THIS STORY IS PART OF OUR SERIES ON MUNICIPALITIES IN TRANSITION. While provincial and federal governments often make wide-ranging policies on carbon pollution, energy efficiency and renewable energy, it is at the municipal level where these changes take hold and affect people’s day-to-day lives. These changes provide local jobs, save money for local businesses and improve the quality of local services. These are the stories of how the energy transition affects everyday Albertans.
How changing the lightbulbs spurred local sports tourism in Olds
How many lightbulbs does it take to change a town? In the case of Olds, Alta., the answer is 20.
“We’ve attracted a lot of attention, because the curling ice is so crisp and clear with the new lights,” said Larry Wright, strategy and technology officer of economic development for the Town of Olds. “We have curlers come from all over to use the space.”
Five years ago, Wright suggested swapping out the lights at the Olds Curling Club for energy-efficient LEDs. Before the retrofit, curlers complained about dark corners of the rink and shadows on the ice, making it difficult to accurately throw the rocks. An avid curler himself, Wright knew the rink needed upgrades before it would be considered to host any big curling events. And choosing an option that improved curling conditions while reducing energy consumption was a no brainer.
“We really needed to think ahead on our energy consumption, because the operating costs are obviously going up,” said Wright. “And, people are becoming more aware of our environment.”
Funded in part by the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre’s (MCCAC) – an organization that provides funding and support to Alberta municipalities addressing climate change – through the Taking Action to Manage Energy program, the Olds Curling Rink Efficient Lighting retrofit reduces the rink’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 18 tonnes and saves over 27,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year.
It also saves the club $1,670 annually. But that is just a nice bonus. The real payoff? According to Wright, the LED upgrade has kickstarted the town’s sports tourism.
Olds will be hosting the 2020 Humpty’s Champions Cup next May – a world curling event which caps next season’s Grand Slam of Curling tour and bring the top-ranked curling men’s and women’s teams in the world to Olds for the first time.
In addition, last year, more than 2,000 people came to town to participate in Olds Sports Day, an event run in support of the 2019 Canada Summer Games in Red Deer, where people could learn about and experience the different sports showcased at the games – curling included.
And locally, there is now a waiting list for companies wanting to advertise inside the rink.
“The project has been a chain reaction, which is exactly what you want,” said Wright, adding the updates to the curling club were just the beginning.
Since the completion of the project in 2017, Wright said the renovation has not only spurred local sports tourism, but it has acted as a catalyst for other clean energy changes to the rink and around town.
After changing the rink lighting, the curling club executive, along with the Town of Olds, began looking at other improvements they could make to the facility. Soon after, the lights in the kitchen, lounge and changerooms were also upgraded to LEDs.
Further, after receiving a donation from local grain company Richardson Pioneer, the curling club upgraded the kitchen equipment, electrical wiring and PA system, as well as put in new carpet in the lounge area and purchased new chairs.
In 2017, town council approved a FortisAlberta proposal to replace the municipality’s street lights with LED lights, bringing additional cost and energy savings to the town.
“We’re a very progressive, innovative community, and we’re starting to think about the whole, big energy picture,” said Wright.
Wright said small changes are feasible for municipalities looking to cut back on energy consumption and save money.
In addition to Olds, MCCAC has partially funded two other curling club renovations in Alberta.
The Vulcan Curling Club added energy efficient lighting and installed weather-stripping along exterior doors and windows – saving $3,180 a year.
At the Viking Multiplex & Curling Club, upgrades to the lighting and furnaces, plus the addition of three programmable thermostats, saves the club $1,690 a year.
“It’s about trying to get the public to understand what the change is, why we’re doing it, and what the benefits are,” said Wright. “This simple upgrade really kick-started some changes and got everyone thinking about things we can do to improve our energy consumption.”