether you’re on grid or off. It reduces the amount of fuel you need to heat and reduces the electricity you need to keep cool in the summer if you use air conditioning. If your house were to be designed properly, you wouldn’t need cooling in the summer either.

Electricity

This is the tough one. Electricity is going to power your geothermal heating, hot water, clothes drying, lights and all your electrical devices. The trick is, how do you generate enough electricity to be able to power all those things?

First, you need to make sure you’re using as little electricity as possible. Simple things like compact fluorescent bulbs help, but LEDs will be better. Take advantage of nice days to dry your clothes outside (what a novel concept). Do you really need air conditioning (if you super insulate, you may not)? I lived for years without air conditioning. Big deal.

The key is to generate enough electricity to power your geothermal system which can function like a heater and refrigerator all in one. You reverse it in the summer and it cools your house. Nice.

Generating electricity

It’s a nice thought to have electricity as the one form of power for your house, but how do you generate enough? And how do you get the city to go for it?

Solar is one obvious answer, but there are several parts to it. Solar panels can generate electricity and solar hot water panels can preheat your hot water, reducing the need to heat it with electricity. To further complicate things, your geothermal can also heat your hot water. So, solar hot water would reduce the load on your geothermal system as well.

If you think you won’t like the look of solar panels on your house, stop reading. Your roof will have solar panels and solar hot water panels.

Electrical wind generators

swedish-energy-ballAnother way to generate electricity is to have a wind generator. I’ve seen two that intrigue me. One is on a vertical axis and takes up very little space. Another resembles a whiffle ball and spins on a horizontal axis. I could have one on my house and one on my garage. It would be key to make sure that they do not have guy wires and are more than adequately secured.

I don’t worry about the killing birds argument. First, it’s a rarity. Second, if the wind generator doesn’t get them, global warming may eliminate their species. I think one of the Prime Directives from Star Trek probably addresses that well.

windside-vertical-axis-wind-turbineThe major problem really would be your neighbours and the city. NIMBYs and numbskulls? Your neighbours would complain they’re noisy (they’re not) and the city would probably complain just because it’s different. Sorry, I don’t care about your codes. If you’ve watched Mike Holmes, you’ll understand that minimum code requirements barely qualify as toilet paper.

Edmonton is a very windy city, I find, and I’m sure there would be plenty of windpower to make this viable.

Is it enough electricity?

Important question. How much is enough? Will your solar panels and wind generators be enough? Perhaps. You also need to have adequate storage for those times when the sun isn’t out and the wind’s not blowing.

You’d need to do some serious planning to ensure you have enough electricity for all your needs. Electric stoves, dryers and hot water heaters are major power hogs, so you need to make sure you provide more than you think you’ll need.

Other electricity generation methods

We’re a little ways off yet, but a home power cell could be another option. From the reading I’ve done, it seems like a stationary power cell might be more feasible than one for your vehicle. Along with electricity they can also generate heat. This would be a nice addition to the other systems.

Cost?

I never said my dream was cheap. I haven’t calculated a cost yet, mainly because I would have to know what my requirements are, but I can see it approaching $100,000 or more, quite easily.

Solar panels, while becoming cheaper, still are quite expensive. Geothermal for my house would be in the $40,000 range. Solar hot water is surprisingly inexpensive. I have to put on a new roof anyway, so that’s going to have to be spent anyway. $20,000? Wind generators? $10-15,000? Battery backup? I have no idea. Solar panels? Again, no idea yet. Toilets, maybe $2,500. Grey water system? $5,000?

Seems like a lot of money to spend just to disconnect from those power bills. Does it make sense from a practical perspective? Well, that depends on how you look at it.

Peak oil?

The idea that we’ve reached the mid-point of world oil production and that it will decline from here is a reality. We don’t know when that mid-point is, but it will happen. The idea really came to the fore when US oil production peaked in 1970, as predicted by an American petroleum expert. He predicted it in the 50s.

Alberta’s conventional oil production is also in decline. You think through the boom it’s increased? Sorry, it’s declined every year since about 1998 (earliest year for which I’d seen the figures).

Wonder why I don’t want gas as my heat source? Well, Canada is running out and usage is increasing, especially by the oil sands.

You can argue it, but it’s a simple matter of fact: energy costs will increase in the future. If peak oil becomes a reality, or more accurately, if the general population realizes it is, then watch out. This is when alternative energy will be alternative no more.

