It could be months before Revelstoke Community Energy Corporation (RCEC) reopens after a fire forced the utility offline.
In February, the Revelstoke fire department responded to a fire at the city-owned corporation. The facility is currently using a backup propane-burning system to supply heat to customers.
Larry Marchand, manager of the corporation said the fire resulted from a failed thermo-oil pipe, which leaked oil into the combustion chamber. He said the issue is a design flaw with the construction from when the building was built in 2005.
This is the second fire in less than a year. The previous one occurred in November as a result of a similar problem. In total, during the corporation’s 16 years of operation there have been four fires.
The most serious was in 2015, when damages and revenue lost totalled more than $1.6 million. Those costs were covered by insurance.
Marchand said the fire in February was not nearly as damaging as the 2015 blaze, which almost consumed the building.
Mayor Gary Sulz said the frequency of fires at the facility is concerning and not sustainable.
“We can’t continue this way. We need to figure it out,” he said.
Sulz said he is waiting to read a report about the latest fire, afterwards the corporation will decide what to do and when the utility could be operational again.
In 2019, Sulz sent a letter to intervene in Fortis BC’s proposed rate change to lower the price of propane, saying that if approved, the subsidy would make the community energy provider no longer competitive.
The province approved the propane subsidy last fall. Since then, Revelstoke customers have paid similar rates to natural gas.
Marchand said with the propane lower rates, RCEC is still competitive, but just barely.
Sulz said the rate change is concerning for RCEC, however, with B.C.’s carbon tax, the price for propane should increase. On April 1, 2021, B.C’s carbon tax rate rose from $40 to $45 per ton. The rate is scheduled to increase to $50 per tonne by next April.
Some of the utility customers include: Downie’s dry kilns, the arena, Revelstoke Secondary School, Begbie View Elementary, Revelstoke Community and Aquatic Centre, St. Francis Catholic Church, city hall, the Revelstoke Federal Building (which houses Parks Canada and Canada Post) and the Col River Manor.
Sulz said with pricing and the facility’s current closures, there is uncertainty in the corporation’s future.
However, the city is not looking to sell the utility.
“That’s currently not on the radar,” Sulz said.
Over the years, the city has tried to sell the utility, but was never successful.
When it was built, RCEC was the first community energy system in B.C and was meant to reduce fly ash/smoke, contribute to the local economy and provide stable long-term energy pricing.
It has rarely reported profit. According to its latest financial reports, the company owes millions in debt and unpaid dividends to the city — the company’s main shareholder.
Regardless, Sulz said the corporation saves the city money with cheaper energy bills and helps to reduce greenhouse gases in our community.
Whatever happens, Marchand said the company will continue to have a future providing green power to many of the larger buildings of Revelstoke.
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