How the growing City of Nanaimo reduced its energy bills

City gets serious about conservation, from the stoplight to the pool

Electrical expenses for the City of Nanaimo were lower this year than any time in the past four years — despite the city's expansion and an increase in electrical rates.

The secret? Creating long-term energy efficiency plans and taking action when opportunities arise. That has led to systematic upgrades to lighting, heating, buildings and water infrastructure across the City — and the impressive shrinking electrical bill.

A city-wide conservation team

"There's no shortage of work," says Bruce Joiner, the city's energy manager. "And many of the projects are time sensitive. I even go through [City] Council agendas to help keep my ears open to what's happening so I don't miss out on any opportunities for energy conservation."

Fortunately, Joiner isn't working alone. As a whole, the city's senior administration has an interest in conservation.

Nanaimo is one of the 180 municipalities that signed on to B.C.'s Climate Action Charter and committed to becoming carbon neutral. The council has an advisory committee on environmental sustainability, and three years ago the City hired Joiner as a full-time energy manager.

LED traffic lights, UV filtration, and solar collectors

One of the first projects Nanaimo undertook was to change its traffic lights from incandescent to LEDs.

"It makes a big difference because traffic lights are on day and night, even on sunny days," says Joiner. "There's a maintenance benefit as well. Incandescent bulbs have to be changed all the time and you'd have to stop traffic."

More recently, the City upgraded the heating systems for its largest swimming pool, installing condensing boilers that extract heat from their own exhaust.

As well, the ozone filtration system in the pool has been replaced with a more energy efficient ultra-violet (UV) filtration system, and this upgrade is now underway in the other pool. "Saving energy is the main reason," says Joiner. "But the side benefits are that UV provides a more thorough disinfection and requires less maintenance."

The City has also installed collectors for solar hot water on its conference centre. And a new 43,000 square foot office building beside City Hall has solar hot water as well as all-LED interior lights.

"New construction is the best time to add solar collectors," says Joiner. "We can take advantage of already having the engineers on staff for the building."

Greener fleet — even at the ice rink

The city has converted some of its fleet to hybrids, and it has four electric vehicles. "We've also installed a couple of electric-vehicle charge stations that are open to the public," says Joiner. "And recently we purchased an electric Zamboni, instead of the traditional propane powered ones. It works inside the rink, so this will be a lot cleaner operating."

Gravity used to cut water system costs

Perhaps the biggest energy conservation projects Nanaimo has been working on recently are innovations to its water system.

The City's water is piped from the Vancouver Island mountain range. This puts city residents in the favourable position of being downhill from their water supply, a situation being put to good use.

When one of the City's six pump stations needed to be replaced, it was redesigned to use gravity to maintain water pressure instead of using electricity to power a pump. "We received a Power Smart incentive for that project and it has worked out well on providing savings too," says Joiner.

Another new project is a new water filtration plant that uses gravity to pull the water through the filtration membranes.

"Most other filtration systems in North America that use membrane filtration either pull or push water through the membranes using pumps," says Bill Sims, Nanaimo's water resources manager. "We're going to pull it through using gravity; in other words, we're siphoning it. If we went the other way, we'd have to pump the water supply 24/7."

As water flows from mountains, a turbine provides some power

Gravity isn't only being used to replace other sources of energy. The City also plans to generate new power from its fortunate downhill position, by installing a turbine in the water treatment plant.

As water arrives from the mountains, the turbine will provide energy for partially running the plant. Similar turbines will generate electricity for sale to the grid, as water comes into a new contained water reservoir that's now in the works.

Nanaimo recognized for conservation efforts

Nanaimo's endeavours have not gone unnoticed. This past November, the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of B.C. (ASTTBC) awarded the city the TechGreen award for excellence in sustainable initiatives, applauding them for "recognizing and seizing opportunities to add value to municipal operations."

Their initiatives are being acknowledged locally as well. "There's a high level of interest in the community," says Sims. "People expect that their City will live up to and model sustainable practices."

About the Power Smart Partner program

If your organization is commercial, government or institutional, and you spend at least $250,000 annually on electricity, you can become a Power Smart Partner.

The program includes tools to identify your organization's energy-saving opportunities, as well as support for a full-time energy manager and financial incentives for implementing energy-efficiency projects.