Energy Manager encouraged for Island municipalities

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SUDBURY – When it comes to municipal budgets, energy bills are very high up on the list of challenges being faced by Ontario communities, and Manitoulin Island’s small towns are no exception. But unlike some line items, such as policing and the health unit, energy bills are one area where a proactive approach can pay dividends. To that end a number of Island communities have banded together under the auspices of reThink Green to seek funding for a shared energy manager position.

reThink Green is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Sudbury that “focuses on regional environmental initiatives, and connects people, ideas and resources to create more sustainable communities. reThink Green operates programs, offers events and encourages knowledge sharing and collaboration between like-minded organizations, businesses and municipalities.

Abhi Kantamneni, Smart Green Communities program director discussed the role of an energy manager with The Expositor.

“An energy manager is actually a technical certified professional position, like an auditor, usually with an electrical or mechanical background,” said Mr. Kantamneni. Energy managers are usually found in larger municipalities or organizations and work as part of a team to reduce the energy costs of that organization. “But with Manitoulin with, say, seven small municipalities, none of them have the number of assets to employ an energy manager on their own.”

By banding together under reThink Green, Manitoulin communities can achieve the economies of scale necessary to utilize the services of an energy manager in a cost-effective way.

“Municipalities have a number of buildings they deal with, such as arenas and hospitals, where there is potential to reduce the energy costs,” said Mr. Kantamneni.

One of the ways an energy manager can find those savings is to first establish a baseline of energy use in those facilities and then compare that energy footprint to an established average kilowatt hour across the province. An energy use audit of the facilities will help point to where there might be potential for savings.

“Perhaps there is older equipment, such as lighting that could be replaced by LED, or an outdated HVAC system, for instance, where those costs could be reduced,” said Mr. Kantamneni. “Then you can come up with a capital plan and/or funding to replace that equipment.”

Normally, the energy manager position would be a staff position that would report to council through that municipality’s CAO. In this case, reThink Green is applying for the funding on behalf of the municipalities, and this comes with some significant benefits for Island municipalities.

“If a municipality were to apply for the funding there would be a cost match for the municipalities in the funding application,” said Mr. Kantamneni. “But that is not the case when the application is being made through a not-for-profit.”

While the position will be housed in Sudbury, with the energy manager travelling to the Island to conduct audits and other assessments, there are other benefits that more than offset those costs. Leaving aside that no single Island municipality has enough work to justify the position and that it would not be viable for a single community to go it alone, reThink Green has the infrastructure, computer systems, office space, software and in-house expertise to tackle the position and support the position for the next year and a half covered by the funding.

“My hope is that when the next year-and-a-half of the Island program is complete and a couple of projects have shown the value, we will be able to find ways of keeping the program going,” said Mr. Kantamneni.

The funding application for the energy manager has been submitted to Natural Resources Canada and, if successful, the workplan would see the position starting sometime around mid-December.

Certified energy managers are a highly sought-after skilled professional (not to mention they are able to command a six-figure compensation package), admitted Mr. Kantamneni. “It can be hard to attract people who have the certification to Sudbury, let alone a more rural area like Manitoulin Island.” But he anticipates being able to quickly fill the position. Not only are there in-house professionals currently undergoing the process of becoming certified at reThink Green, but the agency has built up a list of potential candidates. 

“We can pull from that pool,” he said. “So we are not worried about filling the position. We know how to do that.”