- Jay Heaman, Manager of Strategic Initiatives, Oxford County
- Matt Horne, Climate Policy Manager, City of Vancouver
- Steve Young, Climate and Environmental Sustainability Specialist, City of Victoria
Three unique municipalities in Canada have committed to power, heat and provide transportation in their cities with 100% renewable energy by 2050; two in British Columbia and one in Ontario, the west coast and central Canada, respectively. Equally unique are the drivers behind their decisions the rationales behind their strategies.
Jay Heaman opened the session with the story of the Mayor of City of Woodstock, in the County of Oxford, Ontario, finding the inspiration at Renewable Cities’ first Global Learning Forum in 2015. At that time, Oxford learned about a planning framework the Global 100%RE Platform developed, currently known as the Building Blocks of 100% Renewable Energy. Using the Building Blocks would ensure Oxford’s planning could be held up to an international standard. Once the components of the system were identified, Smart Energy Oxford moved to establish a baseline for energy use and then to create pilot projects.
The third municipality in Canada to commit to 100% renewable energy in Canada, the City of Victoria, British Columbia, set the target in August 2017. The decision aligns with the current direction of the Canadian federal government and with the emissions reduction target set by the Province of British Columbia. Steve Young said the main thrust of the strategy is to support renewable energy markets and to lead in collaboration with corporate partners. Recognizing that partnerships are vital to driving change, Young also pointed out the importance of speaking to the values people hold, to gain their support and drive action.
Having committed to 100% renewable energy in 2015, the City of Vancouver represented by Matt Horne was able to provide specifics about the Renewable City Strategy. At the core of the plan are the principles of:
- Keeping costs down;
- Thinking creatively about conflicts that arise; and
- Making viable choices more available.
Vancouver’s current areas of focus are on building capacity in Passive House construction, investing in active transportation (walking, cycling, transit), and creating EV charging infrastructure. In the four months Horne has been with the City of Vancouver, he has been hosting citizens in workshops that illustrate local solutions, which he says get people excited, “A Chevy Bolt can be driven to Whistler and back—that gets the excitement going.”
Participants opened the dialogue with ways cities could more effectively navigate conflict with their natural gas utility, such as the public tensions playing out between Vancouver and Fortis BC. Horne recommends leveraging communications by supporters, such as NGOs and academics, early on, when the target is first introduced and opening a variety of spaces and opportunities for engagement early on, to define how the discourse is framed.
In response to a question about what drives the decision to make a 100% renewable energy commitment, Jay Heaman credited Oxford County’s elected leaders. Another participant, also from a city with a 100% renewable energy target, said that without working backwards from a goal, the town would have floundered working through incremental steps. Similarly, the City of Vancouver’s staff were grateful to have a specific target to work towards and while City Council had some internal disagreements, there were none from the public.
The City of Victoria’s staff recognized the challenges involved but after seeing what other municipalities are doing, even with many unknowns, they saw that the 100% renewable energy target has vision and meaning. Another participant said their city’s commitment was not a top-down decision, rather it was driven by a citizen movement and was based on building a strong local economy and jobs and public health benefits.
A German participant suggested that outlining the vision and goals of 100% renewable energy are crucial for effective engagement. The City of Victoria concentrated on engaging individuals, one-on-one, and asked how the city could help them increase their efforts. Messaging about developing local jobs was commonly mentioned as an engagement approach, especially in the building industry. Also, highlighting private sector companies that have the same goals illustrates that the municipality is aligned with other leaders in the region.
Municipalities set 100% renewable energy targets for a variety of reasons and take a variety of approaches. Some key takeaways from this session are:
- The driving force behind ambitious renewable energy targets can come from the top down or bottom up, but they all point to local economic benefits as a significant rationale for adoption.
- There remain many unknowns, so a 100% renewable energy target requires “a lot of good will to move forward” and working collaboratively.
- Locally-relevant solutions inspire people and get them excited about the energy transition.