Carbon neutral 2050: 'Aspirational' energy strategy to steer Edmonton's future

·3 min read
Homeowners in Edmonton have installed renewable energy platforms like this home in Belgravia with roof of solar panels. (Effect Home Builders - image credit)
Homeowners in Edmonton have installed renewable energy platforms like this home in Belgravia with roof of solar panels. (Effect Home Builders - image credit)

The City of Edmonton aims to be carbon neutral by 2050 and is on the verge of adopting a new energy transition strategy to help get it there.

The Community Energy Transition Strategy is a 30-year roadmap to guide the city in lowering greenhouse gas emissions in line with international standards in the 2015 Paris agreement.

Electric vehicles and charging networks, district energy systems, solar and wind power projects and more efficient buildings and homes are components of the plan.

The strategy was released Thursday and will be presented to council's executive committee the second week of April.

City managers are estimating that energy transition programs and strategies will cost $100 million a year, about three per cent of the city's budget. They anticipate receiving matching capital from provincial and federal grants, and private industry — about $42 billion investment over the next 30 years.

Chandra Tomaras, program manager for environmental strategies, said the transition will require $24 billion over the next 10 years.

"Edmonton's vision is aspirational," Tomaras said during a media briefing Friday. "But it is achievable with significant levels of public and private investment into these transformational initiatives that will reshape our city and our place in the world."

Stephanie McCabe, manager of the urban form and corporate strategic development branch, said administration will present options for council's approval during the fall budget session.

"Council is going to have many decisions in front of them in that budget cycle, so they will make the trade-offs at that point," McCabe said.

The city anticipates the federal government will invest $300 million a year from carbon tax rebates and programs.

Carbon commitments

In Aug. 2019, Edmonton city council declared a climate emergency — more than a year after it hosted the United Nations Cities and Climate Change Conference in March 2018.

Shafraaz Kaba, a co-chair of Edmonton's Energy Transition Climate Resilience Committee that helped craft the strategy, said the action plan reflects Edmonton's intentions to act fast.

"It's urgent because we've sat on our hands for far too long in acting on climate change."

The outcome of inaction is a significant ecological disaster in less than two decades, he suggested.

Kaba points to disasters in Alberta where floods, hailstorms, fires, have caused considerable damage over the past decade.

"So we need to act faster, stronger and with more impact, so we can mitigate more of these from happening."

Industries will need to adapt and replace old systems with newer more efficient ones — different types of heating and cooling ventilation systems, adequate insulation, appropriate windows and doors

Kaba said it's a massive undertaking and will require all hands on deck, from designers to engineers.

"Right now, there's probably less than one per cent of commercial buildings that have had any sort of major retrofit, " he said. "I mean major by changing the entire mechanical, electrical and even the skin of the building to be high performing."

Carrots and sticks

Part of the change will happen with the federal government increasing carbon taxes to $170 a tonne by 2030, having a noticeable impact on all city operations.

"Through the cost of energy, we're going to need to transition," Kaba said.

Several programs are available to help businesses and homeowners make their buildings more energy-efficient.

The Home Energy Retrofit Accelerator (HERA) offers rebates to homeowners for retrofit investments, while the Building Energy Retrofit Accelerator (BERA) offers rebates for retrofits on commercial buildings 10,000 square feet and larger.

Those retrofits could include heat pumps, energy recovery ventilators and battery storage, "taking the opportunity that when things wear out, to replace them with new technologies," Kaba said.

District energy systems like the one powering the Blatchford – the development planned for 30,000 residents using 100 per cent renewable energy, will need to be more common.

Edmonton's plan also paves the way for 15-minute walkable communities, based on transportation and amenity access.

Council's executive committee will discuss the strategy at a public meeting April 12.