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Mayor calls Guelph's Community Energy Initiative "fantasy"

"We've put so much focus and energy into this issue ... that we've lost sight of other things for the municipality"
20160201 Guelph City Hall Sign KA

Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie unloaded on the city's Community Energy Initiative Thursday, calling it "fantasy."

"We've been overtaken by this Community Energy vision and a lot of it is fantasy. Not vision, fantasy," Guthrie said.

He was speaking at a meeting of the city's Governance Committee where staff was providing an update on the program and asking for $150,000 to do a thorough update of it.

"We've put so much focus and energy into this issue ... that we've lost sight of other things for the municipality," Guthrie said, adding that the CEI has received money and attention to "the detriment of fixing sidewalks and cutting grass on our sports fields."

Guelph's CEI was formed in 2007 with the long-term plan of managing, controlling and reducing the amount of energy and water the city uses and the amount of greenhouse gasses it produces.

Owning Guelph Hydro and the ENVIDA community energy project are both part of the CEI.

Guthrie has had it in his cross-hairs for some time.

Earlier this year he removed the community leaders of the Guelph Hydro board so that councillors and staff had full control, citing increased transparency and accountability as the reason.

"This has been a personal weight on my shoulders for years," said Guthrie, unloading with both barrels at the committee meeting after the formal presentations and a delegation had been heard.

He said there are only "so many pieces of the pie" and that "municipal tax dollars need to go to municipal issues."

At the root of Guthrie's concerns, which were echoed by several councillors at the committee meeting, was measuring how much money the city has spent on the program and how much energy and money it has saved the city.

"We've made investments, what are we getting out of it?" the Mayor said. "You have to see where you're at to see where you want to go."

Peter Cartwright, the city's general manager of business development and enterprise, and Rob Kerr, manager of community energy, presented the report and told council that those numbers would be included in the update, which they expect to be completed by the end of March 2017.

They also said that half the $150,000 cost of the update could be garnered through outside government sources.

Cartwright admitted there was a lack of community awareness around CEI and that they wanted to change that.

"There has been a lack of information and some confusion around the program to date," Cartwright said.

Evan Ferrari, executive director of local non-profit eMERGE Guelph Sustainability, appeared as a delegation in support of updating the CEI.

"The report is candid about the current status of the CEI and where some of the challenges exist," Ferrari said. "An update will help focus on a clearer path forward."

Ferrari pointed out several examples of how the CEI has benefited the city, but Guthrie later wondered out loud how many of those benefits were private sector initiatives.

Several at the meeting echoed Guthrie's concerns that any kind of review of the program had to involve numbers to gauge the program by, something they felt has been missing for nine years.

Councillor Dan Gibson said the city has put $4.5 million into the CEI and has no idea what the return has been.

"We can't go down and ask for the metrics of a company we own?" Gibson said. "I'm shocked. We're breaking the community's trust."

Gibson said the CEI has "pushed people in their comfort zone" and that the city needs to give the public a full account of where the money went and what the benefits are.

"We haven't been getting that in the past ... what we need is oversight," said councillor Bob Bell.

"We need to address the metrics, the quantitative side of what we've done. 'This money spent, this money saved. This was a success, this was not,'" Bell said.

Councillor Cathy Downer said it could be difficult to go back and get all that information, particularly given that a lot of the information comes from third party sources.

The report was accepted and will now go to full council for debate and possible approval.


Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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