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Unlocking the door to Smart Energy Communities – a Framework for Implementation

Communities – the places where we live, work and play – account for 60% of energy use in Canada, as well as over half of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). In other words, when we invest, plan and implement effectively for Smart Energy Communities, we can have a direct impact on addressing Canada’s energy and GHG challenges.

QUEST believes that there are three fundamental features of a Smart Energy Community that you can view by watching this video.

  • First, a Smart Energy Community integrates conventional energy networks. That means that the electricity, natural gas, district energy and transportation fuel networks in a community are better coordinated to match energy needs with the most efficient energy source.
  • Second, a Smart Energy Community integrates land use, recognizing that poor land use can equal a whole lot of energy waste.
  • Third, a Smart Energy Community harnesses local energy opportunities.

Many cities and communities in Canada have taken ownership over their energy, recognizing the significant impact energy has on the local economy, health and community resilience. These communities are exemplifying some of the features of a Smart Energy Community.

Consider Surrey, British Columbia, where the municipal government is building a district energy system that will efficiently provide heating and cooling to buildings in the City Centre. Surrey is also developing the largest Organic Biofuels facility in Canada which will turn organic waste into renewable natural gas that will replace diesel and gasoline fueling for municipal vehicle fleets.

Consider also Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, which successfully completed a 10-year community energy plan and exceeded greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 100%, in part by converting from oil to renewable wood-pellet burning heating systems throughout the city.

And finally, consider Guelph, Ontario where the municipal government and electric utility have collaborated to develop the Galt District Energy system, seven solar energy facilities, a small-scale combined heat and power system, and plans for both a large-scale combined heat and power facility and biomass projects. Guelph is also playing host to net-zero residential developments.

These and many other communities are blazing trails – led in particular by the initiative and leadership of the municipal and provincial governments, gas and electric utilities, and real estate stakeholders that make them up.

Though there is no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a Smart Energy Community, Surrey, Yellowknife and Guelph each use a Community Energy Plan to guide decision making around energy.  Lessons learned in these communities can be applied in every community across Canada.

A Community Energy Plan is a tool that helps communities define priorities around energy with a view to improving efficiency, cutting emissions and driving economic development. Community Energy Plans are an important and effective enabler for becoming a Smart Energy Community.

Community Energy Planning: Getting to Implementation in Canada

That is why QUEST has partnered with The Community Energy Association and Sustainable Prosperity, Canada’s leading community energy experts, to launch a national initiative entitled Community Energy Planning: Getting to Implementation in Canada. The objective of this multiyear initiative is to build the capacity of Canadian communities to develop and implement Community Energy Plans. This will be done through the development of a Community Energy Implementation Framework.

Over the next year, the project will be drawing on lessons learned from communities across Canada through research, as well as a series of national workshops, to develop the Implementation Framework.  The Framework will help communities navigate the challenges faced when it comes to implementing Community Energy Plans and will provide them with the tools they need to become Smart Energy Communities.

QUEST recognizes that every community will have its own unique set of opportunities and challenges for advancing Smart Energy Communities. The solutions will vary from community to community. The Getting to Implementation initiative is one of the first steps for identifying the success factors and barriers for CEP implementation. Understanding these will bring QUEST one step closer to defining how other communities across Canada can develop and implement Community Energy Plans effectively, and become Smart Energy Communities.

Be sure to attend Community Energy Planning: Getting to Implementation in Alberta on June 18th 9:30 am – 3:30 pm at the University of Alberta. Register here.

By: Eric Campbell, Acting Director, Programs & Service, QUEST and Sarah Marchionda, Manager, Research & Education, QUEST

Alberta Green Condo Guide: Saving money and helping the environment

The Green Condo Guide for Alberta outlines how to capitalize on energy saving opportunities in common areas of a condominium, including centralized heating, cooling and ventilation systems and lighting.

Reducing a building’s energy bills is a huge opportunity to save money and reduce a building’s impact on the environment.   In fact, at least 40 per cent of a condominium building’s operating costs go to gas, electricity and water bills, making utilities the largest controllable expense for any condo corporation.

And most older condos can cut these costs by 30 per cent by doing a few upgrades, adding more efficient lighting or boilers.  Even a newer building can realize savings of at least 15 per cent.

This simple to follow and easy to read 14-page guide outlines a number of steps that will not only reduce a condo’s energy use—saving money and reducing emissions—it will result in a more comfortable and well maintained building.

The step-by-step overview of how you can green a condo begins with information on how to baseline and benchmark a building’s energy use, perform an energy audit and set goals.  Next, it goes through a high level explanation of how to identify opportunities for improvement, assess the business case for upgrades and improvements and develop and track a retrofit plan.

A good energy retrofit will help protect the capital that’s invested in a condo by ensuring the building’s systems are in good operational order and operating costs are under control. A green building is comfortable and cost-efficient, which protects an owner’s investment and is more attractive to buyers.

The Green Condo Guide for Alberta, funded in part with a grant from AREF, is based on work originated by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and adapted for Alberta by the Pembina Institute.

What Lies Beneath? Buyer beware

It’s every homeowner’s nightmare: You buy a home, move in, then find out there’s an abandoned gas well beneath, leaking and contaminating your property. Think it can’t happen to you? It can. According to the Energy Resources Conservation Board in November 2012 over 150,000 abandoned well sites dotted the Alberta landscape, making it essential that buyers do their homework.

These nightmares happen because of gaps between what Albertans should know, could know and actually do know about their environment,” says Adam Driedzic, Staff Counsel and author of a new Environmental Law Centre publication, What Lies Beneath? Access to Environmental Information in Alberta.

In real estate transactions the onus is generally on the buyer to do their due diligence and the general rule for buying and selling real estate is ‘buyer beware’. Unfortunately there’s no checklist to prove due diligence and no one-stop shop for environmental information.

The best way to demonstrate due diligence is to identify environmental concerns, learn what information is available about those concerns and act on that knowledge. Buyers who make inquiries into the environmental conditions of the specific site and the local area are in the best position to make sound choices and solid deals.

Most land in Alberta has already been used for something. In Calmar, oil and gas extraction took place on farmland that was re-zoned, subdivided, developed into a residential community and sold without exposing what lay beneath or what other activities had taken place on the land previously.

And in Alberta it isn’t just oil and gas activities that are concerning. Whether you’re looking to buy a giant parcel of farmland or a tiny infill lot in the city, there are many activities that can impact the land, air and water that surround your potential new home. Feedlots, pesticide application, old dry-cleaners or landfills – even recreational activities like off highway vehicle use – can affect your quality of life.

What Lies Beneath? Access to Environmental Information in Alberta provides practical information-finding tips, outlines environmental concerns you may want to think about and describes where to get started to find the information you need to make the best choices when buying property in Alberta. A twelve-page booklet based on this guidebook, Buyer Beware, is also available.

The Environmental Law Centre is Alberta’s leading environmental public policy and law reform charity. The full publication and booklet can both be downloaded on the Environmental Law Centre website.