The Pulse: Oct. 24, 2023

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  • -5°C: A mix of sun and cloud. Wind up to 15 km/h. High minus 5. Wind chill near minus 12. UV index 1 or low. (forecast)
  • Red/Green: The High Level Bridge will be lit red and green for Bijaya Dashami. (details)
  • 193: There were 193 collisions across Edmonton between 8am and 5pm on Oct. 23 during the city's first snowfall of the season, according to Accident Support Services International. (details)
  • 7pm: The Edmonton Oilers (1-3-1) play the Minnesota Wild (2-2-1) at Xcel Energy Center. (details)

Heather MacKenzie smiles while surrounded by solar panels set up in an array

Solar Alberta campaign fights renewables moratorium

By Colin Gallant

A solar-advocating non-profit is running a campaign to demonstrate opposition to the province's moratorium on approvals for new renewable-energy power plants.

Rise Up For Renewables is a response to a seven-month ban issued in August, which halted the development of large new biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, and wind power plants until February 2024.

The campaign focuses on lawn signs and direct outreach to elected officials, similar to the Defend Alberta Parks movement, said Heather MacKenzie, the executive director of Solar Alberta.

"I'm not going to say it's uplifting, but it is empowering to speak out, to put up a lawn sign, to put up a couple lawn signs on other people's lawns, and to really just 'rise,' as we're saying, in a way we haven't before," MacKenzie told Taproot. "I think we need a combination of activism but also to focus on the here and now, and what can we do in terms of solar in our homes and neighbourhoods? That does help you stay on the sunny side."

About 500 lawn signs had been distributed as of Oct. 10, and there are other indications of support.

"We've seen 1,000 new followers in the last month since folks realized that they needed to really show their support. We've seen huge increases in the number of volunteers that we have, and we've seen membership numbers increase," MacKenzie said. "The moratorium is really resulting in a lot of folks becoming more vocal in their support for renewables, because they're realizing we can't take this growth for granted."

The campaign's page says the planned capacity growth of solar power plants in Alberta is down by 21%, a figure it attributes to the Alberta Electric System Operator. MacKenzie said the trend had "always" been an increase in solar capacity until the moratorium.

"We are now basically gone back in time by a year, we're back at 2022 projections for growth on our grid, in terms of solar," she said. "Just imagine how much further we might get bumped back in the seven-month moratorium that's been imposed."

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi suggested in September that the moratorium would not significantly affect Edmonton's contracts with renewable-energy companies, nor would it stand in the way of efforts to reach carbon-neutral status by 2050. But the moratorium does affect the city, MacKenzie countered.

"All Edmontonians and all Albertans will end up paying more for power with a renewables moratorium, essentially, because you're reducing the amount of solar and wind that will be coming onto the grid," she said.

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Headlines: Oct. 24, 2023

By Mariam Ibrahim

  • Edmonton's zoning rules will change significantly for the first time since the 1960s after city council voted 11-2 to approve a revised bylaw on Oct. 23 following a marathon public hearing. The new zoning bylaw will allow three-storey apartments, townhouses, row houses, or duplexes in any residential area across the city, ending the previous "exclusionary" zoning that limited many residential zones to single-family homes. The changes will also allow infill housing to be built on any residential lot, and aims to create a denser, more compact city with a variety of housing types and services available in each neighbourhood. The city began its Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative in 2018. The new changes take effect on Jan. 1, but developers can begin applying for permits now.
  • The city's winter curbside collection schedule will take effect Oct. 31. Food scraps carts will be picked up every two weeks, but recycling will still be picked up weekly. The city reminded residents to clear snow and ice off their carts, use a bag or paper liner for food scraps, shovel around their carts, and store carts away from cold wind when not in use. Residents can confirm their waste collection schedule on the city's website.
  • An increased police presence downtown may be pushing crime and disorder to other parts of the city, Edmonton Police Service Insp. Brent Dahlseide said in an update at a recent Edmonton Police Commission meeting. In February, the police service reassigned 12 officers to the Oliver, Cromdale, and Jasper west areas based on high call volume and crime incidents. Dahlseide said the three new beat patrols were created because of a shift in crime and disorder patterns. The officers had previously been assigned to central neighbourhoods covered by the Healthy Streets Operations Centre. "I would suggest displacement from the disorder that's going on right in the downtown core … is starting to spread farther out," he told commissioners.
  • Postmedia opinion columnist Keith Gerein took stock of the progress city council has made halfway through its mandate, arguing that much of its agenda "has been driven by the progressive camp" of councillors who have been determined to "shift city development, fight climate change, and improve equity." Gerein noted that their efforts have sometimes been met with opposition from more conservative councillors, particularly Karen Principe and Jennifer Rice, who often are in the minority during votes. While Mayor Amarjeet Sohi has often been aligned with the progressive bloc, Gerein described his overall leadership style as collaborative and positive.
  • Postmedia spoke to parents concerned that the lack educational assistants in schools is impacting their children's learning. Michelle Young, whose Grade 6 son has a learning disability, said he sees an educational assistant at his Edmonton Catholic school every other day. Last school year, he didn't have any educational assistant support. Another parent, Jenny Stokes, faced similar challenges getting support for her child with special needs because of insufficient funding and staffing. Edmonton Public Schools said in a statement it tries to provide support within its budget constraints, but was unable to give information on staffing levels.
  • The city's 2023-24 Vision Zero School Kit is now available for Edmonton schools to help encourage street safety. The effort is part of the city's Vision Zero commitment, which aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries from city streets by 2032. The kit includes a do-it-yourself lesson plan, updated classroom activities, signs to encourage safe driving, automated enforcement at approved sites, and street safety resources.
  • The Bakersfield Condors, which is owned by and affiliated with the Edmonton Oilers, have signed forward Sam Gagner to an American Hockey League contract. Gagner, who has played 16 NHL seasons, recently signed a professional tryout agreement with the Oilers but wasn't in any pre-season games due to his rehabilitation from hip surgeries. He has had two previous stints with the Oilers organization.
  • The provincial NDP says 90% of the 30,000 people who have responded to its pension survey so far are against the UCP government's proposal to create an Alberta pension plan. The NDP launched its own survey in September in response to the government pension survey, which the opposition called a "sham" because it does not directly ask Albertans if they want to leave the CPP. The province is currently holding telephone town halls on the topic, while the NDP says it plans to hold in-person consultations in cities across Alberta, including Edmonton.
An Edmonton Transit Service bus enters an intersection on 107 Street

No free rides: Council sends message to focus on transit quality

By Ashley Lavallee-Koenig

A decision not to waive transit fares for unaccompanied riders under 12 surprised Taproot's city hall watchers but struck them as a message that council wants more focus on making transit better.

City council's executive committee considered amending the fare policy on Oct. 13 but decided in the end to receive the report for information rather than taking steps to let all kids ride for free. (Transit is already free for children 12 and under who are accompanied by a fare-paying adult.)

"I think … they want to be really clear with administration that what they want them to do is improve service delivery," Speaking Municipally co-host Mack Male said on Episode 238 of the civic affairs podcast. "And any distraction away from that is maybe seen as mixed messaging or not giving clear enough direction back to administration."

Youth fares account for $900,000 of ETS's revenue, with most of that coming from schools purchasing and distributing student passes, says a report from administration. Forgoing that revenue would leave a considerable hole in the budget, though Coun. Aaron Paquette noted that "there's nothing explicit" directing that revenue toward bettering services, Male added.

During the debate, Coun. Andrew Knack noted the value of encouraging transit ridership early.

"Can you make young people riders for life if they are able to use transit when they're kids, and they get used to the idea, and it's not a foreign thing to them — when they're then full-fare-paying adults — to use public transit?" Male asked. "I like that argument, though it really rests on the idea that the service is good."

Whether the method is free transit or improved service, increasing ridership is fundamental to achieving the city's sustainability goals, said co-host Troy Pavlek.

"If we are building a climate-resilient city for the next 50 years, it's the current 12-year-olds that are going to be making up the bulk of that city," he said.

Hear more about the youth fare proposal, as well as downtown retail and the now-concluded debate on zoning bylaw renewal on the Oct. 20 episode of Speaking Municipally. You'll also get a chance to hear from Taproot's newest hire, Stephanie Swensrude.

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