Nanaimo is switching a member of its Zamboni fleet on to electric power, but the move triggered a debate among councillors Monday night about whether a purchase of a new electric ice cleaner last year was an efficient use of public money.
A majority of councillors were supportive of a staff recommendation to convert an older, propane-powered Zamboni to electric power. The vehicle had about five years of operating life left before it would have had to be put to pasture. Staff members said that retrofitting the machine with an electric power would extend the life of the machine by another five years.
The job is expected to cost $32,263, but a staff report says that the move will result in savings of $59,588 over the 10-year period, thanks to lower repair and maintenance costs. The net savings of $27,326 could increase to $40,000 if a battery replacement for the machine is not required, according to a city staff report.
But the decision resuscitated frustrations among some on council who objected to last year's purchase of a new, $170,000 electric Zamboni to replace a 1985 propane-powered model. A new propane ice resurfacer would have cost about $100,000, but staff say the electric model will result in more savings long-term.
The city currently owns six ice resurfacers that service a total four sheets of ice at Nanaimo Ice Centre, Frank Crane Arena and Cliff McNabb Arena.
Coun. Bill Bestwick wondered aloud if converting all of the city's ice-cleaning machines to electric would have made more financial sense.
"If we were to convert all six at $32,000 (each) and extend their life cycles by five years and reduce the operating expenses of all of them, we could have ... in fact converted every Zamboni to electric to meet our (greenhouse gas emissions) and all of these environmental standards that we're working towards ... for the cost of one new Zamboni," he said Monday night.
Coun. Diana Johnstone, who chairs the parks, recreation and culture commission, replied that the oldest Zamboni had already reached the end of its useful life and was therefore not a candidate for an electric makeover, an assertion backed up by city fleet manager Bruce Labelle.
Suzanne Samborski, senior manager of recreation and culture services, said city staff is considering downsizing the Zamboni fleet by one unit once the conversion is complete. She said the older machines are used to clear ice beforehand to prevent wear and tear to newer equipment.
Labelle said the conversion --which will be completed in-house by city technicians --is the first for the Zamboni fleet, although the city converted a 2007 Ford Ranger to all-electric power in 2011.
If the results are good, he said, "I would like to seriously look at a business case to do another one."
"I wouldn't want to do all five at a time," he added.
Councillors Bill McKay and Jim Kipp echoed Bestwick's concerns, although McKay was the only member to vote against the motion.
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