Public consulted as 100% renewable energy plan enters next phase

·5 min read

Residents of the West Kootenay have had their chance to weigh in on plans to make their local governments a lot greener in the coming decades.

The West Kootenay EcoSociety has concluded a series of virtual workshops, looking for public input on their ‘100% Renewable Energy Plan.’

Started two years ago, the plan now has nine local governments in the West Kootenay committed to producing net-zero greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2050.

The WKES has done extensive consultations and workshops with civic leaders, whom it identified as key to reaching climate change targets.

“Our local governments have a critical role to play in moving local communities toward renewable energy,” the WKES report says. “Local governments shape daily behaviour with policy and infrastructure, and elected leaders make decisions in the interest of diverse constituencies.”

The consultant leading the project says there’s good reason for citizens to engage in the drive to eliminate fossil fuels from our lives, including benefits to physical health and mental well-being – not to mention benefits to their local environment and community economic resiliency to climate change.

“The more we can accelerate our transition to 100% renewable energy, the safer our communities will be in the long term,” co-ordinator David Reid told one workshop. The transition to renewable energy would also mean local jobs to implement the changes, and millions of dollars remaining in the community, instead of being spent on gasoline and other fossil fuels annually.

The WKES plan looks at four areas local governments have some control over – transportation, which includes public transit and ‘active’ transportation like hiking and biking; the buildings people live and work in; reducing greenhouse gases coming from landfills; and how energy is generated.

The WKES calls them the ‘Big Moves,’ and sets out policy and actions local governments can take to encourage community reduction of greenhouse gases.

They’re also the easiest for communities to act upon, giving encouragement and a sense of progress as the years go by.

“Ultimately, yes, there are a number of things that are costly and time consuming and expensive to do, and I think of those things as the fruit at the top of the tree,” says Reid. “We need to get to work quickly on picking up the fruit that’s on the ground, and picking that low-hanging fruit, while thinking about the ladders we need to build to get to the fruit at the top.”

The greenhouse gas savings will be slow at first; but as changes are made – the biggest being the introduction of electric cars – the savings will increase dramatically.

But organizers admit even if all these areas met their targets to remove greenhouse gases, none of the communities will actually hit the 100% renewable goal. Big items to cut local GHG production, like the introduction of all-electric commercial vans and trucks, are both out of the jurisdiction of local governments, and depend on as yet undeveloped technological advancements.

Concerns about affordability

But the workshops also heard concerns from some participants.

“I don’t think the plan speaks to the real dynamics that are in our communities, the large inequity gaps,” said Lilly Yumagulova, a planner in Slocan. “…transferring to electrical vehicles is very possible, but it’s only possible to a very few.

“When are these people going to be able to afford an electric vehicle?” she continued. “That’s a long way away… we have to realistically look at the inequity gaps that are in our communities, and where we are at, and without that, this [plan] has very little meaning in our communities.”

She asked the planners to look at the reality on the ground and the kind of challenges real people face.

Reid said the plan has in its core the need to make the changes “as equitable and inclusive as possible”.

“You bring up some good points,” he said. “It is really challenging… it’s not going to be painless to make these changes, and as you point out, the people who are well off have an advantage – if you can afford a new car, you can afford the subsidy to buy an electric car. If you can’t afford a new car, you can’t access that subsidy. The same is true of building retrofits.

“So how do we create policies and actions who help everyone, especially people who have less economic resources? We want to make sure those people aren’t further disadvantaged by a bunch of systems that are intended to help the whole community.”

Project concluding

Meeting the 100% renewable target is something that local municipalities will have to tackle on their own as they move forward without the help of the EcoSociety. WKES conceived, designed, and built engagement for the idea, but its role ends when the funding for the project runs out in December.

“We’ll be presenting our plan back to local government, with tweaks and customizations we heard from community members, then it’ll be up to them to adopt the plan and take the steps to move forward,” says Reid.

Planning for that transition is now underway, with local governments talking about how to co-operate and collaborate and share work on how to meet the goals.

Reid says he’s confident those governments be able to run with the ball.

“The response we have had from local governments is ‘this is great, this is what we needed to start taking the next steps to renewable energy,’” he says. “It’s not always that governments know how they’re going to do it, or where they’re going to get their resources to do it, but I think their commitment is 100% there, because local politicians see the value of taking those steps, to have more efficient lives, saving money, being healthier. The benefits are clear – besides avoiding the catastrophe of climate change.”

The public meetings ended this week. If you missed the workshops, visit the West Kootenay EcoSociety’s webpage to read the report and take part in a survey about the plan.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice