FortisBC urging people to prevent heat loss, use less energy

Temps down, energy up

It’s cold outside and expected to get colder, so FortisBC is encouraging people to pay attention to energy usage.

Typically, January is the coldest part of the year and with many people spending more time at home as a result of COVID-19, more energy will be used during those cold days and weeks.

“Because the majority of energy used in B.C. at this time of year is for heating, our customers tend to experience their highest energy bills after periods of colder winter temperatures,” said Michelle Carman, director, customer service, FortisBC.

“That means any heat loss is an opportunity for energy savings, so steps taken to detect and reduce heat loss could help you stay more comfortable while also saving some money on your energy bill.”

FortisBC’s records show last winter’s peak use for both its natural gas and electricity services occurred on Jan. 14.

According to Environment Canada, temperatures dropped below -10 C in the Lower Mainland, and lower than -30 C in places like Prince George. As a result, natural gas use was up more than 75 per cent across the province as compared to an average January day.

Electric use was also up by four per cent over the coldest week from the previous year.

FortisBC historically sees demand for natural gas, the most commonly used energy for space heating, triple in the winter compared to the summer months. On average, customers who use electricity for home heating increase their use by approximately 80 per cent in the winter months.

There are a number of low cost and no cost ways to lower energy use in homes, including:

  • sealing gaps and cracks around windows and doors to prevent heat loss,
  • turning down the heat in unused rooms can also save on space heating,
  • cleaning furnace filters and vacuuming out baseboard heaters to help ensure the heating system is working as efficiently as possible, and
  • installing a programmable thermostat.

To learn more about how seasonal weather can affect bills and ways to reduce energy consumption, click here.

More cases of new variant of COVID-19 can be expected in B.C.: Health Ministry

More variant cases expected

More cases of a new, highly transmissible COVID-19 variant strain are expected in B.C. in the coming weeks, after the first incidence was reported on Vancouver Island over the weekend.

“While everything is being done to prevent spread to other people in the community, we do expect to see more cases of this variant in B.C. in the coming weeks, just as other jurisdictions are seeing,” a Health Ministry spokeswoman said Monday.

It’s for this reason that health officials are asking British Columbians to keep to their household members, avoid all non-essential travel, and use layers of protection including physical distancing and masks. “All British Columbians have to remember the virus spreads quickly but shows up slowly,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix in a joint statement.

A pre-symptomatic person returned to B.C. on flight AC855 from London to Vancouver on Dec. 15 and developed symptoms while in quarantine, Henry and Dix said.

The Health Ministry won’t say how the person travelled to the Island or where specifically they are located.

Flight AC8265 that arrived in Nanaimo from Vancouver later that same day is also on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s list of COVID-19 exposures.

On Dec. 19, the person on the Dec. 15 London-Vancouver flight tested positive on Vancouver Island for COVID-19.

The person’s test sample was sent to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on the Lower Mainland for whole genome sequencing and on Dec. 26 it was identified as positive for the U.K. variant.

Whole genome sequencing is complex and take on average five days to complete, the Health Ministry said.

Ongoing reviews may identify additional cases in the coming days, Henry and Dix said.

On Dec. 21, Henry said “to date, we have not seen this variant here in B.C..”

The Health Ministry confirmed Henry “was not aware of a case of the variant in B.C. at the time of her Dec. 21 media availability.”

The variant, which researchers say is more contagious than previous forms of the COVID-19 virus, has caused record numbers of infections in the U.K., accounting for more than 60 per cent of cases in London. It prompted Canada to suspend flights from the U.K. Dec. 20 to Jan. 6, 2021. Other countries have taken similar action.

Alberta has also confirmed a case of the variant.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, in her first news conference since before Christmas, said the infected person recently arrived in Alberta from the U.K. The person did everything they were supposed to upon arrival, staying isolated from others, and there is no evidence their illness has spread, she said.

Health officials in Alberta are working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to obtain a list of people who were sitting near the infected person on their flight to Alberta, she said.

The variant has been ­confirmed in three people in Ontario — a couple from ­Durham Region who had been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K. and a person in Ottawa who had recently ­travelled from the U.K.

