The GreenTech Exchange and the BC Women in Energy Network yesterday hosted a panel on “Community Energy Development: The Role of Small-Scale Energy Systems in Achieving a Clean Energy Future“. This event made clear that cities and communities in British Columbia are at the forefront on climate change, sustainability and clean energy development.
In his introductory remarks, Shaun Greffard, the General Manager of Investment and Intergovernmental Relations at the City of Surrey, explained that cities are the perfect laboratories for clean energy development as they can test new ideas and implement relatively fast. In fact, due to rapid urbanization and the growing energy use in cities worldwide, it will be decided in cities whether we can overcome today’s climate change and energy challenges.
Fortunately, cities are full of energy and sustainability opportunities that range from fostering simpler movement to providing new high-density homes for the growing population. It is clear that only a holistic and connected approach that covers all aspects of people’s lives can guide cities in becoming fully sustainable which is especially important for today’s fastest-growing cities.
For instance, the City of Surrey, Canada’s third-fastest growing city, has implemented an ambitious Energy Shift program that builds on the three important pillars of corporate operations (green buildings, green vehicles, green procurement, etc.), community action (transit, cycling, walking, district energy, compact neighbourhoods, waste resource management, etc.) and clean energy business (talent development, R&D, cleantech commercialization centre, business support services, etc.).
According to Anna Matthewson, the Manager of Sustainability for the City of Surrey, Surrey’s Sustainability Charter, which also includes climate change commitments and a clean energy plan, is the underlying policy document for all actions in the city. Surrey’s District Energy system was presented as a cornerstone in Surrey’s sustainability strategy in the face of rapid population growth in the next 30 years. In fact, District Energy uses multiple thermal energy sources, reduces GHG emissions, increases energy security, reduces life cycle costs, creates local jobs and fosters the local economy.
Robyn Wark, a Team Lead for BC Hydro’s Sustainable Communities Group, then talked about community energy develpoment and BC Hydro’s partnerships with both local governments and communities. According to her, there are four main reasons why BC communities and local governments are interested in advancing clean energy projects:
First, Vancouver’s ambitious climate action plan and Greenest City initiative provide a good framework for clean energy development. Second, community energy projects create green jobs. In this regard, clean energy development plans, tax incentives, technology incubators, demonstration projects and partnerships with educational institutes should support the creation of green jobs. Third, green energy projects also create a corporate income stream for local governments if they own the facilities. Fourth, using local resources to generate electricity in our own communities prevents power outages and increases energy resilience.
Sandy Ferguson, the Director of Marketing at the BC Bioenergy Network, then talked about municipial bioenergy development in BC and her network’s contribution especially in terms of funding for capital projects, funding for capacity building as well as education and advocacy. According to her, there is a good legislative framework for clean energy projects in BC and BC’s local governments and cities are showing leadership in bioenergy.
The main opportunities and drivers depend on the size of the community and include political leadership, ambitious sustainability goals, green jobs, economic development and diversification, local biomass utilization, fire risk mitigation and other factors. Nevertheless, the low gas and electricity prices, fuel risk (Is there enough feedstock/biomass?), financing issues, business model elaboration (PPP), lack of in-depth knowledge, policy uncertainty and the lack of reference projects are the main challenges that have to be met for the further successful development of BC’s bioenergy industry.
In addition, a presentation by Kristen Mucha (Fortis BC) on the contribution of renewable natural gas (biogas) from waste to reducing GHG emissions also made clear that there are vast opportunities in clean energy development for cities and communities and that cooperation between local governments, utility companies and citizens is crucial for a successful implementation of clean energy projects.