Dyer: Summerland envy

Kristy Dyer is a columnist for Black Press Media who writes about the environment

Summerland has been in the news recently, as they have chosen a site for their six million dollar solar array. What is remarkable about Summerland is what they have done in addition to their municipal utility-scale array.. Since 2017 they have brought in $450,000 in clean energy funding. All 12 major municipal buildings have been audited for energy efficiency. Summerland is in the process of converting their parks department equipment to electric. They are using a new technology (Realice) at the ice arena, where treated water makes it possible to make denser ice without heating the water. All of the non-decorative street lights have now been converted to LEDs.

READ MORE: Have a say in Vernon’s Climate Action Plan

What makes Summerland significantly different from the rest of the Okanagan towns? There’s a few things. Summerland runs their own electric utility, purchasing from the wholesale market. This is unusual in British Columbia. Only Summerland, Penticton, Grand Forks, New Westminster, and Nelson have the utility under control of the town council. This encourages long term thinking about electricity price and makes it easier to make changes. Whether it is reducing paperwork for residential solar to connect to the grid, or building their own utility-scale solar farm, the “yes” and “no” decisions are in house, rather than negotiated with utility giants.

Running your own municipal electric utility brings “yes” and “no” decisions in-house

It does help that they have a full time Sustainability/Alternative Energy Coordinator on staff. Tami Rothery has been researching, promoting, and coordinating grants especially for the Solar+Storage project. In my column on

“What to do with a climate action plan”

I mentioned that Columbus, Wisconsin (pop 4,991) received a single $40,000 grant from its energy wholesaler. Faced with the fact that it was the only money they had for climate change and it was a one-time offer, they used the money to fund a new employee charged with economic development+sustainability. The newhire recruited companies with sustainable policies to relocate to Columbus and found more sources of funding. Columbus has now made it a permanent position. Clearly having a full time staff member not only increases options available to the elected officials, it also provide the women-hours needed to put in successful grant proposals, bringing in external funding.

READ MORE: Kelowna community group urges the city to do more in the fight climate change

Tami points out that Summerlands activities predate both her and her staff position: the ball got rolling in the 2011 Community Climate Action Plan, and was given momentum in the Council’s 2015-2019 strategic plan. “Our community has long recognized the value of climate action as well as renewable energy to our local economy and residents”. Because Summerland residents are committed, they elect a similarly committed council. Tami points out “(T)he real kudos belong to Council. They set the direction of the community, establish the budgets”.

”(T)he real kudos belong to Council. They set the direction of the community, establish the budgets”

Even with the focus on building the solar+storage project, Summerland is busy on other fronts. They are waiting to hear back about $575,000 worth of funding for electric vehicle chargers. Future work includes finalizing the “corporate” (which here means “local government”) climate action plan, doing a risk and vulnerability assessment that includes risks related to climate change, and are looking to implement the actions in a newly-updated community energy and emissions reduction plan. The Okanagan is a special place, it could be at the forefront of Canada’s energy revolution. We just need more towns emulating Summerland.

READ MORE: Peachland looks to hire climate action coordinator

Is your Okanagan town doing great things with their climate action plan? Or do you have a clean energy boondoggle? Tell me about it at Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com

Missed last week’s column?

Dyer: The road we didn’t take

About Kristy Dyer:

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com

Kristy’s articles are archived at teaspoonenergy.blogspot.com

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