School district’s greenhouse gas emission targets challenged by funding gap

·3 min read

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools says it can’t meet the B.C. government’s greenhouse gas reduction targets, or its own board of education’s goal to reduce emissions without finding additional funding for cleaner energy options.

The board of education has a goal to reduce the district’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 4.5 per cent per year. Over the last 10 years, reductions have been in the range of 2 per cent, Secretary-Treasurer Mark Walsh said.

In 2019, NLPS reduced GHG emissions by 17 per cent since 2010, the year B.C. began requiring all public sector organizations to track and reduce emissions. This year, emissions will be higher due to greater use of natural gas-powered HVAC systems and additional floor space to reduce transmission of COVID-19, energy manager Rob Lumsden said at the March 3 business committee meeting.

Heating buildings, mainly done by natural gas boilers, is the greatest source of the district’s GHG emissions. Lumsden said transitioning to low-carbon emitting heat pumps could result in an 80 per cent reduction of the district’s carbon footprint. But a lack of available funds presents a deep challenge to implement that cleaner technology.

Last September, the board set up an environmental upgrade fund to target carbon reduction projects. A total of $400,000 was allocated for 2020-21, thanks to a one-time surplus. A staff project worksheet lists 26 environmental upgrade projects. Some, such as replacing furnaces with heat pumps in standalone band rooms at Woodlands Secondary and Cedar Elementary, have been approved and each are projected to reduce emissions by four metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) annually. The total notional cost of all 26 projects is $2.7 million. At this time, Walsh does not anticipate money will be available to put into the fund for 2021-22.

In order to achieve reduction targets, staff say they need funding from multiple streams including from the annual facilities grant received from the Ministry of Education. At the same committee meeting, Walsh reported the district expects the 2021-22 facilities grant amount to equal the current budget year.

“It’s not enough and we’ve included it in the draft long range facilities plan to advocate for more funding,” he said.

Under B.C.’s Carbon Neutral Government program, all public sector organizations must achieve carbon neutrality in their greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, vehicles and paper use through reductions as well as “made-in-B.C.” carbon offsets. The greenhouse gas emissions applicable to the program are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, perfluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons.

By 2050, the district expects to still need to purchase offsets for 782.4 metric tonnes of CO2e.

Meanwhile, the district is making strides with reducing emissions from its school bus fleet. It has purchased two zero emission buses and is working on building capacity to charge up to 10 of them.

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder