Red Deer Greener with Bow Valley Power

It’s always refreshing when Alberta’s next generation of entrepreneurs step up to the business plate. Young leaders signal hope to realize that our province, indeed, is in good hands…that their vigour contributes to the growth of our economy…and they have a compassion for the wider community.

I met over 200 such entrepreneurs through a program we once created to recognize rising talent in Alberta. Promising self-starters - like Riley Tobin and Cody Belsher of Bow Valley Power - who’ve gone onto drive successful enterprises for Alberta.

Riley and Cody recently were successful in the RFP run by the City of Red Deer to provide ECOLOGO certified green power for City facilities including City Hall, their Civic Yard, recreations centres (pictured below), fire stations, and other buildings. The dynamic duo understands the importance of renewable generation as one of the ingredients in reducing the reliance on a carbon based energy province.

Red Deer Sets Targets for Renewable Energy

Red Deer already was an important example of how an Alberta municipality committed to reducing emissions and building a healthy environment for their nearly 100,000 residents. Earlier this year, the City began converting 10,000 street lights to more efficient LED (light emitting diode) lamps from HPS (high-pressure sodium). LED offers a longer life span, lowers some maintenance costs, and works toward addressing some effects of light pollution.

“We expect to reduce street light energy consumption by approximately 50 percent,” said Jim Jorgensen, Acting Director of Development Services.

Red Deer also has committed to using green power. Bow Valley Power was able to provide rates lower than the other energy marketers in the province.

“Renewable energy is an important part of our overall commitment to environmental leadership and sustainability,” said Jim. “Our Environmental Master Plan sets yearly targets for how much energy should be purchased from renewable sources and, this year, we’re pleased to partner with Bow Valley Power to achieve our 2016 target of 30 percent.”

Riley and Cody met at the University of Lethbridge. They quickly bonded and shared an entrepreneurial spirit, constantly looking for viable businesses they could start. While working construction together to save up for a start-up company, Cody’s entrepreneurial dad introduced them to Nick Clark of UTILITYnet and Green Alberta Energy where their journey as Energy Marketers began. The two started in a sales role and, soon after, they started EnAlta which eventually merged with Bow Valley Power in 2015 when the company was purchased.

A Successful Plan to Lower Energy Costs

UTILITYnet – which offered a new approach to old utility mindset in Alberta - started in 1979 by Nick’s partner Madeline Low to provide energy management services to oil and gas companies. When the province deregulated in 2000, they crafted a “Self-Retail” solution for large industrial clients. Its primary purpose was to help companies lower their energy costs by buying directly off the grid and move away from limitation associated with buying from the traditional utilities.

Over the years, UTILITYnet and their Energy Marketers including Bow Valley Power introduced the benefit of the spot market... guaranteed stable prices… no-exit fee contracts… Light Up Alberta designed to support micro generators of solar energy…and a way for seniors to lower their energy rates in Alberta. These initiatives and others set Bow Valley Power apart from the Big Utilities. On the eve of the Alberta Government unveiling its Climate Change Strategy and the global conference in Paris, UTILITYnet launched Green Alberta Energy to provide renewable resources as an affordable option.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea,” said Riley. “Bow Valley Power was the first boutique retailer in Alberta to offer green power, so joining Green Alberta Energy and fine-tuning our green program was a no-brainer.”

Teaming up with Green Alberta Energy meant the smaller company joined a larger organization that could secure renewable energy credits at a substantially lower cost. The approach gave Bow Valley Power the ability to compete on a bigger stage with the largest players in the retailing of electricity and natural gas. More important, they were able to help consumers green their energy at an affordable price

The province ultimately benefits when more Albertans use green energy because increased usage leads to the development and expansion of renewable energy facilities. The result: a cleaner and healthier environment. “The cost to consumers to green, say 15% of the energy they consume, is just 5 cents per day,” said Riley. “It’s affordable and easy to add this option to the customer’s monthly utility bill from Bow Valley.”

The environment is important to Riley who grew up in the Yukon; likewise for Cody whose roots are in Olds, Alberta. Said Cody, “Growing up in a small farm town, I really got to see the importance and the impact of buying local. Now, more than ever, Albertans need their money to stay in the province.”

Profits earned by Green Alberta Energy on the sale of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are banked into a Trust Fund and, in turn, the money supports PV Solar Micro Generators in Alberta. Micro Gen customers of Bow Valley are paid a premium for the energy they ship back onto the grid. “It’s a win-win scenario,” added Cody.

Several Micro Generators in Red Deer also are eligible to apply for the subsidy provided through this program.

Albertans Get to Choose Their Energy Marketer

The biggest challenge the partners face is the lack of knowledge among Albertans who don’t realize they have the ability to choose retailers. The pair wants consumers to know that it’s not necessary to purchase power from the Big Utilities such as Atco, Direct, Enmax or Epcor.

To combat this, Bow Valley Power sponsors community events. They’ve donated green energy to The Banff Marathon, The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, and the Ride of the Mustang cancer fundraiser at Airdrie. They’ve also pledged 10% of their electricity revenue for 2016 to the Red Cross and the Food Bank in Fort McMurray to help out in the aftermath of the fire that hit that community.

“I get to work with one of my best friends every day, travel across Alberta and meet fascinating people,” said Riley. “I also get to save people money on their monthly utilities. As an entrepreneur, it gives me pride knowing that I am selling a green product that is beneficial for our climate.

“Whether you are a die-hard Flames fan, an Oilers fan, a Lethbridge Hurricane or a Red Deer Rebel fan, you are also an Alberta fan, and I am proud to be in the club.”

Sharon A.M. MacLean | September 29, 2016