Oak Bay Council is extending its ban on gas-powered leaf blowers and other equipment – which currently only applies to city workers – to the rest of the municipality.
Oak Bay Council is moving forward with a ban on all gas-powered gardening equipment after giving the decision a unanimous nod this week.
The issue had been brewing for some time – last year the council opted to stop providing council workers with such equipment by October 2023.
Now, the ban will also apply to residential properties and will be phased in through October 2026, Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch said.
Noise and emissions from gas-powered equipment are two concerns, but “noise is the big thing that pisses people off at the end of the day,” Murdoch said.
He said Oak Bay is leading the way in the region in the transition to electric gardening equipment.
“I know a number of other municipalities are thinking about it,” he said. “I think when we do our research, it will also inform what others are doing.”
He acknowledged that some people still have concerns about how the new rule will be implemented, including commercial operators.
Kevin Bunting of Island Horticultural Services, who has been in the business for more than 30 years, said changing all his equipment from gas to electric would cost him more than $20,000.
For example, while a new specialty gas-powered chainsaw would cost between $650 and $700, a comparable battery-powered saw would cost $1,100, plus the cost of a charger and batteries.
He said a gas-powered ventilator can cost around $600, but a battery-powered version would cost around $1,100 each for just the two batteries needed.
Then there is the interview. Bunting said he can repair various gasoline-powered machines with parts salvaged from other machines, which he cannot do with electricity.
“I think it’s like automobiles,” Bunting said. “We won’t all be able to go out and buy an electric car, and we don’t have enough infrastructure.”
He said he used to work a lot in Oak Bay — about 90% — but now works largely around Saanich and the Saanich Peninsula.
Some newer companies will be less affected by the change than older landscaping companies because they have had electrical equipment from the start, he said. “I’ve seen a lot of start-ups that have more power than some of the older companies.”
Ross Bay Home Hardware assistant manager Heather Koop said the majority of garden and yard equipment the company sells is electric rather than gas. “For us, we are definitely ahead of 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 trimmers, Koop said.
Ahead of its vote, the council reviewed a petition supporting a ban with around 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 doesn’t expect instant results. “People can be quite resilient,” he said. “People are attached to their noisy machines.
“I think it will take time.”
Murdoch said staff will prepare a report that will consider issues such as whether to provide education or allow grants to subsidize those switching to electrical equipment.
He said the municipality’s transition to electricity is well underway, with around a third of its equipment already switched to gas.
“The staff’s best guess is that within the next 18 months we should be able to have a viable alternative.”
The hope is that residents will look to the electric option the next time they buy gardening equipment, Murdoch said.
In Victoria, a noise by-law set to go to council this summer includes a possible ban on petrol-powered leaf blowers in the city. Meanwhile, the city plans to convert all municipal power tools and small engine equipment to renewable energy by 2025.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said the public works yard in his jurisdiction is moving toward electrical equipment, but it’s hard to compare Oak Bay’s landscaping issues with those of Saanich, the eighth largest municipality in the province.
Saanich is 55% rural and green space, he said.
“We have not made progress towards positioning a timetable for a ban on the domestic use of [gas] engines,” Haynes said.
Residents are encouraged to use electric rather than gas-powered equipment, he said, adding that it’s good to see stores stocking full lines of these tools.
Haynes said he expects to see a change in the market over the next year.
“The board is always ready to consider things as they change.”