Age of Electric: Why Ontario Ice Rinks Slowly Drop Their Old Ice Resurfacers

When Chris Decouto turns on the new electric Zambonis at the Invista Center in Kingston, Ont., He sits back with a good feeling.

“It’s just knowing that there is no propane gas combustion engine in operation at the plant,” said Decouto, the city’s arena operator. “You can not really beat zero emissions in terms of indoor air quality.”

Decouto has been running the older, more powerful propane and gas-powered ice resurfacers – commonly known under the ubiquitous brand Zamboni, although there are various manufacturers – for the past 21 years.

But last month, the City of Kingston took ownership of two new electric Zamboni models, citing fuel cost reductions of up to 80 percent and significant maintenance savings. They eventually plan to get rid of all their older devices.

They are not alone: ​​Several other municipalities in Ontario have decided that it is time to start switching, as battery-powered machines become cheaper in the long run and worries linger. about arena air quality and carbon monoxide risks.

Not new technology

While municipal interest in electric ice resurfacers may be relatively new, the technology is actually older than Wayne Gretzky.

The first battery-powered machine was unveiled at the 1960 Winter Olympics by Frank Zamboni himself, said Terry Piché, technical director of the Ontario Recreational Facilities Association (ORFA).

Yet it is only recently that there has been a “real increase” in terms of interest from Ontario municipalities, Piché said. While an electric Zamboni still costs around $ 50,000 more than a gas-powered model, Piché said that not having to pay for things like gas or oil changes makes the business case more tasty – with the environmental benefits a compelling “sidebar”.

“If you went back 10 years ago, maybe five percent [manufacturer] sales would look at battery technology, “he said.

“They tell me that within the last three or four years, it’s grown to 40 to 50 percent [purchases municipalities are making] across the province. “

Several communities are changing

It includes London, Ont., As unveiled its first electric Zamboni in August and wants to convert its entire fleet over the next four years.

Mississauga has similar plans, with eight electric machines now maintain the light rail.

Electric models also hum in cities like Oakville and Burlington, according to data from ORFA, as well as in smaller communities like Caledon, Collingwood and Orillia.

However, Toronto still operates its entire fleet of 95 units with a mixture of propane and natural gas, a spokesman for the city told CBC. In Ottawa, four of the 51 permanent ice resurfacers are battery-powered, but they “age and do not perform well,” Coun said. Mathieu Fleury, city sports commissioner.

Rideau-Vanier Count. Mathieu Fleury, Ottawa’s sports commissioner, says he will try to stop the planned purchase of seven new ice-resurfacers unless they are zero-emission models. (Simon Lasalle / CBC)

Two different electric models will also be leased during a pilot project in Ottawa – one that started in the fall and will run until 2022 – but Fleury said that is not enough.

“I do not understand why we as a city are no longer in line with those goals. In the end, we must be, per. our climate action plan,” he said.

“IN this year’s budget … there is a proposal to buy seven new units. And I will work to stop that purchase unless they are electric. “

Unanswered questions

Despite the positives of electric ice resurfacers – they are also quieter, a good advantage for earplug-dependent operators – there are still a few uncertainties.

First, it is not clear what would happen if one were to go on fire inside a closed arena, Piché said. Firefighters, he noted, have had challenges dealing with similar situations involving electric vehicles on the road.

“Hopefully it never happens. But these things … happen for whatever reason,” Piché said. “As the equipment ages, it will be more of a risk.”

There is also what Piché calls “the dark side that people whisper about.” While battery-powered ice-resurfacers do not generate emissions when in operation, more research is needed into the environmental impact of producing and disposing of the batteries themselves, he said.

The first electric Zamboni is now in operation at Bostick Arena in south London. (City of London)

For Fleury, improving air quality and reducing its carbon footprint outweigh any potential risks. As for Decouto, he’s just happy that the electric machines work much like the old ones.

“I was not sure what to expect, to be honest,” he said. “I was happy to find out that it was very similar.”

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