Clean Power City

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As evidence of climate change fallout and energy resource scarcity mounts, the marketplace for sustainable forms of electricity, fuel, and materials booms.

Sustainable energy is a broad term that includes both renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Both of these areas have experienced runaway success, with annual average growth of 30 per cent since the late 90s. Leadership in mobilizing these important industries has come from Europe and Japan, predominantly, but the United States is rising quickly to regain some of the former glory in claimed in the 1970s, when it was the world’s clean energy champion.

Canada, regrettably, has been lethargic about its approach to developing its sustainable energy potential, aside from large-scale hydropower. Despite huge potential resources in wind, solar, and even tidal energy, the country has not shown great motivation in pushing forward with their exploration or commercialization. Our uptake of wind power, for example, has lagged far behind the U.S. and Europe, despite fabulous wind capacity in a number of regions. This is now rapidly beginning to change, as developers and provincial governments begin to work seriously together, and the federal government rolls out its EcoEnergy Technology Initiative. Alberta, Quebec, and Ontario, for example, are adding substantial amounts of wind power in their energy mixes. Canada currently stands at more than 1,670 megawatts of wind, enough to power around 350,000 homes.  

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What’s been happening in B.C and, specifically, Victoria? Both in politics and business, there are positive signs of change. Premier Gordon Campbell has made a string of announcements this year, beginning with the throne speech and followed by the green-hued BC Energy Plan. A strategy for tackling B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions with concrete action, bringing them to levels 33 per cent lower than they are today, was recently described by Campbell at the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual conference. However, clearly master plans and task forces will not achieve the cuts. Government leadership is key, and after 30 years of global warming warnings, is appearing at last. The enthusiasm of the consumer and the quality of sustainable development alternatives offered by the marketplace will largely determine society’s success in transmuting the economy from carbon-based to clean-powered. The most meaningful action from government might well be “tax-shifting,” which provides generous tax breaks for low-emission purchases and developments, and higher taxes for those who choose to remain carbon-intensive.

Victoria has been slowly transforming itself from a quaint tourist destination into a high technology hub. Sustainability innovators and developers are becoming an important driver in this new economic force. Why has the area become a destination for green entrepreneurs and who are these energizing local companies motivated to provide solutions for climate change and resource scarcity challenges?

They include renewable energy and energy efficiency proponents, such as wind power firms Aeolis Windpower and Earthfirst Energy. Both companies are based in the CRD, and both are breaking ground through the fall and winter on their first wind farm projects in B.C.’s Peace River country.

“Basically, the climate and West Coast lifestyle is what convinced the company’s president to make this area home, and the whole operation followed suite,” says Colleen Brown, a development officer with Aeolis Windpower, which is based in Sidney.  

The dynamic and diverse sector of solar energy is well represented in the Victoria region, both in electric and thermal capacities. Carmanah Technologies needs little introduction, having been based here since 1998. Again, the president felt inclined to make the CRD his home, and Dr. David Green’s company has flourished in this location. Now with offices in Calgary, California, and the UK, Carmanah has made an impact on the worldwide market for solar power systems and high-efficiency lighting solutions. Recently undergoing changes in upper management, the organization is manoeuvering from a medium-sized company to a major player in the sustainable-energy arena.

Energy Alternatives is a company that has existed on Vancouver Island for over 20 years. Originally from the off-grid paradise of Lasqueti Island, it was purchased in March 2000 by Kevin Pegg and has grown into an operation employing eight people full time. Now headquartered on Victoria’s northern outskirts, Energy Alternatives ships photovoltaic, small wind and micro-hydro components, to its dealer network across the country. It also performs installations of back-up and complementary power systems throughout B.C.

At least three solar thermal companies are positioned in Victoria to provide what is probably one of the most effective and affordable forms of solar energy for the green buyer. Solar hot water systems do not require the clear sunny skies that solar electric systems do and are effective year-round at reducing the amount of natural gas or electricity used by the home or business owner. Thermomax Industries, Solarcrest, and Ambient Source are providing a healthy spirit of competition in this potentially explosive sector of the green energy industry. In the case of these firms, it is likely that their decision to base here is influenced by the high percentage of progressive home owners in the area.

All of the solar firms above are members of the BC Sustainable Energy Association and can be contacted through the comprehensive Sustainable Energy Directory found on its website (www.bcsea.org). This organization formed in Victoria in 2004 and has grown to be an influential provincial body, with self-organizing chapters in eight different regions of B.C.

Victoria’s sustainable development industry also includes green builders and carbon-trading brokers. The Cascadia chapter of the Canadian Green Building Council website lists 65 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professionals as active in Victoria, with more in the surrounding area (www.cagbc.org). The Emerging Green Builders, which is the youth arm of the organization, also has a chapter here. Their activities centre on creating opportunities for students and young professionals seeking involvement in the green building sector. And, local builders seeking a source for materials for green projects need soon look no further than Vivo Depot. Run by Allison Ashcroft, this firm is being set up to provide green exterior and interior building supplies, as well as project assessment and development services.  

Looking for answers and possible carbon-trading solutions as a way to mitigate your business’s greenhouse gas emissions? Victoria-based Carbon Networks is a company committed to providing comprehensive carbon-trading solutions and strategies. More than a simple offset broker, they are involved worldwide in the actual development of carbon-trading markets that are effective in leveraging conventional business activity to accelerate the development of carbon-neutral economies.   

Collectively, these types of businesses can transform capitalism’s effect on our environment from a destructive liability to a restorative asset. Leadership for this transformation seems to be coalescing in the Capital Regional District, providing opportunities for the entire business community to make effective commitments towards a sustainable future.