Energy Connections broke new ground this year, tackling the difficult but inspiring topic of community empowerment. People from across BC, heralding from various different backgrounds and industries, united under one roof for a day of information, inspiration and engaging dialogue.
Looking back on the event as a whole, it is difficult to envision a more appropriate keynote speaker to kick off this incredible day; a day marked by passionate and like-minded individuals learning from one another and engaging in the broad vision of sustainable energy.
With her countless years of experience fighting on the frontlines of old growth forest logging sites and representing environmental interests on the Climate Leadership Team, Tzeporah Berman was able to engage with the audience on a personal level, reinvigorating and inspiring all attendees. She highlighted the role of the past lost decade of climate policy in making Canada a nation of resistance and creating unlikely alliances between Indigenous leaders, environmentalists, scientists, unions, and many more. More locally, she expressed the frustration many citizens in BC feel towards the years of steps backwards in the province’s role as a climate leader.
Tzeporah’s first key message was that policy and legislative change is critical in climate policy, and that citizens need to engage in these big debates; kitchens tables is where this all begins. Citizens need to take control of politics and raise their voices regarding the future they want.
“In critical moments of social change throughout history we are required to take a stand,” explained Tzeporah, ”and this stand is working: no pipeline proposed from the oil sands in the past eight years has been built. And that is all because of community organizing. All of this adds up to building a stronger climate movement.”
Her second message drove it home; “governments come and go, but communities don’t”. Change happens in our communities, and our role as students, educators, leaders, parents, citizens, and voters is to organize and ensure that our elected officials prioritize climate justice. “We are living the tipping point moment, we are re-envisioning industrial society”.
She concluded her speech with a powerful vision. “One day we will tell your grandchildren of this crazy time in our history when we clawed at the earth to gather the last of the oil, when we logged our old-growth forest into catalogues, when we used to fuel our cars with gas, and they will barely believe us, because the world will be such a different place.”
Session 1 – The Program and Policy Landscape
Led by none other than James Glave, communications expert, Session One gave a clear understanding of the high-level framework of policies currently in place in BC. James' panel of speakers provided an insightful analysis on the current political and program landscape surrounding renewable energy in BC. City of Vancouver's Climate Policy Manager, Matt Horne, opened with a highly optimistic and informative outlook on the Renewable Cities Strategy approved by the City of Vancouver, which he will be working towards in the development of a 5 year Action Plan. The objective of the city is to meet 100% of all energy means with renewable energy before 2050 also following the associated emission reduction targets to get us there.
The strategy will be pushing for super-efficient buildings, enhancing the transportation system to be more cyclable and walkable, as well as reducing waste and capturing methane from the inevitable waste.
Matt provided some insight into the policy tools the city has at its disposal. In terms of building codes, all new buildings by 2030 will be zero-emission regardless of height; there will be a push for high speed charging infrastructure to be within range of 100% of Vancouverites, an increase in zero carbon heating systems, and an increase in safe walking and cycling spaces.
Matt recognized that the objective of sustainability is in line with Vancouverite’s interests and as such, it is imperative to act in response to climate change. While he recognized the city’s vibrant economy in the past decade, he also acknowledged the affordability crisis, hoping the strategy can complement a broader set of solutions. Matt stressed to not restrict choice, but to enhance choice for all Vancouverites. He will strive to ensure environmental objectives are met, while ultimately providing available and affordable sustainability choices to Vancouverites.
Judith Sayers expanded on First Nations’ desire to be involved in the renewable energy sector as well as the current opportunities and general energy setting they find themselves in. Judith mentioned that there are at least 125 First Nations involved in clean energy, some with several projects. She also discussed the challenging affordability of diesel and electricity in remote communities and the potential solutions that renewable energy can pose. In some cases, these communities receive government funding to develop clean energy projects, but then have no buyers to sell that energy to; this is particularly relevant in light of potential large infrastructure projects such as the Site C dam.
Judith spoke to how numerous First Nation bands are being directly affected by climate change, such as the warming ocean temperatures affecting fish, severe droughts and snowfall seasons. As a result of these tangible impacts, bands across BC are looking to take action and become energy independent. Judith ultimately expressed optimism in light of the coming provincial election and the prospect of new legislation that will be more closely aligned in accordance with First Nations interests and values.
The discussion began on a common theme to all speakers and really to the entire event: cooperation between different levels of government and communities. The panelists agreed that the clean energy sector is very active in term of partnerships with First Nations across Canada. Judith expressed her disappointment with the recent year’s step backwards in relationship building between BC’s provincial government and First Nations. Clean Energy BC Executive Director, Paul Kariya, provided some insight into the failed state of BC’s only incentive – the Standing Offer Program, and added that there are only limited opportunities for private power producers to sell electricity.
Questions were raised on the barriers to exporting of renewable energy to neighboring states in the US. Paul Kariya explained that negotiations around the use of BC’s clean energy in the US, but that such talks failed ultimately due to the provincial government’s commitment to the highly prolific, arbitrage revenues coming from BC Hydro.
The final question of the discussion asked how we can change the conversation and make sustainability the new norm at the community level. Paul’s answer to this question lies in radical campaigns to tone down levels of consumerism in our societies. Matt explained that so much of the transition is invisible and not noticeable to the common eye, and how the construction of even the world’s largest passive house development (taking place in Vancouver) can remain largely unnoticed. We need to find ways of communicating the sustainability transition and blending it into the conversation on a personal level. Paul added that there is a need for a radical and local commitment to individualism as well as a structural change led by governments. Tzeporah wrapped up the discussion by bringing up that what motivates people to action is not education, but rather the potential for opportunity.
“How can we motivate people to engage, so that they see that their actions are going to make a difference?”
This was just Part One of a two-part series on Energy Connections 2017. Take a read through Part Two and find out what else happened on the day!