“B.C. continues to support the Canada-wide travel ban on all flights arriving from the U.K. until Jan. 6, 2021, and urges all British Columbians to continue to avoid all non-essential travel to keep people and communities safe,” Henry and Dix said.

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, so does the province’s response, but “greater restrictions are not being considered at this time,” the Health Ministry said.

“What has arisen in the U.K. is a new variant with a number of mutations, as many as 17 mutations, different changes in parts of the virus,” said Henry.

The variant strain can transmit more quickly and easily but does not seem to cause more severe illness, nor interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines, nor affect the ability of testing for the virus, she said.

Neither the province nor Island Health has updated the number of new COVID-19 cases since Dec. 24. An update is scheduled for 3 p.m. today.

PlayNow taking bets on where 1st BC baby of 2021 will be born

Bet on BC’s 1st baby of 2021

Which B.C. hospital will welcome the first baby of 2021?

PlayNow.com is taking your bets.

Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster was home to the first baby of the year in both 2019 and 2020, but will it hold its title in 2021?

According to BCLC, the odds-on favourites are B.C. Women’s Hospital, home to the first B.C. baby born in 2017, and Surrey Memorial Hospital, after holding the title for first B.C. baby of 2018 only nine seconds into the New Year. Both are giving 4/1 odds.

Although the Lower Mainland homes most betting favourites, a hospital elsewhere could swoop in.

PlayNow.com says Fort St. John Hospital (41.00), Penticton Regional Hospital (46.00) and Cowichan District Hospital (51.00) all have big payout potential.

Kelowna General Hospital (21.00), Vernon Jubilee (46.00) and Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops (26.00) are all also available for betting.

Wagering is available on the site until 9 a.m. tomorrow (Dec. 30).

Despite challenges of a worldwide pandemic, 2020 was a year of accomplishments in West Kelowna

West Kelowna in review

Some projects had to be put on hold or scaled back, departments reduced costs and hiring for new positions were delayed.

That was part of the price the City of West Kelowna paid in responding to the economic crisis felt by residents and businesses resulting from COVID-19.

“It put a much heavier workload on staff, on council and the whole community,” said Mayor Gord Milson during a year-end interview.

The city slashed its tax rate by two per cent to help taxpayers soften the blow, and felt the loss of revenues, specifically from recreation, transit and a deferment of penalties for late taxes and utility payments.

“We approved some short-term borrowing of up to $6 million, but we never had to use that.

“We received $4.6 million in restart funding. I think we are using about $1.2 million to cover any shortfalls in revenue and additional costs as a result of COVID-19.

“We got through it OK. By and large we are in good shape.”

He also praised the community for the way it has come together in a time of crisis.

“I am grateful for the compassion showed by businesses, non-profit organizations, faith organizations and individuals who have helped people deal with the financial and emotional issues we have been dealing with through COVID-19,” he said.

“Council is really proud of those efforts. I believe it has made our community stronger, and more compassionate.”

Despite an uncertain future, Milsom says signs continue to indicate West Kelowna is a desirable place for both residents, and businesses.

He says the value of new building permits reached $95 million by the end of the third quarter, putting it on pace to be one of the best construction years since incorporation in 2007. The city also saw 433 new business licenses approved through the end of September, an all time high.

“Having said that, there are some businesses that have been impacted more than others. Businesses related to travel, accommodations, tourism, some retail businesses, entertainment and the arts.

“Council is concerned about that obviously, but some were able to adapt. We have quite a diversified economic base. We’re not dependent on one particular sector as maybe some other communities are.”

While some projects were scaled back, other large infrastructure projects were started, or completed.

The largest of those, the $75 million Rose Valley Water Treatment Plant, which broke ground in 2020.

Preliminary work began earlier this year while, at the same time, the 18,000 residents who will get water from the new plant approved the city’s long-term borrowing for the project.

A tender for construction of the plant itself will be awarded in January, with construction expected to begin in February.

