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Peak oil lost in city bureaucracy
November 8, 2006

Despite detailed instructions from councillors, city staff appear to have carried out almost no follow-up to the peak oil report presented by Richard Gilbert in late April. More than six months later, none of the five required staff reports has found its way back to council.

Gilbert predicted fuel prices will at least quadruple in the next dozen years. He called on council to transform Hamilton into an electric city and make energy the guiding principle of its planning decisions. In response, councillors unanimously adopted a five-part resolution on April 28 that provided specific instructions for follow-up actions by city staff.

Only one of those items has generated any visible activity – and that was a decision to delay reports on energy saving initiatives for a full year. Staff had been asked to advise councillors by June on the feasibility of “reducing energy use by two-thirds by 2018”, on using electric buses on the proposed new bus rapid transit routes, and on extending “energy conservation measures currently being employed by Hamilton Emergency Services” to other city departments. At the June 19 meeting of the public works committee, the report deadlines were changed to June 2007.

A requirement for a three part report to the planning and economic development committee didn’t even get added to the committee’s outstanding business list. That part of the council resolution asked for investigation of requiring energy efficiency for all new buildings constructed in the city, adding an “energy cluster” to the city’s economic development strategy, and considering “possible use of a district energy system [and] re-use of waste materials amongst industries” as they begin to locate in the Glanbrook Business Park.

Even a report on Gilbert’s central recommendation for a more detailed follow-up study appears to have been abandoned. The April 28 council resolution asked that “a terms of reference and cost analysis” for the study be presented at the May 18 meeting, but this didn’t happen, and hasn’t happened since.

The same is true of a report on any federal or provincial funding opportunities that might assist the city in preparing for extreme fuel prices.

The fifth instruction required staff to forward Gilbert’s report to the boards of Hamilton Utilities Corporation and Horizon Utilities Corporation, the wholly-owned energy subsidiaries of the city. The agendas and minutes of those boards are not posted to their respective websites so it is unclear if this has taken place.

The original delivery of Gilbert’s report was also controversial, with charges that staff misled councillors, delayed the report and tried to have the content changed. Councillors originally requested the peak oil study during the aerotropolis debate in June 2005 and asked that it be delivered prior to fall budget discussions but it didn’t arrive until after that process was finished.

Gilbert delivered a draft in October, but staff comments didn’t go back until late January, after repeated enquiries by Flamborough councillor Dave Braden. He told a radio interviewer last week that the entire peak oil issue “was treated by the city manager and the mayor as a farce.”

Speaking on The Other Side, a CFMU talk show, Braden recounted how he had been refused a copy of the draft report by city manager Glen Peace who told Braden that “the report didn’t belong to the city; it was the intellectual property of the author”.

Subsequently Braden was publicly advised in early January that staff comments on the draft had been sent to Gilbert, a statement later amended by Peace to late January after Braden called Gilbert and found he hadn’t received the comments.

Braden charges that Peace and Mayor Di Ianni were opposed to the examination of the implications of peak oil for Hamilton. “They wanted to hush hush the whole thing because it would – if there is going to be a serious change in the economic structure of our economy because of fuel and the availability of cheap fuel, one of the first things that could be affected – and everybody that is knowledgeable or interested knows this – is air travel, particularly air freight.”

The role played by city staff drew particular fire from Braden. “What this demonstrates is that, in fact, the city is not running in an honourable way; it’s not managing with integrity. The professionalism is gone.”

The Braden interview has been transcribed by CATCH. The council resolutions on Gilbert’s report are on the city website.

© Citizens At City Hall (CATCH)