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School district pays to become carbon neutral

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs throughout the Coast Mountains School District (CMSD) have made a difference in the district's pocketbooks – but the amount paid in carbon offset credits in order to remain carbon neutral has not been reduced as much as the district was anticipating.

The CMSD purchased 2,686 tonnes of emission offsets with a total value of $66,452 to become carbon neutral for the 2012 fiscal year.

This is down from the $86,324 the district spent for 2011, and closer to the $71,008 spent for 2010, the first year of the program. Carbon offsets are paid to the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) crown corporation and are currently priced at $25 per ton.

“I was expecting a bigger reduction in regards to it this year,” said John Garossino, CMSD director of facilities. “We've been working steadily towards reducing our energy utilization. A lot of control work has been done.”

A number of energy reduction projects have made a difference on the financial side, but not as much on the greenhouse gas emissions side, he said.

But Garossino said the money the district has paid to the PCT has come back to the district in the form of grants for energy reduction projects.

“They sent us almost the same amount as we paid for the last three years back to the district to do an upgrade on Mount Elizabeth (MESS) which is one of our largest energy consumption buildings,” he said.

$200,000 was provided to the district to finish the upgrade on that school's boiler system. The work will take place this summer, and Garossino said that will mean another substantial reduction in the district's natural gas consumption.

He also anticipates this past year's warmer winter will translate into reduced numbers next year.

Each year school districts pay approximately $5 million in carbon offsets, and each year, the Ministry of Education provides approximately $5 million through the Carbon Neutral Capital Program, according to a ministry spokesperson, of the program that was started last year.

“The provincial trustee association lobbied the government in regards to this whole cycle, in regards to us paying carbon taxes but not getting the money to do the upgrades that would help us reduce our emission rates,” said Garossino. “So through a roundabout way their lobby was successful and its coming back in, and that helps in the district.”

And while it's yet to be determined how much the school district could receive next year, as that number varies from year to year, the ministry said the intent is that over the years all districts receive the same amount of funding they put in.

That money goes to ministry approved projects to support green initiatives or research grants to support future proposals.

But the PCT has its fair share of critics, among them former auditor general John Doyle who, in a report released March 28, said the offset credits are not credible and that the $25 price is well above market value.

The province is currently reviewing the price of the offsets.

One B.C. school district, South Kootenay, has announced it will not be purchasing carbon offset credits through the PCT, and will instead be spending the money on local greenhouse gas emissions.

But the province says school districts have a legal obligation to pay carbon offsets to the PCT.

“While there are measures government can take to ensure these legal obligations are met, the ministry’s approach is to work collaboratively with school districts to achieve voluntary compliance.”

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