The Pulse: Feb. 1, 2024

Here's what you need to know about Edmonton today.

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  • 7°C: Mainly sunny. Wind up to 15 km/h. High 7. Wind chill minus 3 in the morning. UV index 1 or low. (forecast)
  • Green/Yellow/Red: The High Level Bridge will be lit green, yellow, and red for Black History Month. (details)

Solar panels atop a large building are depicted in the foreground, with the Edmonton city skyline in the background.

EXPO goes big on solar to hit climate goals

By Colin Gallant

The Edmonton EXPO Centre now hosts Canada's largest rooftop solar array, and it's one large piece of a $98-million puzzle to improve the centre's carbon footprint.

Phase one of adopting solar at the EXPO cost around $5 million and was completed in August. "We're thinking it will save us somewhere between $290,000 to $460,000 a year just in our operational costs," Melissa Radu, the director of social and environmental sustainability at Explore Edmonton, told Taproot.

Explore Edmonton's Carbon Reduction Plan 2023 charts a course to net-zero emissions by 2050. It includes a greenhouse gases report, which says it installed 5,754 solar panels that cover 193,735 square feet at the EXPO in 2023. The panels can generate approximately 2.8 gigawatt hours (GWh) annually, "equating to almost 375 homes electricity usage in Canada."

Explore Edmonton is an arm's-length body of the city focused on generating tourism in the Edmonton region. It manages the EXPO, the Edmonton Convention Centre, and its own office at the World Trade Centre.

The way the EXPO building was built is part of the challenge. "The EXPO Centre was actually originally constructed as a barn, an elaborate little barn," Brad Watson, a program manager for the city who works on the EXPO, said. "Because the building is from 1983, it wasn't designed for today's (increased) snow loads, let alone the solar array that we have on there."

Watson said the $98 million dedicated to retroactive improvements at the EXPO will include electrical and mechanical upgrades, as well as structural reinforcements, by 2025. Phase two installation of the solar array will begin in February, finish in 2025, and cost $3.4 million. Watson said increasing solar panels will add another 1.9 gigawatt hours of generation. The solar and retrofit improvements shouldn't disrupt events at the EXPO, Watson said.

Switching to solar will be significant, Radu said. "When we look at the emissions from the EXPO Centre, it's about 65% of our total building emissions that are coming from procured energy. Just with phase one of solar on the building, it'll be about one third of our total energy draw that is now coming from clean, renewable energy."

(Andrea Linksy of the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation and ENBIX recently told Taproot that buildings in Edmonton account for 40-60% of total emissions for the city.)

Explore Edmonton boasts it now has the largest solar array in Canada, but it's not technically operating right now — it's in the commissioning phase, a rigorous process of safety and technical checks. That means it's not a contributor to the destination-marketing organization's report on greenhouse gases from 2022, which puts the company up 10% on emissions over 2021.

"There was some normalization that needed to happen coming out of COVID, so what why I said it's important for us to look at our emissions-reductions scenario," Radu said. "That looks much further out at a big picture, in terms of if we're positioned to reach that 2030, 2040, 2050 goal."

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Headlines: Feb. 1, 2024

By Kevin Holowack

  • Coun. Tim Cartmell said he has arranged for EPCOR representatives to appear at the utility committee's March 4 meeting to provide an overview about the equipment failure at the E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant, which prompted a non-essential water ban in the Edmonton area earlier this week. Cartmell, who chairs the committee, said he has questions about communication and preparedness. EPCOR said it is "conducting a post-incident review" and plans to provide details about the equipment failure, management measures, and resiliency planning. The company expects to lift the ban on Feb. 4.
  • The non-essential water ban has also raised concerns about the impact of water shortages in surrounding communities supplied by EPCOR, including St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Leduc, Beaumont, Sherwood Park, and Fort Saskatchewan. Some communities have suspended activities such as water main and sewer flushing, outdoor ice maintenance, and firefighter testing. In December, Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz asked all Alberta municipalities to develop water shortage plans, monitor water intake, and review water licenses as the province prepares for likely drought conditions in 2024 and 2025.
  • CBC introduced a new podcast called This is Edmonton, which will publish episodes every Wednesday about the "quintessential, random, and occasionally infuriating things that make Edmonton, Edmonton." The show replaces The Loop, which ended in November 2023, and is hosted by CBC producer and reporter Clare Bonnyman. The first episode looks at downtown public art, and the second is a discussion of encampment clearings with CBC reporters Paige Parsons and Wallis Snowdon. It's one of seven new CBC podcasts focusing on local stories across Canada.
  • Edmonton NDP MP Blake Desjarlais's request for an emergency debate on housing and houselessness in the House of Commons was denied by the Speaker. Desjarlais shared his speech on social media and said he will "continue to use all available tools to end this ongoing crisis." In his request, Desjarlais cited Edmonton city council's decision on Jan. 16 to declare a housing and homelessness emergency.
  • The Togather Chinatown Art Fair, a curated market showcasing community-minded, emerging, and marginalized local artists, is happening on Feb. 10 and Feb. 11 at the Edmonton Chinatown Multi-Cultural Centre. The market celebrates the Lunar New Year. The market's founder, artist and illustrator Emily Chu, said the event is a chance to showcase the artistic side of Chinatown, highlight community-building, and break stigmas about the area.
  • Red Bull is organizing the Red Bull Soapbox Race at Queen Elizabeth Park Road on June 22. The energy drink company calls the event, which tests both speed and design, "the world's craziest four-wheeled race" and is inviting "aspiring daredevils, engineers, and artists" to apply starting Jan. 29. Explore Edmonton expects the event will attract 25,000 to 30,000 people.
  • In a video posted to social media, Premier Danielle Smith unveiled sweeping policy changes related to gender identity, surgeries, sports, and education. The policies impact gender-affirming surgery, hormonal therapy, and puberty blockers. They will also require parental permission for students 15 and under to use their chosen pronouns or names at school, ban transgender women from participating in women's sports leagues, and require government approval to teach third-party material about gender and sexuality. The province is expected to provide more details at a Feb. 1 press conference. In response to the changes, Alberta Teachers' Association President Jason Schilling said teachers are "concerned about the chilling effect placed on classrooms and schools, impacting our ability to provide safe, caring and inclusive spaces for all students."
  • The province has launched a free online digital literacy program, which offers 19 self-guided courses at the beginner and intermediate levels for Albertans who want to develop basic digital literacy skills. The program is funded by the federal Skills for Success program.
Looking down an alley on an overcast day, with apartments on the left and commercial buildings on the right

Calls for public engagement: Edmonton elections, 124 Street, Strathcona County policing

By Kevin Holowack

Here are some opportunities to shape civic initiatives, including an alley renewal project in the 124 Street area and an effort to improve municipal elections.

More input opportunities

Photo: An alley off of 124 Street. (Kevin Holowack)

A title card that reads Taproot Edmonton Calendar:

Happenings: Feb. 1, 2024

By Debbi Serafinchon

Here are some events happening today in the Edmonton area.

And here are some upcoming events to keep in mind:

Visit the beta version of the Taproot Edmonton Calendar for many more events in the Edmonton region.