Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher and town chief administrative officer (CAO) Jeff Lawrence were in a reflective mood as they set down with the Casket, Oct. 27, almost a year to the day since Boucher took office, following municipal elections in Nova Scotia in October 2016.
“It has been a very busy year and it started right after the election,” Boucher said, noting one of the first tasks was helping new councillors Mary Farrell and Andrew Murray familiarize themselves with their new roles, as well as bring returning councillor Diane Roberts up to speed on activity she wasn’t present for, after not running for council in the election previous to 2016.
“And a productive year so far,” Boucher added, noting council’s focus on fulfilling campaign promises and, “taking the town in the direction we think is forward thinking.”
The ‘forward thinking’ thought was a good segue to the first topic both Boucher and Lawrence wanted to touch on which was the success of the partnership the town is involved in – Alternative Resource Energy Authority (AREA) – with the towns of Mahone Bay and Berwick, and its wind farm in Ellershouse.
“Turbines eight, nine and 10 will be going operational in the next month in Ellershouse,” Lawrence said.
“That will mean 40 per cent of our power will be 100 per cent green. And, if you look at Nova Scotia Power moving to 40 per cent of theirs, that means, really, within the next two years, 64 per cent of Antigonish’s power will be 100 per cent green.”
Lawrence noted the financial model used for the wind farm as being a reason for its many benefits.
“There are no subsidies for it, what we’re building we have to pay for; we borrowed the money the same as a business would,” he said. “Also, we built on a model where the power that is coming from the wind farm costs us the same amount, or less, than if we would have had to purchase the power from Nova Scotia Power.
“And that’s really what we’re so proud of – the partnership – that really hasn’t happened anywhere else … we were the first ones to build it.”
Boucher talked about AREA now looking at other green energy opportunities.
“Specifically solar,” she said.
“We’re looking around the town to see where we could apply solar energy into our grid; make the municipality even greener.”
Lawrence talked about Antigonish Arena and the water treatment plant as being two possibilities.
“Two bids under the provincial program; one is for the arena and one for the water treatment plant,” he said.
“If successful, it will result in the arena using greener energy and provide a financial reward to the arena which will get filtered back into the financial statements for that entity. We wouldn’t look to capture any of it, we would just put it into the arena.”
He noted benefits would be similar for the water plant but it’s a little different situation.
“We bid into it but it’s, actually, on Nova Scotia Power’s grid, it’s outside of our utility,” he said.
As for benefits to Antigonish residents, Boucher said the wind farm allows Antigonish to “maintain our rates lower than Nova Scotia Power” and Lawrence talked about the certainty owning a wind farm provides.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with Muskrat Falls, we know what is going to happen with the wind farm; there is some benefit to certainty,” he said.
“We know, as the wind farm ages, we have maintenance agreements and those will escalate over time, but we’ve factored that in, we have predictability. The cost is at or less than what we would pay from Nova Scotia Power; we own it, control it, and made the decision to go ahead with phase three.
“Over the long-term, we have no control over where Nova Scotia Power is going with some of their initiatives.”
Boucher said financial benefits back to the community “enabled us to do a lot of our capital projects; a sum of things we’ve done this year we wouldn’t have been able to do without the wind farm.”
“We took that money and moved it into capital,” Lawrence added.
“We didn’t move it into operations or new positions or anything else. And, certainly, given borrowing limitations and everything else, that is our plan over the next two years; to continue to use the money that comes in from the wind farm for in-ground infrastructure.”
Both talked about the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) presenting AREA with their Climate Change Leaders Award.
“It shows that municipalities can work together to accomplish great things,” Boucher said.
“One of the unique things about our partnership is the geographic location of the three partners; you have Berwick in the Valley, Mahone Bay in the south shore and then Antigonish and it works because of the community interest,” Lawrence added.
“We all have our electric utilities and all have our common interests that make it work. Partnerships are sometimes a little more difficult to make work if you don’t have that community interest.”
Boucher said the model, where each municipality has an equal say, makes the partnership solid as well.
“So everyone has the same interest in the viability of the wind farm.” she said.
“It was started by previous council and we’re just lucky to be able to continue it and do the third phase and, again, hopefully in the future, get into solar opportunities as well. It’s an exciting time.”
Lawrence used the phrase “frontier territory.”
“Antigonish, because of the university, has a lot of very good things going for it that not many towns do. And, by itself, is a very vibrant community and great place to work, and the wind farm is really frontier stuff. It’s not being done anywhere else and, so far, it has been very successful. It’s hard not to get caught up in it.”
The mayor and CAO reflected on numerous other topics during their look back at year one of this term, so see next week’s Casket for the continuation on their thoughts.