Ottawa’s E-Bus Fleet To Be Charged By Gas

 

OC Transpo’s $1-billion zero-emission bus program is not very green.

The Bulldog has learned Ottawa’s electric bus fleet will require massive natural gas generators to charge the vehicles.

While the buses are zero-emission, the charging infrastructure for the vehicles will be a major source of greenhouse gas. The electricity produced by the two enormous four-megawatt generators could power a city about the size of Brockville.

The e-buses are designed to replace OC Transpo’s mostly diesel fleet to reduce the amount of pollution and greenhouse gases produced by transit in Ottawa.

A source close to the project who is not authorized to speak on the issue said the generators will be powered by natural gas because Hydro Ottawa does not have the capacity to charge the e-buses with electricity at the new fleet’s locations.


The City of Ottawa reached by The Bulldog on Tuesday did not comment.

The city contract for the electricity generation was sole-sourced to Envari, a subsidiary of Hydro Ottawa, and was slated to cost about $180 million. A city auditor-general’s report from last June was concerned about the lack of details in the contract. The audit does not mention the make-up of the charging equipment or whether the natural-gas generators are part of the deal.

However in a report to transit commission on March 8, the city said that the two generators would “provide backup power to support the charging infrastructure. They are expected to arrive onsite in Q1 2025.”

Nowhere in the report does it mention how the generators would be powered or put into perspective the immense power and greenhouse gases that would result.

The only mention of the generators was in a brief two-sentence item near the end of the report.

As well, the source says these generators are not just for backup but instead are an integral part of everyday operating system.

“Transit Services committed to providing updates to Transit Commission based on key performance metrics,” the March 8 city report said. However, it does not mention how much greenhouse gas the generators would produce in a project committed to zero emissions. Nor does the report put into perspective the immense amount power these generators will be required to produce.

OC Transpo is currently testing four e-buses from New Flyer Industries and is pleased with their performance.

Ottawa City Council declared a climate emergency in April 2019 and has implemented strict guidelines for reaching greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Council OK’d the $1-billion plan in 2021 to replace the OC Transpo primarily diesel fleet with zero-emission buses. The target date for completion is 2036.

The purchase was very controversial. It was rammed through transit commission at short notice and given very little time for stakeholder or community feedback.

As well, initially city politicians tried to disguise the fact that the $1 billion from the federal government was a grant rather than a low-interest loan. It was also rushed through committee and council under the pretense that strict federal deadlines were approaching to get the loan. In fact, that was not true.

The mammoth size of the natural-gas generators has slipped under the public radar. While expert opinions differ and conditions will vary, a megawatt of gas-generated power can provide electricity for about 1,000 homes. With eight megawatts of power being used by OC Transpo for charging and a Canadian average of 2.4 people per home, that means the gas-powered electricity used by the buses could power a small Canadian city.

Ken Gray

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14 Responses

  1. Andrew Zenner says:

    Once again, Ottawa City Council has shown that it more focused on virtue signalling than actually requiring staff to do proper due diligence and for themselves to actually read and understand their briefing notes. When councillors voted on this, I wonder how many were even aware of the earlier bus purchase failure when Council rushed through purchase of hybrid buses in 2010 that never actually worked and were ultimately sold for pennies on the dollar.

  2. Theresa says:

    Ken, Thanks for bringing this problem to light, and explaining it in a factual, objective way. The whole purchase process sounds very sleazy, and an echo of the LRT process. From the dates you’ve given, it sounds like it happened during Watson’s time. Moving forward, it’s great that we are now getting an electrified fleet, as that will mean less noise and pollution for transit users, and perhaps fewer mechanical issues as well. Perhaps Hydro Ottawa could use its profits or federal grants/loans to construct geothermal energy hubs. The one in Reno, Nevada, has about 100 MW of installed power generation capacity. When we lived out in Mississippi Mills, our house was heated almost entirely using geothermal energy, so it can definitely be done here.

  3. Anderson Davies says:

    HA! Slave labour batteries are now this. Cheers.

  4. Anderson Davies says:

    and not are! #bangsemptyheadondesk

  5. Ken Gray says:

    Anderson:

    If you could write some of these in language the rest of us understand rather than odd jargon, I think all the readers appreciate it.

    I don’t doubt you have important things to say but it is being lost in the style.

    cheers

    kgray

  6. Ken Gray says:

    ps the last one I wanted to kill but because i know you are sensitive to this sort of thing, I didn’t.

    Had it been most anyone else, I would have killed it.

    This is not because of whatever bad intentions you might think I have.

    It’s because i just didn’t get it. And if you lose the editor, you lost the public a long time ago.

    Just write them in a straight-forward manner if you would be so kind.

    cheers

    kgray

  7. John Langstone says:

    The thing that jumps out at me is the $180 million SOLE SOURCE contract is a significant chunk of the $1 billion. This begs the question whether capital cost for electricity generation was included in this number, or do we have another surprise coming?

    Quoting from the OC Transpo website, “Electric buses are purchased with a combination of City funds, a $350 million loan from Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) and a $380 million grant from Infrastructure Canada. The City will contribute what normally would be spent on a diesel bus, with CIB and INFC providing money to cover the extra cost of the electric bus. As part of the agreement with CIB, loan repayment will only come from OC Transpo’s actual energy and maintenance cost savings achieved over the life of the zero-emission buses. This ensures that loan repayment comes only from real savings achieved.”

    The above quote talks about the CIB agreement for loan repayment only coming from OC Transpo’s “real” energy and maintenance cost savings. If the net savings include the cost of generation equipment and natural gas, is it the CIB that takes the hit on loan repayment – or will it be us?

  8. Bruce says:

    “Green” at the end does not equate to true green as seen with a lot of electrification projects. When and if Hydro Ottawa has the increased capacity to support charging ports for personal and company electric vehicles I would look at where this power is coming from. Heating a house on geothermal, solar or wind is a venture far removed from what it takes to charge a bus or truck!
    I well remember the feds and province “off oil” initiative to get people to electrify homes, then the next cry was because electricity was so expensive to go to gas. Political posturing at all levels is just that. The science of electrical generation is improving as is the use of electricity but make sure of which bandwagon you are boarding! Is it REALLY GREEN!

  9. This article is full of misinformation. The generators are there only as backup for power outages. The notion that there wasn’t much public consultation is ludicrous. We at EVCO worked with a number of stakeholders starting in 2018 to get this transition underway. It took almost 3 years and many Transit Commission meetings to get this going. If you want some real information about this project, see http://www.plugincanada.ca

  10. Raymond Leury says:

    Your anonymous source must have an axe to grind as what he report is incorrect. The generators are there only in case of a power failure. E-buses have many benefits and are a win-win in that they will both save money over the lifetime of the buses and also greatly reduce GHG emissions. OC Tranpo emits approximately 125,000 tons of GHG per year.

  11. Ken Gray says:

    Mr. Leury:

    I am capable of reading a report and I do know what it says but I’m skeptical that it is true.

    Two sentences in the last report on $180 million.

    My understanding is that Hydro Ottawa doesn’t have the capacity at the charging locations for the buses so natural gas must be used.

    And you have a backup system that can power Brockville. You sure that’s a back-up system?

    Also nowhere in the city reports does it contain the words natural gas. And the generators are buried at the bottom of the report from the last transit commission meeting and they omit the two words natural gas. Well, that is if they are using natural gas … hard to know … diesel perhaps? The report doesn’t say.

    And if i’m not mistaken, the natural gas (if it is natural gas) would come from Enbridge whose advertising doesn’t sit well with the environmental lobby at city hall. It doesn’t sit well with them until the city needs its power because of bad planning or misinformation.

    Also the $180 million contract was sole-sourced and our easy-going AG had serious qualms about it.

    There is what the reports say and what is really happening. A quick scan of your background says you’re with the Electric Vehicle Society so you would be expected to defend the e-buses. It is interesting that the city didn’t get back to me on the issue. Why would that be?