Milsom highlighted several other projects, including:

  • The Gellatly Road bridge complete with new bike lanes and sidewalks.
  • Completion of a majority of improvements to Glenrosa Road which included new storm drainage and sidewalks on both sides of the road from Glenrosa Middle School to McGinnis road.
  • 2.2 lane kilometres of new sidewalks
  • 1.9 lane kilometres of new bike lanes
  • 14.1 lane kilometres of rehabilitated city streets

“Another big win for the community is the announcement of the new urgent and primary care centre. It’s been a priority of council since we incorporated in 2007,” said Milsom.

The centre is only open for limited hours on weekdays, but Milsom says the centre will be open seven days a week and hours will be expanded in the new year.

Milsom also pointed to the response of residents for the visioning exercise the city began in 2020, which asks for a vision of the future as the city gets ready to update its Official Community Plan.

Looking ahead, a new set of regulations around what is presently an unregulated short-term rental industry is expected to be adopted in 2021.

The city will also continue to advocate for for density, development, and redevelopment of its downtown core.

“We’ll continue to move forward in so many positive ways,” said Milsom.

“Given that this year has been such a tough year, our community has met those challenges with both compassion and resiliency.

“We are proud of everything our staff, our businesses and residents have accomplished.”

Skier escapes slide as weak snow sustains avalanche risk in parts of B.C.

Skier escapes avalanche

Avalanche Canada has lifted a recent warning about the extreme potential for slides on eastern British Columbia mountains, but backcountry users are urged to remain cautious because of weak snowpack layers across the province.

Areas of avalanche concern include the Purcell range in the southeast, Cariboo Mountains in central B.C., and slopes around the Sea-to-Sky region north of Vancouver.

The forecaster reported large, human-triggered avalanches Sunday along sections of the Cariboo Mountains near Valemount, and Monday on Rainbow Mountain, near Whistler.

In the Rainbow Mountain event, Avalanche Canada says in an online post that a skier was completely buried but was successfully rescued by others.

No one was hurt, while avalanche experts say several human-triggered slides around the treeline happened Sunday northwest of Valemount as weak snow layers at lower elevations raise the risk to considerable.

Multiple weak layers at several depths of the snowpack have also raised the slide risk to considerable the alpine and treeline of the Purcell range outside Golden, with conditions unlikely to improve until Friday.

The Avalanche Canada reports come as Environment Canada issued a winter storm watch for the Sea-to-Sky corridor from Squamish to Whistler.

Forecasters are calling for as much as 20 centimetres of heavy, wet snow at elevations above 200 metres between late Tuesday and early Wednesday morning.

BC distillers call for federal tax reform on par with US

Distillers call for equality

B.C. distillers are calling for swift action from the federal government to match American tax reforms.

The U.S. Craft Beverage Modernization Tax Reform Act was recently passed south of the border, which began as a temporary measure but is now permanent. It decreases the excise rate on the first 100,000 proof gallons of produced spirits per distillery.

The stimulus measure was first introduced in 2017 to increase domestic distillery start-ups, expand American-made spirits production and increase job creation and agricultural development.

“The plan worked so well south of the border, that it has now been made permanent,” says Tyler Dyck, president of the Craft Distiller’s Guild of B.C. and co-owner of Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery. “Over the last three years, it has led to thousands of new distilleries popping up all across the U.S., with hundreds of thousands of jobs created and has been a massive boon for the U.S. agricultural sector.”

Now, Canadian distillers are urging the federal government to match the program in hopes that Canada will see the same growth as the United States.

“First, it will lead to the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, mirroring the positive effects already proven to work in the U.S., and second, if they do not match the U.S. CBMTRA, they will be holding Canadians at a cross-border trade disadvantage with our U.S. counterparts,” says Dyck. “All we are asking for is balancing the playing field for ‘Made in Canada’ and that the Canadian government allow Canadian industry and innovation to power our economy in the post-COVID reality.”

According to the Craft Distiller’s Guild of B.C., Canadian distilleries pay over seven times the federal excise tax rate compared to the U.S., which puts Canadian distilleries at a distinct disadvantage.

The guild has penned two letters to federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland regarding its concerns.

“This massive cross-border tax excise imbalance has essentially made it impossible for the Canadian domestic distilling industry to compete and has stunted our domestic distillery and agricultural sector growth potential,” states Dyck’s letter.

