Municipal leaders in Manitoba bracing for future hydro rate increases want the province to use carbon tax revenues to offset the higher costs to their energy bills.
It’s costing a small fortune now to heat spaces like public arenas and curling clubs, said Al Abraham, deputy mayor of the LGD of Pinawa.
- Read more: AMM wants province to pony up
Rate hikes like those proposed by Manitoba Hydro this winter will push costs through the roof, he said.
The PUB has begun hearings on Manitoba Hydro’s rate application for annual 7.9 per cent increases over each of the next five years, potentially pushing current hydro bills up by close to 60 per cent.
That’s completely unaffordable, said Abraham. It would add another $12,000 to the yearly hydro bill just for Pinawa’s arena alone, he said. They heat all their other public buildings with electricity too.
“There is no pipeline to the northeastern part of the province so we can’t use natural gas for heating,” he said.
“Every time there’s a rate increase it affects the operation of all our facilities… the arena, the curling club, the municipal office, the public works department, everything.”
Pinawa’s resolution on use of carbon tax to offset costs for hydro users aims to support all Manitobans who’ll be hit twice by higher home energy costs, he added.
At last month’s Association of Manitoba Municipalities convention delegates also registered their opposition to the proposed rate hikes in another resolution put forward by the RM of Pipestone.
The November convention also afforded opportunities for leaders to lay out other ideas for recycling carbon tax revenue. In a special session devoted to the matter, others said the province should be incentivizing those who voluntarily lower energy consumption.
“We have an opportunity here with this carbon tax,” said David Minish, councillor in Swan Valley West.
The province should find a way to reward those whose homes are smaller and energy efficient and whose lifestyles consume energy modestly, he said. Hydro users who use less should be paid a dividend using this tax. Minish said that could start to change the types of homes people build and the amount of energy they use in them.
“It wouldn’t be long before people started to tailor their lifestyle, their buildings, and the way they did everything to stay within that lower rate,” he said. “That could have a huge change with very little other bureaucracy involved.”
Other leaders said it’s time Manitoba started looking outside its own boundaries at where other jurisdictions and countries use energy more efficiently.
“These are not Manitoba problems. These are problems everybody faces,” said Ste. Anne reeve, Art Bergmann.
“We would do well to spend some time looking at how others have solved those problems.”
Manitobans could and should become way more proactive about adopting passive solar systems, Bergmann said. Passive solar construction designs and locates buildings so that they take advantage of the sun’s rays to heat them, with window placement a key aspect of that design. Passive solar buildings also have heat storage systems that hold heat as required and deflect it in summer.
“Right now it’s a fringe element that does this but it should be mainstream,” he said. “I’d love to see the government spend some resources chasing this.”
Other leaders offered ideas about recycling, suggesting the province revert to past methods of refunding consumers who return drink cans and bottles.
“The province should buy it back from individuals. We’d have children picking them up again like in the old days of the bottle drives,” said Raymond Garand, reeve of the RM of Alexander.
That kind of program would reduce the littering of these items in ditches, he added.
Other leaders said they’re very worried about the impact of carbon taxes on school divisions that have tight budgets already. Rural students don’t have any other option to get to school right now except to ride the bus and there are no electric school buses around yet, one councillor said.
“How can you ask people to reduce emissions when there is no viable alternative right now?”
The discussion was hosted by Deputy Minister of Sustainable Development Rob Olson who was at AMM’s convention seeking input on how best to spend the anticipated $260 million annually that will be generated from carbon taxes. Manitoba will have a flat rate of $25 per tonne carbon levy starting in 2018.
AMM has asked the province to consult local government as it develops its Made-in-Manitoba Climate Action Plan so that it doesn’t impact jobs and local economies.
The province is certainly looking at how to protect vulnerable individuals and vulnerable industries, Olson said, noting the exemption it has offered agricultural producers for its coloured fuel.
The province needs Manitobans to tell it where to invest in ways for adapting to climate change, Olson said.
“Everyone wants to talk about the carbon price,” he said. “But it’s going to be about adaptation. We’re going to have to adapt. We’re going to have to do things differently. We want to hear from you on this.”
The province continues its online survey since unveiling its Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan October 27.
To date 2,000 submissions have been received from Manitobans on how they want the province to address climate change and see carbon revenues recycled.
The survey remains online and the province has extended the deadline for submissions until Dec. 22.