Monday, July 28, 2014

My article in the Hamilton Spectator: Building a culture of conservation.

Jul 22, 2014 | Vote0   0

Building a culture of conservation

Community energy plan will save tax dollars, reduce greenhouse gas

Community Energy Plan.
There's the community. There's energy usage. And there's a plan. Wait. There is no plan.
At least not for Hamilton.
There is neither long-term vision nor strategy on managing our energy expenditure
and consumption.
As a corporation, the City of Hamilton is working hard to manage its own energy use;
 think cost avoidance, installing energy-efficient systems, green fleets, renewable energy
projects, the water biogas purification unit, and so on.
With the support of Horizon Utilities, the corporation aims to work on a Municipal Energy Plan (MEP)
to further comprehend its energy needs and conservation opportunities.
(Horizon is an award winner for being a sustainable, innovative electricity company.
It is currently conducting an energy mapping project in Hamilton and St. Catharines to
better target energy conservation programs.)
Hamilton is the envy of other communities, with an existing district energy closed-loop piping
system, producing hot water at a central plant that is then piped underground to individual
buildings for heating and cooling to be then recirculated. (Jackson Square and the Central 
branch of Hamilton Public Library use this system.)
We've got all this and more, but at the community level there still is no holistic, comprehensive
plan to make our neighbourhoods more energy efficient and resilient through the rational use of energy.
There ought to be.
Given that 80 per cent of Canada's energy is used in urban centres and that energy waste
and poor management of building infrastructure are major contributors to climate change,
the sensible path to take as a community in curbing green house gas emissions would be to strike
at the core of these energy-guzzlers.
The community energy plan (CEP) is a proven framework to engage citizens and local organizations
in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Generally created through a collaboration between municipal governments and broader
community stakeholders, CEPs are crucial for leveraging existing programs and initiatives
and setting concrete, feasible targets and ways to meet those targets, through grassroots community engagement.
As well, an important part of such a plan is encouraging the development of green infrastructure
through plans and policies, and other innovative initiatives (sustainable jobs, local investments).
Cities across Europe, such as Copenhagen and Mannheim, have long-established plans and
are reaping the rewards. More recently, closer to home, Guelph, London and our immediate
neighbour, Burlington, have modest plans in place and are slashing their energy consumption
and saving money while they are at it.
That's right. A CEP will save money for the city. Big time.
"The amount of money I'm leaving on the table (when I don't have a plan) is huge. Because if I am
 running at two to three times the energy intensity of a Scandinavian city, they have more money
 to do other things than I have. That's a big deal," says Peter Garforth, whose company 
Garforth International LLC helped establish plans for the cities mentioned above.
"Take any North American city and if they are spending $200 million a year in electricity costs,
a comparable city in Central Europe is spending $70 million to $100 million."
Think of what all that extra money could be doing in a city.
A CEP is about identifying opportunities and constraints, setting goals, utilizing technologies
 (such as smart grids) and delivering action. It also involves changing behaviours and our
relationships with energy. It has to do with promoting a culture of conservation that extends to
how we get around (transportation), the way we generate energy, the way we use the land,
particularly in the face of future growth, how far our food has to travel in order to get to our tables.
A Climate Change Action Plan steering committee at the city has recently been established
with task forces assigned to some of these areas.
As well, encouraged by some city departments, groups like Environment Hamilton and
the Hamilton Association for Renewable Energy (HARE) are promoting the idea of a local
improvement charges (LIC) program for home energy improvements since the residential sector
 is responsible for 30 per cent of our energy use. LICs are long-term, low-interest loans provided
 by the municipality and placed on the property tax bill.
Both these examples can be elements of a future CEP for Hamilton.
Hamilton is said to be in the throes of a cultural transformation, a renaissance of sorts,
as innovators, artists, entrepreneurs choose our city as the "happening place" they call home.
Let's give it that cutting edge by working to get a community energy plan in action.
After all, a reliable, sustainable energy supply is a key component to the long-term health
and prosperity of cities.
Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko is a Hamilton freelance writer and blogger. She works at Environment Hamilton,
managing and co-ordinating various projects. Read more of her writing at

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