Global warming

As much as I want to save the planet, I realize there’s only so much I can do as an individual. You’ve seen my ideas. This is what I want to do.

Human beings collectively don’t seem to be too bright. We only seem to take action when forced. We tend to be more reactive than proactive. Sure, there are exceptions. Don’t take it personally. I’m not necessarily talking about you, but we’re all guilty of complacency at one point or other.

If the economics work, then people will change, but not before. Why can’t we do the right thing because it’s just the right thing? Who knows, but I’m trying to make choices that are the right thing.

Governments

What I’m proposing is a little radical. Expect entrenched interests like electrical, water, sewer and gas utilities to fight this idea. They’ve got the money to do it, but whose interests are they fighting for? Certainly not yours.

Governments, unwise ones at least, will generally fight this as well. It’s too different. It’s too forward thinking. It upsets their apple cart.

Think of the benefits this could bring. Tax credits that promote these types of options could be something that helps turn the economy around. It’ll benefit oil and gas companies too.

If, within a year, Canadians cut the amount of oil, gas and electricity they use in their homes and cars in half, wouldn’t that be beneficial? Those utilities could then sell that oil and gas to higher bidders in the US; same with the electricity. We’d probably meet our original Kyoto obligations (perish the thought).

Manufacturers of solar panels, wind generators, geothermal supplies, home building supplies (windows, doors, insulation), would all be busier than ever. And what about the people required to install these things? They couldn’t keep up.

You think that wouldn’t turn around the economy?

How about incentives to trade in your gas guzzler on a much more fuel efficient vehicle? If Detroit or Windsor produced some of those, even better.

The banks

Our federal government could even come up with a program that required banks to lend to homeowners based on a formula. I don’t know if it would work, but here it goes.

Your home could be assessed to determine the best ways of cutting your energy use. The final cost could be added to your mortgage at a preferential interest rate and the bank could offset that amount with any government incentives. Ideally, the savings you see today (based on current and projected energy costs over the amortization period of the loan) and in the future would offset the additional mortgage payment you would make.

So, for the home owner, ideally it would be revenue neutral. As energy costs increase, homeowners would see savings. It would increase the value of their home. It would stimulate the economy. It would lower our greenhouse gas emissions. Canadians would be more independent and less reliant on giant utilities (okay, so it’s not as good for them).

The details

Of course I haven’t given all the details. They can be worked out. I think the concepts are important. We can move toward these options on our own, proactively, or we can do it reactively. It makes much more sense to take control, do it now and be prepared.

The question I have for every Canadian politician is: do you have the guts to make these kinds of decisions that are in the best interest of Canadians?

Will it happen?

So, will I ever go off-grid? I’d like to. Frankly, I just don’t have the money to do it. If I did, I would. I would be a pioneer. If you’re out in the country, it’s far easier.

Let’s hope business is even better for me in the future and I’ll be able to do it.

This is hardly a complete treatment of the subject. There’s so much more that could be said, and I’d like to go into more detail in the future. Feel free to share your ideas and comments here.


Clear your sidewalks!

tree-snowI understand why the city wants you to keep your sidewalks clean and sanded, and I don’t have a problem with it.

Threatening to fine you or have contractors clean city sidewalks at my expense is something I do have a problem with though. The City of Edmonton has a bylaw that means you have to keep your sidewalk clean or you’ll be fined $100. They’ll warn you and then fine you, and if that doesn’t work, they’ll clean it and put it on your tax bill.

Cleaning your own sidewalk will save the city money and God knows they have enough trouble with the roads, they don’t need to add sidewalks into the mix.

I think the City of Edmonton would have an easier time selling this idea if they did a better job cleaning the roads and keeping them safe. I find it amazing that in a city that has winters like we do that the roads here can be so appalling. It’s called moral high-ground.

And don’t tell me it’s because the city is so big and has so many roads. Whose fault is that?

I think that having the crews actually learn how to clean snow properly would be really helpful. I was looking out my window one day when I noticed four graders going up and down my street. I swear that they must have made three or four passes each and still didn’t clear the street properly.

I grew up in Prince George, B.C., and they knew how to clear streets. I’m sure they would love to do some consulting work with the City of Edmonton about how to clear streets quickly, efficiently and, most of all, effectively.

I don’t know what the city’s snow clearing budget actually is, but it doesn’t matter. I am positive they could do a better job with the resources they have if they worked more efficiently.

God help us if they call out the army like they did in Toronto.