Complete switch to green power is hardly a pipe dream
Time to transition: Vancouver hosts global forum to achieve local prosperity and energy security
Shifting to 100 per cent renewable energy is possible and a crucial step toward achieving climate security. But what does that shift mean for Canadian families worried about their jobs and household energy expenses?
Almost a decade ago, one of my best friends from the David Suzuki Foundation developed a captivating story about how energy expenses affect Canadian families. During public talks he would ask audiences to visualize a town of 10,000 families and consider their annual energy expenses. If each family spends about $5,000 a year in gas, electricity and heating bills that adds up to $50 million spent every year on energy. In a decade, this town alone would spend half a billion dollars! Assuming those same 10,000 families cover their energy bill the way most Canadians families do they are sending much of that cash out of their community and extending our reliance on high-carbon energy production. Even though our electricity is relatively lowcarbon, the average Canadian in 2012 still used 23 litres of fossil fuel per person per day, producing on average twice the greenhouse gas emissions of Europeans.
Should these 10,000 families instead invest in conservation and renewable energy solutions to satisfy their heating, electricity and transportation needs more of that energy bill would be used to create local jobs, energy security and environmental protection.
Years after hearing this story, in 2013, I met Bertram Fleck, a sharp politician from the Rhein-Hunsrueck district in Germany, a region of about 100,000 people. He showed me how his community made that energy transition a reality.
Fleck campaigned in 1999 by promising to harness the 370 million euros his region spent on annual energy bills and re-direct the money for local renewable energy. By 2012, Rhein-Hunsrueck met their 100 per cent renewable energy target. Today, they have tripled that achievement and, by producing more than they need, export renewable energy to generate local jobs and wealth.
So consider the paradigmshifting step taken by Vancouver’s council, which has unanimously voted for adopting a 100 per cent renewable energy target. That crucial goal towards climate protection and energy security has also been set in cities such as San Francisco, Munich and Barcelona, and in countries like Germany and Uruguay. This bold new campaign for achieving 100 per cent renewable energy is gaining international momentum and Vancouver will host, May 13-15, the Global Learning Forum on Renewable Cities. The forum will bring together practical examples and experts from around the world to the first Canadian city with a goal for 100 per cent renewable energy.
Recent news suggests the forum is well-timed. The governor of California announced greatly increased greenhouse gas reduction targets. For Canadians, that is an auspicious announcement as two of our largest provinces, Quebec and Ontario, are married under their cap and trade treaty to an increasingly ambitious California. Although California’s new climate target has been widely celebrated, it has also been criticized due to the lack of a concrete plan to achieve those formidable GHG targets.
Vancouver’s Global Forum on Renewable Cities can help fill that knowledge gap by providing concrete ideas on how to invest in emission reductions that also increase local energy security, create new jobs and help diversify local economies. Canada urgently needs such ideas to address the climate crisis, diversify its economy, create local jobs and foster wealth creation. The good news is that, as Rhein-Hunsrueck and many other leaders are proving, it is possible to do well by doing good.