    You could use a little bit less self-interest and a whole lot more skepticism.

    I would suggest that the misinformation is in your two comments.

    Sorry, but I don’t make this stuff up.

    cheers and thank you for your input.

    kgray

  12. Raymond Leury says:

    I’m with the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa. We are a non-profit, volunteer based organization and we ran the program to get e-buses on OC Transpo’s radar because they are both better financially and better environmentally. My understanding was that these generators were using diesel and I’m sure they are only for power outages. Generating electricity using either diesel or gas costs much more than what it would cost for the same electricity coming from Hydro Ottawa, particularly since the vast majority of charging will happen overnight when we have lots of clean excess capacity in Ontario. Fossil gas would not be that different from using diesel from a GHG emissions point of view if you include full cycle emissions. Diesel produces much more particulates and other emissions which are bad for health.
    Regardless, our recommendation had been to omit any backup generators because of the cost and their limited usefulness, i.e. their cost far outweighs the benefits they would provide in the very rare instances where they might be needed. The City has a policy of sole sourcing this type of work to Envari and I agree with you that it’s not ideal. I think that all of these types of contracts should be open to competitive bidding so that taxpayers get the most for their money.

  13. The Voter says:

    Raymond,

    I would encourage you to read the City response to this post that Ken has posted. It says quite clearly that the generators are to be used until Hydro Ottawa has the infrastructure built to properly charge the buses at the St Laurent facility. That is not “back-up” use; it could better be referred to as up-front use. There is no date given by the City for the completion of that new infrastructure so we can only assume that it is not in the foreseeable future but down the road sometime. Remember also that the St. Laurent facility is only one of several that will have to be refitted eventually to house and charge a fully-electric fleet.

    I note also that the City has given no indication whatsoever as to how those generators will be fueled. If the answer to that issue were to be something in the line of good news, my experience with the City, and particularly their Communications people, is that they would be shouting it from the rooftops. That would tend to indicate that the diesel buses we now have are being replaced by electric buses running on power generated by … diesel. I’m not sure how that reduces the City’s GHG output and wonder why the City’s not talking about it. Unless, of course, they have something to hide.

    You refer to the “rare instances” where generators might be needed but it is quite clear that, at least in the beginning, those generators will be the main power source for the electric buses. I don’t recall seeing the cost of these generators and the other ones that will be needed as the entire diesel fleet is eventually replaced or any related operating costs in the information that OC Transpo provided to the general public when they brought their much-flawed proposal forward some time ago. I also missed them providing that information at a later date if, in fact, they did so.

    Frankly, I would be careful of telling too many people that you and your group are responsible for the electric bus project coming into being at OC Transpo. What we’ve seen so far is a project riddled with misinformation, half-truths and outright lies that its proponents within OC Transpo and the City have used to get a project launched that, had the whole truth been known earlier, would likely not have seen the light of day.

  14. Angela Keller-Herzog says:

    This whole thread is very intriguing!

    Somebody (unauthorized source) writes in saying that he thinks that the gas back up generator is “an integral part of everyday operating system” and will fuel the operations of the new fleet, and is not just transitional or back-up use.

    The City staff report does NOT say that. It says the opposite. See report at bit.ly/ZEB_Report.

    The gas plot also makes no sense as all the millions in federal financing would go down the toilet and the electrical charging and transmissions infrastructure would be a white elephant.

    But the BULLDOG does not believe the Ottawa city staff report, does not wait to have a conversation to clarify with the OC Transpo project manager, and goes ahead and publishes the headline ” Ottawa’s E-bus Fleet to be Charged by Gas” and a story informing us of a “mammoth” carbon pollution plan that has “slipped under the public radar”. Wowzers. How the news is made!

    Anyways, I continue to find the Bulldog stimulating and look forward to future episodes in this thread.

    Certainly our dear city requires watching. And very much agree that the City’s procurement should be competitive, and that sole-sourcing and mark-ups from Envari should be scrutinized.

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