'Pay now or pay later:'

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — The P.E.I. government has released a six-point plan on how it intends to better prepare for the future effects of climate change in P.E.I.

On Oct. 27, the province released Building Resilience: Climate Adaptation Plan – a roadmap outlining the work it plans to carry out, ranging from building protective infrastructure in natural areas to better emergency storm measures.

After receiving more than 500 responses from the public through online surveys, public engagement sessions and community partners, the input was used to create the plan. It includes action items to support vulnerable populations, primary industries and natural habitats.

P.E.I.'s Environment, Energy and Climate Action Minister Steven Myers told SaltWire Network on Oct. 28 the work is set to roll out over the next five years.

“This is an overarching plan to pull it all together to make sure we’re all lock-stepped,” said Myers.

The roadmap incorporates projects that will be carried out by several departments of government, from Health P.E.I. to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

It was originally set to be released before post-tropical storm Fiona, but after the storm devastated large sections of the province, re-evaluation of some points was necessary before the report could be released.

One of these re-evaluations included considering the benefits of building a more distributed energy model across the province.

After the storm, some urban and rural residents were without power for up to three weeks.

Since then, there has been much discussion among the public for the province to consider burying power lines underground, as many believe electricity could have been restored much faster had there not been so much damage to the suspended lines.

“There was so much damage that was hard to repair in just the city itself. Do we look at burying (power lines) from the pole to the house?” said Myers. “A lot of people had their masts torn off. It takes a long time to fix that because there is a set process to that,” he said.

The province is currently working on assessing which areas received heavy damage to power lines, compared to areas that didn’t, and evaluating where the need for buried power lines is greatest.

“In Georgetown, there was one pole down, but between Georgetown and Pooles Corner there was 30 poles down. The question is, would we be better serviced if there was a source for energy at substations,” said Myers. “The storm certainly proved we could have had a lot more resiliency if we’d had those abilities.”

Another point on the roadmap will be to create a municipal climate adaptation program, in which each municipality will be given physical and financial aid to tackle climate change issues specific to its needs.

It’s going to be expensive, said Myers.

“We’re looking at how much we can help pay for and how much the federal government is able to help us with, and at this point (the federal government) has been really willing,” he said.

The plan contains six themes on areas the province intends to tackle climate change issues:

Katrina Cristall, climate action officer for the city of Charlottetown told SaltWire Network in an interview on Nov. 2 the city has already started working to help reach the province’s net-zero emissions goal.

“At the moment, we don’t have anything that’s branded as a climate adaptation program, but pretty much all of the work we do would fall under that,” said Cristall. “We’re just not necessarily calling it that now.”

This work has included planting tree saplings in parks and wooded areas and building living shorelines for erosion protection.

The city incorporates the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan and Community Energy Plan to guide the work, but both are due for an update soon, said Cristall.

“We’re hoping to integrate those two plans and sort of expand the climate action umbrella we’re working under into one plan,” she said.

Right now, work is being done to collect data on how climate change will affect the city, including looking at vulnerable coastal and wooded areas to get early stakeholder and community perspectives.

This is the first in a two-phase process.

“The climate action plan will be a really key piece in terms of consolidating all of that together and driving our actions forward,” said Cristall. “We’re very eager and excited to take on this work.”

Phase 1 will likely be completed by March 2023. The estimated budget is around $40,000, 75 per cent of which has been covered by the municipal strategic component of the gas tax funded through the province.

Phase 2 will start after that, sometime in the first half of 2023, and the hope is to have the plans released by early 2024.

“We don’t have clear budget implications for Phase 2, but a very rough estimate would be in the $100,000 range,” said Cristall.

Myers said these are costs the province is willing to assist with.

“I don’t think we need to convince people about climate change, we just have to put money aside to make it happen,” said Myers. “The cost of doing nothing is far higher than the cost of doing something. We either pay now or we pay later – over and over again.”

Rafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian