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Brighter city will cost millions

Council moves ahead with $8.4-million LED conversion project; councillors only able to see redacted version of report used to justify program

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It comes with a multi-million dollar price tag, and will push the city further into the red in the short term, but councillors are convinced it will turn around in the long term.

Coming with a total cost of more than $8.4 million, all of the 12,000-plus current high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights in the city’s street lamps will be replaced with much more energy efficient and durable LED lights.

Although the cost is hefty and will see Oshawa obtaining a large chunk of debt to be paid off over the next 10 years, the new lights are set to save the city approximately $1.4 million annually, most of which will go toward covering the entire cost of the debt payments and the remaining savings to be applied to the city’s operating budget.

For Councillor Bob Chapman, it was an “easy decision,” as any delay would come with the possibility of paying even more.

By approving the project, councillors have taken advantage of a $1.6 million grant from the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which is set to drop its grant values significantly in the coming months.

“If we do not take advantage of that now, there’s a significant risk that the incentives are going to be dramatically reduced,” said Stephanie Sinnott, the city’s treasurer.

As well, due to a contract negotiated in 2014 by Local Authority Services (LAS), a service provided by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and used by the city in this process, Oshawa will be paying conversion rates for the American dollar calculated using 2014 rates, when the two currencies were much closer to parity.

Savings with the new lights are, for the most part, created from the reduced energy consumed. Currently, Oshawa’s lights require more than 9 million kWh of electricity a year to operate. With the new LED lights, which come with a 10-year warranty, require about 5.6 million kWh, a saving of approximately $1.25 million per year. The remaining cost savings are in the form of maintenance, which would be reduced by more than $173,000 annually.

The project will also allow the city to standardize its decorative light fixtures along Airport Boulevard Laval Drive, Colonel Sam Drive and around city hall.

Full audit not provided to council

While all other councillors were in favour of the project, Councillor Amy McQuaid-England was the lone voice of dissent, saying she was unhappy councillors did not receive a full copy of the investment grade audit (IGA), which was done to support moving forward with the investment.

“I’m at a loss at why it wasn’t provided to council and committee members in a confidential report,” she said.

The full IGA, an approximately 100-page document, contains all the background information and data gathered by RealTerm Energy, the consultant hired by the city for the project, during its audit of the city’s street lights.

According to Sinnott, the IGA acts as a detailed business case for making the LED investment.

“It went far beyond what a business case typically does,” she told councillors during a special joint committe meeting.

For that reason, McQuaid-England felt that councillors should have been provided copies before making their final decision on the costly investment.

“That information was commissioned and paid for by this council,” she said. “This is me asking council to do our job.”

However, other councillors expressed their trust in staff and that the summarized 11-page report contained all the relevant information needed for a decision, something that was cemented by Jag Sharma, the city’s manager.

“We do not receive every report that staff would commission,” Councillor Nancy Diamond said. “It wasn’t necessary for council to have it,” noting all the “salient features” were included in council’s document.

Prior to the vote, an amendment was added to provide a redacted version to councillors.

Following its approval, the project will commence in the coming months with the city forming into a partnership with the OPUC to assist with the installation of the new light fixtures, hardware and bulbs.