Peter Robinson, Community Energy Planner for the B.C. Community Energy Association, was in Burns Lake recently to present Village of Burns Lake (VBL) council with some recent statistics specific to area residents.
The drive towards a reduced environmental footprint has been heavily championed by the province through multiple incentive programs at the community level.
Since 2007, 13 different programs and acts have been rolled out in communities across the province. Although some controversy surrounded elements of the roll-out – like forced payments into a carbon offset program – some large municipalities have been showing progress in desired results.
The city of Vancouver, for example, is on track to meet its target of bringing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels. Since 2000, Vancouver has dropped almost 500,000 tonnes worth of emissions annually. This has occurred as the city’s population continues to grow.
Overall, between 2007 and 2010, the province has, according to its own published statistics, seen a four and a half per cent decrease in GHG emissions, while experiencing a five per cent population growth, and a four and a half per cent increase in gross domestic product (a measure of productivity) in the same time frame.
In Burns Lake, the vast majority of GHG emissions come from on-road vehicles registered in the community. Seventy-one percent of all GHG emissions in 2010 came from transportation sources, 24 per cent from buildings, and five per cent from solid waste disposal.
To put that in context, the CEA has assigned dollar values to what those emission levels mean to local pocketbooks.
In 2010, Burns Lake residents spent approximately $15 million – about $6900 per person including municipal taxes – on fuel, electricity, natural gas, propane, wood and heating oil. Those numbers include municipal emissions made on our behalf, but the take-home message, according to the CEA, is that reducing green house gas emissions reduces your cost of living, over and above the benefits to the environment.
According to Robinson, Burns Lake, as a municipality, has been progressive in implementing GHG reduction strategies. Projects like energy-efficient street lighting, a new furnace at the village office, and the innovative bioenergy systems at the arena were held up as signs of GHG-conscious facility upgrades.
Although less immediately translatable into dollar savings, improvements to pedestrian infrastructure and downtown revitalization all contribute to energy-saving habits that may see more foot traffic and less automotive traffic.
“We want to compare apples to apples,” counc. Frank Varga said. “How many communities the size of Burns Lake are doing as much as we are doing?”
Although Robinson didn’t have the exact stats on hand, he had a sense for where Burns Lake stood in comparison.
“You’re probably number one,” Robinson said. Burns Lake emissions data for 2012 will not be available until 2014.
According to VBL development services coordinator, Jeff Ragsdale, the village’s climate charter commitment is to reduce emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels, by 2020.
Our 2010 GHG emissions – the most recent statistic available – stood at 30,204 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions. The commitment to a 33 per cent reduction in emissions will require dropping 9634 tonnes of emissions.
Small municipalities face significant challenges when it comes to reducing overall emissions. With the largest portion of emission coming from transportation sources, there is little the municipality can do about required service levels in town.
Ragsdale added that community engagement and participation are among the critical factors that must fall into place for Burns Lake to meet its GHG reduction targets, as well as sufficient budget, identification of priority GHG reduction measures that the community wants to support.
Local hardships and poverty levels are another challenge Burns Lake faces.
Snowplows and sand trucks have to run, and our local economy is tied to forestry and the industrial traffic and emissions that go with it. But the village has been aggressive and successful in thoughtfully pursuing energy-efficient options, like bio-energy heating at the Tom Forsyth Arena, installing an electric vehicle charging station downtown.
The village also elected in 2012 to start a local fund for local GHG reduction projects with money that otherwise would have been paid out in purchasing carbon offsets.