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Town of Tillsonburg
Town of Tillsonburg: Shift To Renewables
Kevin Doyle, Senior Editor
As part of its long-term plan to re-invigorate a proud manufacturing heritage and bolster an economy hit hard by the recession, the Town of Tillsonburg, ON is embracing the shift to green energy in the form of solar and wind technology.
The town had already taken initial steps in that direction by identifying green technology as a key area of growth in their 2008 Economic Development Strategy, but the passing of the Provincial Green Energy Act in May 2009 bolstered their efforts in that regard. The law established a feed-in tariff (FIT) program to encourage renewable energy development, phase out coal-fired energy generation by 2014 and create new green industries and jobs.
“The leadership at that time understood that energy needs and demands were changing. In 2009 they identified lands to be set aside for a solar farm. I can’t say we were the first municipality, but we were pretty close to being the first in the province to do this,” says Town CAO Kelley Coulter.
“The town has been pursuing solar energy as a source of revenue as well as a way to generate renewable energy. We’ve leased some land that is not well-suited for industry for the development of 3MW and 5MW solar farms,” says Development Commissioner Cephas Panschow.
The town also received an enormous boost when industry giant Siemens announced in December 2010 its selection of Tillsonburg as the location for its first manufacturing plant for wind turbine components in Canada.
“For the most part, people are excited and hopeful that things are starting to turn around. Southwestern Ontario was hit very hard due to the loss of automotive industry jobs. We had a real reliance on automotive and took a real hit when that declined. Tillsonburg also lost major plastics operations and we’re trying to overcome that,” says Coulter.
While development of the larger solar farms is pending due to the need for infrastructure upgrades, smaller rooftop projects have been completed in conjunction with Solara Sustainable Energies of Pickering, ON.
Installation of 10KW projects on the town’s Library and Fleet Building roofs was completed in February and, Panschow says, “another 430KW for three other municipal rooftop buildings is in the queue.”
A main provision of the FIT initiative allows private companies and individuals to connect to the grid as well as utilities. “It really opened up the playing field – now anyone can look at green energy,” says Panschow. “One of our companies, Marwood Metal Fabrication, was one of the first in the province to connect to the grid. A number of our companies and some of our (Municipal) Councilors have connected to the grid.”
The Siemens Impact
Established in a refurbished 253,000sf automotive production facility, the Siemens plant will be fully operational in June of this year and will add 300 full-time jobs, 90 per cent of them to be filled by area residents. The facility will allow Siemens to meet contracts with Samsung and Pattern Energy to supply 600MW of renewable energy within the province.
“It’s fantastic and we’re thrilled to have (Siemens). They’re a great corporate citizen and bring a lot of benefit to the community. To have 300 new skilled positions in our community is fantastic. About 10 per cent of the hires will be from the U.S., Denmark and Germany because that’s where the manufacturing expertise is,” Coulter explains.
In a January 2011 press release from Canadian Industrial Machinery, Siemens’ Renewable Energy Division CEO René Umlauft says, “By investing in a new blade production facility in Canada, Siemens is pushing further ahead with the regionalization of its wind manufacturing network in important markets.”
Siemens settled on Tillsonburg in part due to the community’s access to major highways as well as roads able to accommodate transportation of blades that extend up to 170 feet in length.
Town-owned Tillsonburg Hydro now has two fully-hybrid service trucks on line. “Our payback will be over a period of five years but their lifespan goes 10 years,” Coulter says. “An area where we’ve been pleasantly surprised is that we’ve found vehicle maintenance costs are substantially less and based on this we are converting all of our vehicle fleet over to hybrid vehicles.
Panschow says Tillsonburg Hydro is also “working with existing businesses to retrofit their buildings and to reduce their overall electrical use and carbon footprint.” Finally, the town is planning to install LED street lights.
It is worth noting that Tillsonburg played a key role in the development of the nearby Erie Shores Wind Farm, which opened in 2006 just south of the town. The 99MW farm with 66 turbines generates enough electricity to power 23,000 homes per year and, Panschow says, Tillsonburg leased access through a former railroad right of way to enable the project to connect to the electrical grid.
The Town is also taking a leadership position in the global information technology space by installing a $1.5 million fiber optic network throughout the municipality. This project is being undertaken in partnership with the Ontario Government and area companies INS Consulting and PacketWorks.
“Although most communities have access to high speed internet service, fiber optic is the gold standard in being a connected community and offers the fastest possible connection speed and the most reliable service,” says Tillsonburg Mayor John Lessif. “Our vision is for Tillsonburg businesses and residents to take advantage of this service to unleash their creative potential on the rest of the world. By being able to either work more efficiently or even work from home and reduce commuting entirely, we believe this will significantly reduce our environmental impact even further.”
Noting that most work on the Siemens plant refurbishment was performed by local contractors, Mayor Lessif says the town is focused on attracting additional investment in renewable energy and maximizing opportunities for its strong base of skilled tradespeople.
“The Town of Tillsonburg is committed to continually improving our efficiency as an organization, both administratively and environmentally, while striving to attract additional investment in renewable energy,” says Mayor Lessif. “Over the past year we have made a number of substantial improvements to our internal processes and we believe this has positioned our community to take a leadership position in bringing new businesses to our community and in reducing our carbon footprint.”