Okanagan Spirits, based in Vernon, has spent over $500,000 of its own money during the pandemic to supply free hand sanitizer to frontline and health care workers.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the federal government had paid $375 million to bring in hand sanitizer from other countries, shutting out Canadian distilleries.

Penticton has new, higher capacity COVID-19 test location

New COVID test location

Interior Health has established a new COVID-19 testing spot in Penticton to increase capacity for the city and surrounding area.

Effective Monday, COVID-19 test collection services will move to a dedicated centre located at 140-3547 Skaha Lake Road. Previously, the test had been conducted adjacent to Penticton Regional Hospital.

Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week and with more parking spaces available, the dedicated COVID-19 collection centre will allow Interior Health to increase the daily number of tests being performed for Penticton residents.

Testing is available for anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and anyone who has been sent for testing by a physician, nurse practitioner, or public health authority. Testing is not recommended for individuals who do not have symptoms.

Book a test:

  • Online
  • By phone: 1-877-740-7747

Testing is available for people with new or worsening COVID-19 symptoms. Seek a test immediately if you have one or more of these key symptoms:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Seek a test if you have two or more of the following symptoms for more than 24 hours, and they are not related to any other pre-existing conditions:

  • Sore throat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme fatigue or tiredness
  • Headache
  • Body aches (muscles and joints aching)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Everyone in all communities should remain vigilant in following COVID-19 precautions:

  • Keep to your household bubbles and avoid social gatherings.
  • Stay home when you are sick and get tested if you have any symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
  • Practise physical distancing.
  • Wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
  • Wash your hands often.

Penticton elementary school getting playground upgrade

Early Xmas at playground

An early Christmas present has arrived at Wiltse Elementary School in Penticton for kids at the school and the community in general to enjoy.

“The Apollo”, a two-story, climbing, spinning playground has arrived as a unique addition to play equipment for the school and wider community.

“It’s so cool,” said Wiltse Grade 4 student Maxwell Hodges, “It’s like a spaceship had a 4-metre-high baby with a merry-go-round and then someone turned it into a spiderweb.”

Wiltse principal Travis Bond said they are working alongside the school district with an aim to install the piece early in 2021.

”The staff and students of Wiltse Elementary have always appreciated the support that we receive from PAC, parents and the local community. This is truly an example of coming together to achieve a common goal. Hundreds of current and future students will enjoy this new play structure.”

The project was a product of the Wiltse’s Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) who have raised over $40,000 to purchase the equipment and put towards installation costs.

The parent group sold everything from hot dogs to potted plants to raise the funds, and in 2019, they held an inaugural “playground-a-thon.” The event raised over $8,000.

“There has been such generosity from our parent community and Wiltse’s entire neighbourhood,” said Tina Lee, chair of Wiltse’s playground committee. “We’re so close to our fundraising goal. We have about $5,000 to go to cover installation costs and then we’re ready to get the Apollo in the ground.”

The playground installation has been buoyed by a generous in-kind contribution from Wendy and Wade Wagstaff of Grizzly Excavating who stepped-up to cover considerable excavation and trucking costs associated with the playground installation.

Wiltse PAC is making one last appeal for contributions before the new year hoping that any local businesses or individuals may want to take advantage of charitable tax credits available to playground donors.

Contributions can be made by contacting Wiltse PAC at wiltseschooplac@gmail.com or online.

B.C. boosts tourism sector support to $105 million following task force report

Tourism sector gets boost

The British Columbia government has added $55 million to a fund to help tourism businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tourism Minister Melanie Mark says the additional cash follows recommendations of a task force report to immediately launch a $105-million fund to help the tourism sector.

The relief fund more than doubles the $50 million for tourism announced in September by the government in its economic recovery plan.

Mark says says the government will also provide $5 million to Indigenous Tourism B.C. to help administer relief grants to Indigenous tourism operations.

Tourism task force chairwoman Tamara Vrooman says the relief fund provides a first step to positioning the industry for recovery in the COVID-19 era.

Last summer, the Tourism Association of B.C. asked the government to provide $680 million to help the struggling sector.