Vancouver to install a network of up to 20 electric hook-ups for film productions

Apr 13 2023, 10:58 pm

The City of Vancouver is making a leap towards being the greenest film and television production hub in North America with the installation of a new specialized power utility network.

The purpose-designed infrastructure involves installing electrical boxes — called clean energy kiosks — in areas frequented by productions, allowing crews to hook up their mobile trailers and equipment to the grid.

With the use of clean hydroelectric power from the grid, productions can end their practice of using diesel- and gas-powered generators to power their mobile trailers and catering services, significantly reducing both emissions and noise.

The first kiosk under the municipal government’s strategy to build and expand a network of kiosks was recently completed under the Georgia Viaduct next to Pacific Boulevard in Northeast False Creek, serving a vacant gravel area often used by productions for mobile trailer parking.

In fact, film productions use as many as 200 generators per year in this particular parking area wedged by the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

“Not only are these film kiosks great for the environment, but they once again demonstrate our City’s commitment to make Vancouver the best place to make film in North America,” said ABC city councillor Lenny Zhou during the press conference today.

“We will continue expanding our kiosk network so that a kiosk is available close to most of the major filming locations in Vancouver.”

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Clean energy kiosk for film and television production mobile trailers under the Georgia viaduct in Northeast False Creek. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

The strategy originates from City Council’s 2019-approved member motion directing City staff to explore ways to eliminate diesel and gas generators in film productions and food truck businesses.

“I just had one motive: get Vancouver to support us moving off diesel generators, which are bad for the environment, and bad for people’s health and well-being working on sets, and move to clean energy power drops,” said Green city councillor Adriane Carr, who put forward the motion in 2019. It is estimated about 6,500 metric tonnes of carbon emissions will be reduced annually from this move.

And while the municipal government is leading the installation of the network of kiosks across the city, it is entirely self-funded by the film and television production industry.

Geoff Teoli, the Vancouver film commissioner, working under the municipal agency of the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC), told Daily Hive Urbanized the permitting fees for granting productions the permission to film within the city are expected to raise about $400,000 annually towards growing the network.

Moving forward, about two or three additional kiosks will be installed each year, with the goal of installing at least 12 to 16 kiosks around the city by the end of this decade. As many as 20 kiosks could ultimately be installed.

“The idea is we’ll have a film kiosk on almost every major part of the city where productions like to go,” said Teoli.

vancouver clean energy kiosk film production northeast false creek georgia viaduct

Clean energy kiosk for film and television production mobile trailers under the Georgia viaduct in Northeast False Creek. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

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Film and television production mobile trailers of Vancouver Mobile Dressing Rooms at the Georgia viaduct parking lot. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Kiosks will be installed at parking lots where productions frequently establish a base camp for mobile trailers — areas that see uses just like the Georgia viaduct parking lot. The goal is to have base camp kiosks within about 10 minutes away from productions, where crews can park their trucks or recharge batteries.

For dense urban areas such as within the Central Business District and Gastown, a different type of kiosk is in the process of being designed on city streets — a smaller kiosk box that occupies a smaller footprint on a sidewalk or other spaces, which better ensures the kiosk does not block storefronts.

The Georgia viaduct kiosk serving the parking lot has a three-phased 400 amp capacity for a total of 1,200 amps, which is similar to a full-sized diesel generator output and enough to power as many as 15 mobile trailers.

In contrast, says Teoli, productions in dense urban areas that park their mobile trailers on the curbside lane of streets have lower requirements. In such areas, they can expect three or four mobile trailers, which may only necessitate a capacity of a few hundred amps.

With these varying site-specific demands and constraints, three different kiosk designs can likely be expected — large, medium, and small. The boxes that contain the kiosks are covered with a green wrap.

The first kiosk at the Georgia viaduct parking lot cost roughly $70,000 to install, but the cost can greatly vary depending on the location, such as the added costs to reach BC Hydro lines that may not be within a convenient reach.

While the Georgia viaduct parking lot kiosk is the first location under the new City program triggered by Carr’s motion, the municipal government installed Canada’s first clean energy kiosk in 2018 at the renovated North Plaza (West Georgia Street) of the Vancouver Art Gallery, which has since become a popular public space for productions, food trucks, and special events.

In addition to the kiosk utilities, businesses in the local industry are known for their day-to-day green operational practices and for creating other environmentally friendly innovations.

For example, Vancouver-based startup Portable Electric has made a dent in the global industry since it was founded in 2015, specifically with its Voltstack product line of battery units that provide a mobile power supply. Voltstack’s battery units were initially designed for the film and television production industry, but it has also seen a range of uses for special events such as the Calgary Stampede and disaster relief such as Hurricane Florence in 2018. At the peak of the pandemic in 2020, Portable Electric offered Voltstacks to healthcare agencies for the equipment power needs of ventilators, temporary mobile clinics, and isolation and quarantine areas.

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Geoff Teoli, Vancouver film commissioner. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

“In less than five years, what I’ve heard everywhere I go, from everyone I talk to, including my peers in major film centres around the world, as well as the recent trip Mayor Ken Sim and I took to Los Angeles, is that Vancouver is now considered the gold standard globally when it comes to sustainability in the film industry,” said Teoli.

Emma Stewart, the sustainability officer for Netflix, says Vancouver’s film and television production industry’s green practices are helping the entertainment giant reach its goal of reducing their total global emissions by 50% this decade and net all remaining emissions annually to zero starting in 2022. Netflix, of course, has designated Vancouver as one of its major global production hubs.

She says Netflix has a strategy of reducing production vehicle idling and using energy-efficient equipment, electrifying its transportation and facilities, and decarbonizing when a cleaner energy option is not available, such as switching to renewable diesel.

According to VEC, in 2021, British Columbia’s film and television production industry generated a record $4.8 billion in direct spending and supported 65,000 jobs, including 35,000 full-time jobs. The statistics for 2022 will be made available later this year.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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