Saanich embarks on path to completely renewable energy

Council sets goal to move towards 100 per cent renewable energy sources by 2050

Coun. Dean Murdock praises plans by council to move towards 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050

Coun. Dean Murdock praises plans by council to move towards 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050

Audience members representing a broad coalition of local interests applauded as Saanich council passed a motion Monday night that supports moving the district and community at large towards the goal of 100 per cent renewable energy.

But the public also heard that Saanich is failing to meet its current goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) said to be responsible for climate change.

Council unanimously approved the motion with its various parts after hearing from a wide range of interests in support of a report from the British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA) that called on council to adopt the goal of using 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. Speakers included local environmentalists, churches, students and First Nations urging council to adopt the measure and establish a model for other communities to follow.

“I appreciate all of the support this evening. There is clearly a lot of energy and enthusiasm on this [issue],” said Coun. Dean Murdock. “And I believe with the kind of drive and desire that we heard this evening, there is a lot of willingness to participate as a community to make Saanich really a community that can demonstrate that we are walking the talk, getting ourselves on renewable and cutting greenhouse gas emissions even more.”

Coun. Vicki Sanders agreed in stressing the importance of setting real targets and ensuring public support. “And that’s the big thing,” she said.

“As a municipality, we perhaps can achieve 100 per cent renewable energy. But we really have to get the public to realize the advantages of this.”

Council has tasked staff to prepare a number of reports spelling out, among other things, terms of references for a plan towards the costs of moving towards 100 per cent renewable energy sources.

BCSEA had prepared the report as part and parcel of Saanich’s Climate Action Plan passed in 2010 that commits Saanich to reduce municipal greenhouse gases by 50 per cent by 2020 and community emissions by 33 per cent by 2020 from 2007 levels.

By these measures, the goal towards 100 per cent of renewable energy appears more ambitious, since it would eliminate all GHGs, an “urgent need,” according to the report, if the long-term effects of global warming and climate disruption are to be minimized.

But if Monday’s applause is a measure of support by the public for council’s direction, the audience also heard that the district is currently not meeting previously established goals.

According to Rebecca Newlove, Saanich’s new manager of sustainability, the district experienced some setbacks on its road towards reducing its corporate emissions through the refurbishment of existing infrastructure.

“We are currently around about 14 per cent reduction towards the 2020 target, which is 50 per cent reduction from 2007 levels. But there is an expectation with the facility changes that are coming online, that [emissions] are about to decrease quite substantially in coming years. But it is correct to state that we are not on track for the 2020 target.”

As for community emissions, they are more difficult to track, she said.

“But at the moment, it does not show that we would make major improvements towards that 33 per cent reduction [figure] by 2020.”

Several cities, including Vancouver and Victoria in B.C. have seen this [initiative] as opportunity to reinvigorate their climate action plans, committing to both an 80 [per cent] GHG reduction target…and 100 [per cent] renewable energy target by 2050 for both the corporation and community,” said Sharon Hvozdanski, director of planning, in a report to council.

Council made this decision in the first meeting after the death of Coun. Vic Derman, a champion of efforts to fight climate change and several speakers in favour of the measure referenced his legacy in their remarks.

Marion Pape, BCSEA’s past chair, evoked Derman’s commitment towards global sustainability in her presentation asking council to support the initiative.

“A fitting tribute to Coun. Derman would be a unanimous recommendation from council to go 100 per cent renewable energy, to make that declaration, by 2050, or preferably, earlier, I hope you will agree with me to do it for Vic,” she said.

Judy Gaylord, a member of the Social Responsibility Coalition at the First Unitarian Church at Victoria, said Derman would have strongly pushed for the initiative in calling on council to approve it.

“I – like (Pape) — cannot think of a more meaningful memorial to Vic’s years of principled work on climate change,” she said.

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