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OPINION: Bill Walton, More Micro Grids

Getting off the grid is not that easy – or cheap
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20171128 grid walton

The announcement of the new microgrid at the Y and Gardens sounded almost too good to be true. It is a great idea and as soon as the system proves itself, we should be installing them all over the city. If each grid can service 300 to 400 homes we would only need about 60 more of these electricity farms to get the whole city off the Ontario grid. Well, we might still need a little backup power on cloudy days, but you can see the benefits.

In fact, after North Bay leads the way, the rest of the province may want to get into this technology. I suspect this is the same technology that is powering that hospital in Puerto Rico after the hurricane damage. In fact, the idea is being employed in many parts of the world as we figure out how to store electricity in an economical way. Not only are we harnessing the power of the sun and the wind but in Australia, there is a microgrid powered by wave action.

This is all great stuff. Anything to get off the overly-expensive Ontario grid gets my vote. I have even written about this in my futuristic book, EBOv9, where ideal cities, of about the size of North Bay, could be self-sufficient.

The under-construction microgrid will also serve as a power source in case of natural disasters when we need to shelter large numbers of people in the Gardens (the Battalion surcharge will be waived) and the Y. You can see why the Mayors were happy as they rode skywards on the power lift. This is a win-win scenario. Heck, you’ll even be able to plug in your Tesla auto at the Y as you work out.

One can almost forgive Mayor Al for gushing about the payback in just over a year. Almost. The City, (us) put $260,000 into the microgrid project and expects to save $200,000 per year in reduced heating costs for the Gardens. That’s a nice soundbite. Pardon my math but the project was pegged at 4.5 million dollars. Who (it’s us again) paid the rest of the money? North Bay Hydro is making so much money that they have the spare change to invest in these projects, which is very nice. You know who their customers are, don’t you? You can smile each time you pass the Gardens and say, it’s my money that did that.

Now the politicians and Mr. Hydro will say that we got a grant from Ontario or even the Feds for the project but who do they think coughed up that money (it’s us again)? Thank heavens for all those people in Toronto who are helping to pay our taxes – and to retire the massive Ontario debt that we just added to.

Still, we must move ahead and embrace the technology of the future. Forget that the annual $200,000 in savings will take many, many years to recover the $4.5 million plus operating and maintenance costs. The jobs created will go a long way towards spreading that 4.5 million around the town. In fact, I’m surprised that they didn’t do that times 7 factor they use for Heritage weekend (or whatever we’ll call it next year) and come up with a benefit of 30 million dollars to the City.

These projects are all great stuff, as I said, but I wish we would stop and think about what they really cost us – not only as taxpayers of North Bay, but as taxpayers of Ontario and Canada. When we work for more than half a year just to pay taxes, we need to be truthful to ourselves.

So now, what neighbourhood will be the first to form a cooperative and raise $260,000 for their own microgrid? Good luck with that.