The Centennial Fountain and Climate Change

Ptbo’s Centennial Fountain and Climate Change

As many of you will know, city council on January 15th passed a motion to reduce the operation of Peterborough’s Centennial Fountain changing the operating season from the current period of Victoria Day weekend to Thanksgiving, to a reduced period of Canada Day to Labour Day.

The Centennial Fountain, for those unacquainted with it, is one of Peterborough’s many tourist attractions admired by residents and visitors alike. Rising up from Little Lake in the centre of our community, water from the fountain reaches pretty high – in fact, the Centennial Fountain is Canada’s highest jet fountain with 76 m (250 ft) of water arching skyward.  You can find out more about the fountain at:  How It Works: Centennial Fountain. More information on the fountain and its history can be found at: Building of the Centennial Fountain – PTBO archive footage

While many are familiar with the history and visual impact of the fountain, in this blog, I want to tell its carbon story, and help clarify the thought process behind my motion to reduce the operation of this ornamental feature of Little Lake.

So, why shorten the in-service time of the fountain, and why did this discussion arise during budget deliberations?  It all comes down to a commitment to new, and more aggressive climate mitigation targets in addition to the responsible use of tax payer dollars.

Paper bound draft budget report with turquoise cover
The City of Peterborough 2020 Draft Budget Highlights Book

Keep in mind that council had an extra mandate this year in reviewing the budget, and as such, the Climate Emergency resolution appeared at the beginning of our budget books to remind us that we have committed to:

  • Greatly accelerate timelines for our existing actions to reduce the effects of climate change;
  • Add new actions and proposals to reduce greatly our GHG emissions;
  • Identify the budgetary implications of proposed actions;
  • …achieve a target of 45% Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050; and
  • engage and educate the public regarding this crisis to support the city’s efforts to meet these goals.

The Centennial Fountain came to my attention when I was reviewing the 2020 budget documents – all 1,095 pages!  Operation of the fountain falls under the Environmental Services budget within the Draft 2020 Budget Highlights book. Environmental Protection revenues matched expenditures for every line item except for the Centennial Fountain. 

This got me thinking: I wondered how many months the fountain runs and how much energy the fountain pump uses?

In viewing the Centennial Fountain budget line through the lens of climate change, I decided to ask staff for the electrical consumption data on the pump that is the driving force for the jet fountain.  The 2018 monthly billing numbers from our utility demonstrated that the pump used 457,935 kWh in total.  The next step was to determine the approximate carbon footprint for this level of energy consumption using a co-efficient provided by the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines.

Each year the provincial Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines provides all municipalities with a co-efficient representing the generation mix on the Ontario grid.  The mix of modes on the Ontario electrical grid is constantly changing as nuclear units are shut down for decommissioning, or for maintenance; extra capacity for peak demand is synchronized or removed; and as the contribution from renewables fluctuates based on the season and time of day. While this is an oversimplification, the take-away idea is that the co-efficient represents an annual average.  The current mix on the grid can be found at the Independent Electricity System Operator Website.

Another area of complexity is the unit used to express electrical consumption as a measure of greenhouse gases: the unit is tCO2e which is a unit of equivalency.  The ‘t’ stands for metric tonnes which is equal to 1,000 kg.  As there are differing types of gases emitted in the life cycle generation of electricity, a base is required for expressing the contribution of other GHGs like methane, or N2O.  Carbon is the base. Staffed informed me that, “this allows for all greenhouse gases to be compared against each other and combined to generate one final GHG emission figure. Carbon is the base currency that all other GHGs are converted to.”  For example, one tonne of methane equals 25 tonnes of CO2 (25 tCO2e).

Picture of the control screen for the Centennial Fountain in Peterborough.
The Centennial Fountain pump and lights are operated remotely from the control room of the waste water treatment plant.

What else did I learn from the data?  That the fountain in 2018 generated 8 tCO2e.  That led me to another question: Is this a lot? What does 8 tonnes look like, or what does it compare to?

Climate Transparency, a coalition of international climate organizations, released a report this year analyzing the climate policies on the G20 member countries (including Canada). The results indicate that on average each Canadian produces 22 tonnes of greenhouse gas per year, which is the highest among all G20 members and nearly three times the G20 average of 8 tonnes per person: Remember that the Centennial Fountain was responsible for 8 tCO2e in 2018.

Using the 2018 data for some of our other municipal facilities for comparison, based on electrical consumption in kWh, staff demonstrated that our building at 210 Wolfe street had a carbon footprint of 1.32 tCO2e and Northcrest Arena, 8.29 tCO2e.

Keep in mind that the Centennial Fountain only runs from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving and the comparator buildings are open 12 months of the year!

To sum it all up, based on the monthly electrical consumption data, the motion to reduce the fountain service time in the off-peak, shoulder months will reduce the carbon footprint of the pump by 53%.  With a target of 45% reduction in mind, this is a win-win that exceeds mitigation targets, keeps our fountain running during festival times, and the reduced energy costs will save approximately $40,000 to be put aside for further projects as per our Climate Change Action Plan.

Change is difficult, but we have to understand that we are currently living in a new reality and need to actively consider our impact on the environment.  Pre-budget, on September 23, the citizens of Peterborough came to council and clearly stated that they wanted action on climate change. We as a council listened. 

For more information, please see our Environment and Sustainability page which explains how greenhouse gas emissions are calculated. The City of Peterborough is also a key partner in the Greater Peterborough Area Climate Change Action Plan which contains many recommended actions for each of the partners.


5 thoughts on “The Centennial Fountain and Climate Change”

  1. Thanks for this. One question that keeps coming to my mind is the source of the water. Does the fountain just pump lake water from Little Lake? I certainly hope that it does not use treated water.

    1. Hi Jim,

      You are most welcome and thank you for your question.

      The pump draws from the lake. If you click on the link in the second paragraph – Building of the Centennial Fountain – there is footage that documents how the fountain was constructed. The documentary shows the installation of the original pump and mentions the concern about sediment entering the pump suction from the lake bottom.

      Today we have the additional concern of the invasive zebra mussel, a small, freshwater bivalve that will fasten in clusters to the intake of submersible pumps. Divers have been sent down to remove zebra mussels as part of the ongoing maintenance of the fountain pump. I will have to ask our staff if there is a filter system around the intake to help protect the pump, a question I didn’t think to ask.

      Great question!

  2. Thanks, Kim, for taking the time to analyze the data, ask the right questions, provide this cogent explanation, and for advancing the motion at council. This is the kind of practical analytical approach we all need to take to our own consumption patterns and those of our institutions. Keep up the great work! I look forward to reading more of your intelligent commentary, and more such sensible actions at city hall.

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