Ottawa learns it’s tough to go green
Propane or electric? Zamboni’s cheaper model wins the race
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.