Dawson Creek hopes to be a shining example to the rest of Canada of how solar power can be incorporated into urban planning.
On Saturday, the City of Dawson Creek will be announced as the first official “Solar City” in Canada by The Canadian Solar Cities Project, a newly-formed, federally-registered and locally-based, non-profit corporation dedicated to promoting solar technologies and sustainable communities throughout the country.
“Dawson Creek’s been a leader for the last decade in really all levels of being a renewable and sustainable city and really incorporating solar power into the city,” said Bob Haugen, executive director of The Canadian Solar Cities Project. “Basically, Dawson Creek was the city that started all of the sustainability activities across the country.”
He said that work really began with the late former mayor, Calvin Kruk, and former city planner, Emanuel Machado, who now works for the District of Sechelt.
“They kind of launched this whole idea of doing energy planning and looking at the energy use of the city and finding out renewable ways of providing that energy,” said Haugen.
Kruk was the co-chair of the “100,000 Solar Roofs Project,” an effort initiated by Solar BC to equip 100,000 homes and businesses across the province with solar water heating systems.
“I’m not sure how far they went – I think when the downturn in the economy happened it kind of derailed some of the plans, and then, of course, Calvin passed away,” said Haugen.
Machado was instrumental in creating Dawson Creek’s Energy Plan, which Haugen said became the model for energy plans across the country. He added the City is not just a leader in promoting solar energy, but also in using it in its own operations, such as installing solar hot water and solar photovoltaic systems on many public buildings, as well as solar panels on installations such as street lights and bus shelters. This year, the City also implemented a solar hot water readiness regulation that requires all new homes built in the city to have conduits that will allow for the installation solar domestic hot water systems.
It was Machado who suggested the idea to Haugen to create criteria for what would make a “Canadian Solar City” as a thesis he was writing for a masters degree four years ago. Haugen said the idea had already proven successful as a way to promote more energy-efficient cities across the world.
“All across the world – in Australia, Europe and Asia – there are solar city projects which are set up to make cities more renewable and more sustainable in energy use,” he said. “The policies that cities put in place affect the majority of people in a country, because it’s about 80 per cent or more people who live in cities in developed countries. When mayors, councils and city administration set policies for energy, it trickles down to the community in a direct way.”
He set up the criteria for the project based on international models, but after submitting that criteria to 25 Canadian cities – as well as organizations like the Canadian Solar Industries Association, Natural Resources Canada and the federal and provincial Ministries of Environment – that criteria was changed to match the Canadian context. That criteria includes having greenhouse gas reduction and community energy plans in place, establishing incentives for residential and commercial ratepayers to utilize solar power, policies that encourage and promote energy-efficiency projects and efficient land-use planning, among others.
“It’s truly a made-in-Canada set of criteria for solar cities,” he said.
It’s now been five years since he started the project, and Haugen said there are a lot of cities across the country that would now qualify as “Solar Cities,” but he said it was only fitting to make Dawson Creek the first Solar City as the place where it all started.
It probably didn’t hurt that The Canadian Solar Cities Project board of directors all have a Dawson Creek connection – the board includes Machado; Melanie Turcotte, who is the City of Dawson Creek’s sustainability clerk; city councillor Cheryl Shuman; and Walter Angreeff, a former employee of BP Canada who was on the building committee for Northern Lights College’s Energy House and helped to secure the solar panels for the building.
Haugen said Angreeff’s work with BP on using solar and wind to power natural gas development as an example of how Dawson Creek can be a leader in renewable resource development and promotion while simultaneously being in the midst of an oil and gas boom.
“When you look at the companies involved in manufacturing solar panels – BP is the fifth largest manufacturer of solar panels in the world. Shell is a big player in the wind energy field, they manufacture wind turbines. Most of the major oil and gas companies are becoming energy companies, they’re expanding their operations into the clean energy side as well.”
He said that’s a reality of those companies knowing that oil and gas are finite resources, and knowing the impacts the combustion of those fuels are having on global climate change.
“That’s why, in the Peace country, we have an advantage because we have wonderful solar and wind resources, but we also have this wonderful oil and gas resource we can draw from, and we’re on the cutting edge of all those things.”
In terms of solar resources, Haugen said Dawson Creek has an almost unmatched potential.
“I think Estevan, Saskatchewan, is the best place in the country, and Victoria has a really good solar resource, but the Peace country is right up there with the best, we have a fantastic solar resource. For hours of sunshine here, we’re much higher than Germany and Japan, and those are the countries that use more solar than any other countries in the world.”
He said BC Hydro’s net metering program essentially eliminates the intermittency of solar power by allowing ratepayers to essentially build up a credit of electricity generated during sunny days to be used at nighttime or cloudy periods.
“Solar has become so much less expensive than it used to be,” he added. “It’s now really cost-effective to have solar on your home, so every homeowner should have solar on their home if they have south-facing access on their roof, because it will offset the cost of their utilities, and over the course of time, pay for it.”
He said there are even panels now that adjust to the direction of where the sun is shining, though they are quite a bit more expensive than fixed panels.
With Energy House, Dawson Creek is a centre for demonstrating and training in clean energy technologies, including solar power. Haugen, who is Northern Lights College’s co-ordinator for renewable energy programs, said the college’s involvement with renewable energy programs began with training plumbers in solar hot water systems.
“We did that all across the province, so we were the training centre in B.C. for the Canadian Solar Industries Association. When we started the training, we had one certified solar hot water system installer in B.C., and we hired him to be our instructor, and now I think there’s about 150. We have more certified solar hot water system installers than in any other province in the country, and that all started right here.”
He said that programming has now expanded into a comprehensive Certificate in Applied Clean Energy Technology program being offered in October, which has broad applications in different career paths.
“There’s quite a demand right now for people going into the electrical trade, but with photovoltaic experience,” said Haugen. “Right now in the oil and gas industry, a lot of their remote installations are done with solar. It’s kind of ironic, working in the oil and gas industry installing solar products!”
Energy House will host the Solar City announcement on Saturday, in conjunction with “Solar Days,” an annual public event celebrating and promoting the uses of solar energy in the city. The event, which goes from 1 to 5 p.m., will include a free barbecue, kite-flying and solar oven demonstrations, as well as tours of Energy House, all at no cost.
Councillor Cheryl Shuman encouraged the public to come down to the Energy House learn more about solar power.
“We have an amazing solar resource in the North,” she said. “I know people think not, but we really do. We have an amazing resource, so we might as well benefit from it.”
Shuman, who is also chair of the BC Sustainable Energy Association in the South Peace, said solar power has been a focus of the City, and she is particularly excited about the new solar readiness requirement and the possibilities for expanding solar power to residential applications.
“That’s a really big thing because it really makes it easy for people,” she said. “A retrofit will cost you several thousands of dollars, whereas to put it in initially when you build a house is several hundred dollars, so that’s something will move that along.”
She added with the City’s new energy manager, a position paid for by BC Hydro for a one-year term, she is confident they will continue to find more energy-saving, sustainable initiatives that will include solar power.