Ottawa learns it’s tough to go green

Propane or elec­tric? Zam­boni’s cheaper model wins the race

Ottawa Citizen - - OPINION - TYLER DAW­SON Tyler Daw­son is deputy edi­to­rial pages ed­i­tor of the Ottawa Cit­i­zen. tdaw­son@post­ twit­­rdaw­son

A Toy­ota Prius ver­sus a Ford Mus­tang. A Chevy Volt ver­sus a Dodge RAM. An elec­tric Zam­boni ver­sus a propane Zam­boni. Which would you choose? Well, the City of Ottawa has made its choice and it comes down firmly on the side of a ma­chine that burns fos­sil fu­els. In 2017, it bought eight propane Zam­bo­nis, at a cost of $84,000 each, and one nat­u­ral gas ma­chine, at a cost of $87,000, in­stead of go­ing with elec­tric op­tions.

“The is­sues with these ex­ist­ing elec­tric units have in­cluded lim­ited op­er­at­ing time be­tween bat­tery charg­ing, fa­cil­ity up-costs re­gard­ing charg­ing sta­tions, spe­cial­ized train­ing of op­er­a­tors, and in par­tic­u­lar power/per­for­mance short­falls which lim­its where elec­tric ice resur­fac­ers can op­er­ate ef­fec­tively,” says a re­port to the city’s trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee.

(Now that there’s go­ing to be skat­ing on Par­lia­ment Hill, it raises the ques­tion of what sort of ice resur­facer the feds will wran­gle up to do the work.)

Back in 2011, the city bought four elec­tric ma­chines from Zam­boni — which is a brand name, like Kleenex, by the way — and those are the only elec­tric ma­chines in the fleet, to this day. They were pur­chased for $156,000 apiece.

The city said then that it was poised to elim­i­nate the emis­sions hockey play­ers and fig­ure skaters were breath­ing in, and that it would even save money on fuel costs, and that the elec­tric ma­chines would last longer and be eas­ier to main­tain. (It would also make new are­nas cheaper be­cause of the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem costs associated with fuel-burn­ing ma­chines, the city said.)

But there’s a startup cost associated with go­ing elec­tric. Costs for set­ting up the charg­ing sys­tems in the are­nas range from $15,000 to $20,000, the city said, and then there’s the ad­di­tional cost of ac­tu­ally charg­ing the bat­ter­ies each day. The On­tario Recre­ation Fa­cil­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion says that, 20 or so years since electrics first came on the mar­ket, they have made only small in­roads in On­tario com­pared to fu­el­burn­ing ma­chines — of­ten be­cause of cost.

“The most com­mon de­ter­rent for any com­mu­nity to pur­chase bat­tery tech­nol­ogy is its ini­tial pur­chase price, which can be as much as 65 per cent higher,” says Terry Piche, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s tech­ni­cal direc­tor, in an email.

The trou­ble, says Rideau Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, is that if the city doesn’t start mak­ing its fleet greener now, well, we’re go­ing to be liv­ing with the con­se­quences for a long time. “When we buy a Zam­boni, we keep it for about 15 years, and you can imag­ine your­self in 2032, say­ing ‘What are we do­ing with these old Zam­bo­nis, gas Zam­bo­nis?’ ” Fleury says. “I keep see­ing the city re­vert­ing to old, com­fort­able ways.”

What makes this whole thing more in­ter­est­ing is that the city test-drove a hand­ful of dif­fer­ent ice resur­fac­ers in the last few months. The city has 50 ice resur­fac­ers at the moment, and all of them are made by Zam­boni. Forty-two of the cur­rent fleet are propane, and then there are the four afore­men­tioned elec­tric, and four nat­u­ral gas. But, city fa­cil­ity op­er­a­tors took a look at some of the oth­ers.

The city tested an Olympia Mil­len­nium. That com­pany is based in Elmira, Ont., just north of Water­loo, and — fun! — the ma­chines are built around a Chevro­let pow­er­train. It also tested the new­est gen­er­a­tion elec­tric Zam­boni. Then, it looked at the Ital­ian Engo 200 Red Wolf. And, lastly, the Ice Tech OKAY Elek­tra, built in Ter­re­bonne, Que. (I drove Zam­bo­nis and Olympias for years, and I’m deeply en­vi­ous of the test driv­ers, I’ve got to say.)

But it’s the Zam­boni the city went with, and fu­el­burn­ing ones at that. “It was ap­pro­pri­ate the City not ac­quire green ve­hi­cles de­spite the op­por­tu­nity to do so,” says the re­port.

It just goes to show, even when it comes to gov­ern­ments, that even when it comes to green en­thu­si­asm, some­times the rub­ber doesn’t hit the road — it just spins on ice.


Tyler Daw­son drives a Zam­boni at a pri­vate rink dur­ing a pre­vi­ous ca­reer. Daw­son won­ders about the City of Ottawa’s choices as it buys new ice resur­fac­ers.


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