Canadian municipalities serious about the post-carbon transition should abandon earnest declarations of formal 100% RE targets—avowals which promise far more than cities can actually deliver—and instead focus on facilitating that transition, writes University of Guelph geographer and community activist Kirby Calvert, in a recent post for Policy Options.
“Municipalities across Canada face two significant obstacles to achieving what they promise,” writes Calvert, the first being that “cities currently have very little regulatory authority over the sources of energy that give us electricity, heat, and motorized transportation.”
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While “technologies and business models are evolving to bring renewable options to users of heating and transport fuels,” he adds, “the kind of structural change that is required to see that through is well beyond the control of municipal government,” with provinces currently making all substantial decisions pertaining to energy supply and the regulation and operation of delivery systems like electricity grids.
Calvert also points out that, in fact, “most of the cities that claim to have achieved 100% RE are referring to their electricity use only, and are not including the energy they use for heat or transport.”
The second problem with 100% RE targets, says Calvert, is that “the average city consumes at least twice as much energy as can be produced within city limits.” Which means a complete 100% RE target, especially if it includes heating and transport, “will require the recovery of renewable energy in farmland, forests, lakes, oceans, and other spaces far away from our borders.”
Given that a 100% RE target is currently more aspirational than anything else—and alienating to constituents who might not be keen on local councils taking it upon themselves to frame a city’s identity in these terms—“a more effective and less politicized use of municipal staff time and council meetings is to leverage their real power and mandate to develop projects and programs that will generate the kinds of change required to meet a 100% RE future,” Calvert suggests.
Such efforts could include “helping utilities to deliver energy conservation and energy efficiency programs either through awareness-raising initiatives or, more directly, through bylaw changes,” and “brokering relationships with utilities, landowners, and the community at large to identify opportunities for generating local renewable energy beyond municipally-owned land and infrastructure.”
Rather than engaging in essentially empty branding exercises, he adds, cities need to “get to work facilitating the transition and ensuring that it benefits [their communities] through targeted and politically defensible actions.”