Saving energy saves planet and money

In buildings the movement will be toward re-using waste heat, then designing for renewable heat sources.

Several weeks ago representatives of BC Hydro, city and regional district employees, and interested citizens gathered in the basement at city hall to investigate the Community Energy and Emissions Planning (CEEP) Quickstart Program. Our aim was to begin a community emissions plan for the Terrace area based on the CEEP framework.

Peter Robinson, an energetic, well-informed representative from CEEP chaired the proceedings, ably assisted by a BC Hydro representative, Amy Seabrooke.

The dozen or so people participating split into two groups to focus on the two main drivers of greenhouse gas production: transportation and buildings. Roughly half the greenhouse gas production in the region is from transportation fuel. Most of the remainder comes from leaky buildings.

We may compare energy, no matter its source, in gigajoules. One gigajoule is about the amount of energy stored in the gas tank of a medium-sized car or ten days of household electricity use. It’s also equivalent to about 3000 hours of human physical labour, a clue as to why we love our high-energy lifestyles. Costs for our varying sources of energy range from near $40/GJ for gasoline down to $10/GJ for natural gas, electricity coming up the middle at about $22/GJ. (At $15/hour, human labour would cost $45,000!)

Our buildings use about half their energy for space heating, adding more for water heating (especially in our homes) and the remainder for appliances and lighting. Air conditioning is insignificant here in the North.

As the CEEP guide observes, achieving provincial and regional greenhouse gas reduction targets of 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050 will require rapid development and implementation of various strategies and tactics.

Using the CEEP framework, the working group examined suggested actions that will diminish our greenhouse gas production, for the most part requiring no significant decline in our standard of living. In fact, many actions promise to improve our community living experience.

Generally the strategies reduce energy demand through better design and technology. In buildings the movement will be toward re-using waste heat, then designing for renewable heat sources (heat pumps, geo-thermal heating), and finally obtaining renewable electric power. In transport the aim is to shift transport modes from individual vehicles to less wasteful forms, to improve vehicle efficiencies (vehicle size and weight, in particular), and to convert more of the fleet to electricity, biofuels and natural gas.

Fifteen separate (though related) actions are planned for 2013, with another dozen or so to follow in 2014/2015. One is to promote BC Hydro programs that enable citizens to improve their energy efficiency in low-cost ways. Others include assisting developers to design renewables and efficiency into their buildings and projects. They also include improving the community’s walking infrastructure and helping transit become more efficient and appealing.

The province is doing its part by committing to a carbon-neutral electricity grid by 2016, as well as by adopting higher emissions standards for light duty vehicles, so far the equivalent of taking 233,000 vehicles off the road.

B.C. is also greening its building code. New houses must comply with a minimum EnerGuide 80 rating (80 per cent efficient), a standard likely rising to 85 per cent for 2016 and 90 per cent by 2021.

Currently Terrace has a total energy expenditure of around $35 to $40 million dollars (about $3100 per person) generating per-capita GHG emissions of about 6.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. By 2020 this is projected to be down to 5.3 and down further to 4.2 by 2030. Note that by cutting use by 1/3 each person frees about another $1000 of disposable income for personal use. If energy costs predictably rise over the coming years, cash savings grow.

The city and regional district need to support such plans. Without coordinated action chances of our success are limited. More rapid climate change may require more rapid and rigorous responses. If we have forgotten our “Be prepared” boy scout motto, perhaps it’s time to renew it. We need to encourage our elected representatives to sponsor the actions we need. As proud Canadians and as global citizens, we can and should move forward on this.

Al Lehmann is a retired teacher living in Terrace, B.C.





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