City needs renewable energy strategy

Melissa Villeneuve

Lethbridge Herald

An environmental group is calling on the City of Lethbridge to run on 100 per cent renewable energy.

Rena Woss and Knud Petersen, representatives of GREENSENCE Environmental, petitioned city council on Monday to take action to mitigate climate change and implement a renewable energy strategy in the city.

Several cities in the United States have already become, or have committed to becoming, 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy sources, they explained. And they don’t believe there’s any reason Lethbridge couldn’t either.

Southern Alberta has abundant sunshine, wind, geothermal energy and biomass which makes the area ideal to harvest clean energy. They suggested looking at what other municipalities have done to make the transition.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s already happening,” said Woss during the presentation. “What we really need to recognize is this needs to be a priority. It is the greatest threat facing us.”

If Lethbridge took the opportunity, it would become one of the first cities in Canada to run on 100 per cent renewable energy. They also suggested the City provide opportunities and incentives for residents and businesses to install items such as solar panels and other renewable energy options.

Doug Hawkins, the city’s infrastructure director, explained there are regulations that restrict or limit the municipal capacity to be a power producer or retailer, and there are other provincial and local regulations in respect to land-use restrictions for local commercial renewable energy facilities such as solar panels, windmills or geothermal, etc.

Mayor Chris Spearman asked for any specific ideas for council to consider. He also wondered whether they were aware of some of the steps the City has already taken toward preserving the environment, including solar panel projects and the signing of the Southern Alberta Water Charter for water conservation.

Woss said she was aware.

“I think the main thing is to remove barriers,” she said. “There are regulations in place right now, but given the gravity of what we’re facing I think it’s time to start working on eliminating those barriers and opening the door as much as we can in collaborating with anybody and everybody so that we’re a collective part of the solution.”

Besides offering renewable energy incentives and grants, Petersen said one suggestion to encourage its use would be “to shift the burden of set fees on the electricity bill.”

“For example, line charges, etc. would combine with electricity used to a much larger degree. Installing solar and/or using less energy would become much more attractive,” he said. “So the more you use, the more line fees you would be paying. I think there’s some strategies there that could be utilized.”

Councillor Jeff Carlson asked for clarity on fee structures and whether they are out of the city’s control.

Hawkins reponded that the province, through the Alberta Utility Commission, has “made it very prescriptive” over the years as to how they describe the bill and as a line services provider have to separate and show the charges on the bill as compared to a retailer.

“While that suggestion may have some merit, we don’t have locally the authority to change that in that fashion,” he said. “We actually have to get the province through the Alberta Utility Commission to actually authorize that kind of a change which ultimately will flow through the costs of energy in this province.”

Petersen said he would be in favour of petitioning the proper authorities to change that.

Woss and Petersen encouraged council to read the information they provided, to get informed, and attend more meetings.

They agreed to send council a list of what cities are already doing as well as best practices – what has or hasn’t worked.

Environment Lethbridge was present in the audience and Woss suggested perhaps they can look at those strategies “that can help us mirror ourselves with those cities.”

The presentation will be considered as information as council heads into its four-year strategic planning process.