The emergency alert sent provincewide to Albertans’ cellular phones and televisions over the weekend prompted Vermilion’s Town Council to focus on emergency preparedness in their January 16 meeting.
As temperatures dipped below -42 degrees Celsius at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 13, Albertans received a blaring alert on their phones from the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), saying, “Extreme cold resulting in high power demand has placed the Alberta grid at a high risk of rotating power outages this evening. Albertans are asked to immediately limit their electricity use to essential needs only.” The alert resulted in an immediate reduction in power use across the province, narrowly avoiding the rotating power outages.
Vermilion had been named as one of the communities that could have experienced a 30-minute outage, something that Council recognizes as an event that could have caused panic throughout the community in the brutally cold weather. “Individuals and families would have been so caught off guard, even if it was only for 10 minutes,” said Mayor Greg Throndson. Councilor Robert Snow prodded Council and Administration to ensure that each councilor has an updated copy of the Town’s Emergency Preparedness Plan, including knowledge on how to efficiently and effectively communicate with citizens and each other in such an event.
Councilors also agreed that a plan should be made to speak to MLA Garth Rowswell about the risks of relying on energy sources that cannot meet demand. The AESO notes that only 20 per cent of Alberta’s power consumption is driven by residential use, with industrial and commercial use totaling 76 per cent, and that the risk of rotating outages was caused by record-setting use due to the cold, the outages of two large natural gas generators, and very low power generation by solar and wind sources.
Extreme cold is not the only widespread emergency Vermilionites could face in the coming months. A letter to municipalities from Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz outlined that Alberta is currently in Stage 4 of its Water Shortage Management Stages, and at risk of entering Stage 5—a province-wide drought emergency under the Water Act—later this year. The province has been drafting water conservation plans and water-sharing agreements, and encourages municipalities to develop a water shortage plan, monitor water supply proactively, review their water licenses, and prepare to work with officials from the provincial Drought Command Team.
The Town of Vermilion’s potable water is supplied by the Alberta Central East (ACE) Water Corporation, which draws water from the North Saskatchewan River that is then treated by EPCOR Utilities before flowing to twelve municipalities east of Edmonton. ACE is only contracted to provide water up to Edmonton, and Vermilion’s storage capacity is limited to 3–5 days of very controlled usage. All individuals and businesses are asked to start planning now to use less water in 2024, and to anticipate comprehensive water restrictions in the coming seasons. For more information, visit www.alberta.ca/drought
Planning for resilience in times of crisis highlights the need for reliable, lightning-fast communication, and Council has been holding Primus accountable for shortfalls in the performance and delivery of its recently installed fiber optic network. Ken Spangler of Alberta Broadband provided an update to Council on the Primus Fiber Network, promising a commitment to better service in 2024.
Bell Media has partnered with Primus and will be offering a competitive satellite TV, phone, and internet bundle under an extensive new marketing campaign to be unveiled in the coming weeks. The network hopes to attract both residential and commercial clients, noting that they have already surpassed their yearly goal for business sign-ups, but that residential uptake has so far been lower than they had hoped for.
Spangler expressed gratitude to the Town of Vermilion for its support in the build, and outlined the actions Alberta Broadband has taken to remedy some of the concerns raised by local residents. He said that Bell has replaced the entire leadership team for this project in order to bring in new ideas, innovation, and a lot more community presence. Customer service representatives will undergo an updated and revamped training program to increase professionalism as well as quality and speed of assistance. Bell is also working with a technical partner to foresee recurring problems and has installed new equipment in the mainframe cabinet. Council expressed hope that Bell’s involvement with the network would bring new advertising opportunities to the community, potentially supporting many local organizations and activities. “We’re here for the long term and just want to remind the community that this is a partnership, and any benefit that comes Alberta Broadband’s way, there is also a residual benefit that comes to the people of Vermilion,” said Spangler.
Council approved the Northern Lights Library System 2024 levy charge invoice of $22,368.50 for the library system. This charge is $5.39 per capita for a population of 4,150. Council also approved accounts payable for December 20, 2023 to January 16, 2024 for $779,357.88, which included operational cost for a storage container at the Vermilion Regional Center as well as the replacement of vandalized flagpoles at Town Hall.
Unused rink time, known as “black ice,” was noted as a concern that Council commits to looking into for next year.
Director of Corporate Services Brian Leibel reminded residents that they can sign up for electronic utility bills.
Manager Economic Development Mary Lee Prior reported that Town of Vermilion swag has been selling well at Underground Treasures, and the Town is open to selling at other interested locations. She also mentioned that the Race of Vermilion is coming up on March 16 and is currently open for registrations at http://thegoodlifeinstitute.ca/gli-events/race-of-vermilion/