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Oak Bay to bring in gradual ban on gas-powered gardening equipment

Oak Bay council is expanding its ban on gas-powered leaf blowers and other equipment — which currently applies only to city workers — to the rest of the municipality.
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Landscaper Kevin Bunting of Island Horticultural Services uses a gas-powered leaf blower on Thursday. Bunting says changing all his equipment from gas to electric would cost him more than $20,000. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Oak Bay council is pushing ahead with a ban on all gas-powered gardening equipment after giving a unanimous nod to the move this week.

The issue had been simmering for some time — last year, council opted to stop supplying municipal workers with such equipment by October 2023.

Now the prohibition will apply to residential properties as well, and will be phased in through October 2026, said Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch.

Noise and emissions from gas-powered equipment are both concerns, but “noise is the big thing that makes people furious at the end of the day,” said Murdoch.

He said Oak Bay is leading the way in the region in the transition to electric-powered gardening equipment.

“I know that a number of the other municipalities are looking at it,” he said. “I think when we do our research that will inform what other people do, as well.”

He acknowledged that some people still have concerns about the way the new rule will be implemented, including commercial operators.

Kevin Bunting of Island Horticultural Services, who has been in the business over 30 years, said changing all his equipment from gas to electric would cost him more than $20,000.

For example, while a new specialized gas-powered chainsaw would cost $650 to $700, a comparable battery-powered saw would be $1,100, plus the cost of a charger and batteries.

He said a gas blower can cost about $600, but a battery-powered version would cost around $1,100 each for just the two needed battery packs alone.

Then there is maintenance. Bunting said he can repair gas-powered machines with salvaged parts from other machines — something he can’t do with electric.

“I think it’s like automobiles,” Bunting said. “Not all of us are going to be able to go out and buy an electric automobile, nor do we have enough infrastructure.”

He said he used to work in Oak Bay a lot — about 90 per cent — but now largely works around Saanich and the Saanich Peninsula.

Some newer companies will be less affected by the change than older landscaping outlets, because they’ve had electric equipment from the start, he said. “I’ve seen a lot of start-ups that have more electric than some of the older companies do.”

Ross Bay Home Hardware assistant manager Heather Koop said the majority of the garden and yard equipment the store is selling is electric rather than gas. “For us, we definitely outpace gas, by far, in our sales.”

Environmental considerations are part of that, “but these units tend to be used less frequently, they’re lighter, easier to store.”

That includes leaf blowers, lawn mowers and edge trimmers, Koop said.

Before its vote, council considered a petition supporting a ban with about 700 signatures. Francis Landy, who created the petition, said he was pleased with the outcome.

“It’s a good step,” he said. “So many people are happy about it.”

Still, he’s not expecting instant results. “People can be quite resistant,” he said. “People are attached to their noisy machines.

“I think it will take time.”

Murdoch said staff will prepare a report that looks at questions like whether to provide education or allow for grants to subsidize those changing to electric-powered equipment.

He said the municipality’s transition to electric is well underway, with about one-third of its equipment already switched from gas.

“The best guess from staff is within the next 18 months we should be able to have a viable alternative.”

The hope is that residents will look at the electric option when they make their next gardening-equipment purchase, Murdoch said.

In Victoria, a noise bylaw expected to go to council this summer includes a possible ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in the city. Meanwhile, the city plans to switch all municipal power tools and small-engine-driven equipment to renewable power by 2025.

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said the public works yard in his jurisdiction is moving toward electric equipment, but it’s hard to compare the landscaping issues of Oak Bay with Saanich, the eighth-largest municipality in the province.

Saanich is 55 per cent rural area and green space, he said.

“We have not moved toward positioning a timeline for a ban on household use of [gas] motors,” Haynes said.

Residents are encouraged to go with electric equipment versus gas, he said, adding it’s good to see stores stocking comprehensive lines of those tools.

Haynes said he expects to see a shift in the market in the next year or so.

“Council’s always ready to consider things as they change.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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