City prepares for carbon tax

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St. Albert is planning some big investments to get ready for next year’s carbon tax.

The provincial carbon tax kicks in on Jan. 1, 2017.

Alberta Environment reports that the tax, meant to encourage energy efficiency and drive down greenhouse gas emissions, will add 4.49 cents to the cost of a litre of gasoline and $1.011 to a gigajoule of natural gas. That translates to $338 extra for the typical family with two kids, the province reports ($136 for natural gas and $202 for gasoline). Said family may have to pay up to $70 more in indirect costs as businesses pass on the cost of the tax to them.

Residents will also get tax-free rebates this January to defray the cost of the tax. That two-kid family would get $360 next year (half in January, the rest in July) if it made less than $95,000 a year, or less if it made under $101,500.

The City of St. Albert has been preparing for a carbon tax since it brought in its greenhouse gas reduction strategy in 2012, said environment manager Christian Benson. Right now, the city expects to pay about $500,000 in carbon tax next year.

“It could potentially impact the city quite a bit,” he said, but there are many steps underway to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

One of the biggest is a $500,000 commitment in next year’s budget to put up solar panels on either the St. Albert Transit depot in Campbell Park or Fountain Park Pool.

“It’s the largest array we’ve proposed to date,” Benson said, at 250 kilowatts, and should provide 15 to 20 per cent of the building’s electrical needs.

Combined with a grant from the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre, this array should cost a net $375,000 and pay for itself over the life of the solar panels.

Also coming next year will be three all-electric buses that may be powered by those panels, Benson said. 2018 will see the installation of a $1.6 million cogeneration system to Servus Place that will pay for itself in about five years through energy savings.

Lynn McCartney, contract sales manager at the St. Albert Rona, said she’d seen a rise in requests for triple-pane windows and insulation since the tax was announced. The tight economy plus Christmas shopping was likely dampening demand for these measures, which she expected would jump in popularity next spring once residents of Fort McMurray start working on their homes.

David Dodge, the former Gazette reporter and chair of Energy Efficiency Alberta, said to expect three energy efficiency rebate programs to roll out in late March or April.

The first will let residents call in an energy advisor to inspect their homes and find places to save energy. These advisors will also provide and install energy-saving gadgets such as LED lights and programmable thermostats for free.

A point-of-sale rebate program for efficient appliances, insulation and other products should arrive by April, followed by specific help for businesses and institutions.

“This is just the first three programs,” he said, and there would be more to come.

There are many other ways you can avoid the cost of the carbon tax, Dodge continued.

“Five cents (a litre) isn’t huge,” he said, noting you can find that sort of price gap between gas stations today.

While he bikes to work in the summer and takes the LRT to save on gas, Dodge said his wife bought a hybrid car, the fuel savings for which more than make up for the carbon tax.

“She pays $16 when she fills up. I pay $40!”

The carbon tax rebate most residents will get next year could help many families buy a programmable thermostat, he continued. Depending on how much you set back the temperature during the night and day, these devices can shave 10 to 30 per cent off your heating bill.

www.alberta.ca/climate-carbon-pricing.aspx has details on the carbon tax.

How the rebate works

Most Albertans will get a tax-free rebate this January to offset the cost of the carbon tax.

How much? Each household will get $200 a year, plus $100 for a spouse and $30 per kid (up to four). You get the full amount if you’re single and earn $47,500 or less or if you’re a couple and earn $95,000 or less – the rebate tails off as you earn more than these amounts. About 60 per cent of Albertans will get the full rebate, with another six per cent getting a partial one.

When will you get it? You’ll get it in one chunk each January if it’s under $199, two in January and July if it’s between $200 and $399, and four (January, April, July, October) if it’s $400-plus.
Since the Canada Revenue Agency is basing its year on a July-June cycle instead of a January-December one, everyone who qualifies this year will get their rebates in at least two chunks: half in January, half in July. The rebate will go out as described above after July.

Source: Alberta Environment, Canada Revenue Agency

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.