Letter: Energy sufficiency by the year 2030

We want 100 per cent renewables for electricity generation, transportation, heating and cooling, and we want them by 2030.

On Sunday,  our eyes were on New York, where tens of thousands gathered to protest government inaction on climate change and to demand the world that we know is within reach – a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world better positioned to survive the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.

Funnily, we often hear the opposite, how we can’t afford to deal with climate change in a time of economic recession; how the world we want and need is absolutely not within reach; how we’re not technologically prepared to get there anyway.

But none of that is actually true.  Current technology hasn’t prevented a group of Stanford University professors and research scientists from developing a concrete plan for New York State to meet all of its power needs through renewables by 2030.

The same group has developed similar plans for every U.S. state, and has authored a detailed roadmap for how 100 percent of the world’s energy, for electricity generation, transportation, heating and cooling, could be supplied by wind, water and solar resources by as early as 2030.

On the ground, we find that numerous towns, cities, regions and countries throughout the world have tired of the naysayers and moved ahead on their own.

Just last week, Burlington, VT, announced that it had succeeded in meeting 100 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable sources like wind, water and biomass.   The city of 42,000 did so cost effectively, and became a member of the Washington Electric Co-operative, which reached 100 percent earlier this year.

The cities of Ithaca, NY; Greensburg, KA; and Palo Alto, CA.; also power their communities through 100 percent renewable energy.  Aspen, CO, has achieved 86 percent reliance on renewables, and will reach 100 percent next year.

Numerous neighbourhoods of Los Angeles will achieve 100 percent by 2018, and the cities of San Francisco and Lancaster will get there by 2020, along with all of Marin County.  San Jose and Santa Barbara will be fossil-free by 2022 and 2033 respectively, and East Hampton, NY, will be on board by 2030.

In Europe, the places that have achieved their goals of 100 percent reliance on renewables are too many to list.  In fact, there are places that are producing more clean energy than they even need.  The village of Effelter, Germany, is producing 200 percent of its electricity consumption, while meeting 100 percent of its heating needs with renewable sources.

The municipality of Bruchsmuhlback-Miesau is producing 290 percent of its electricity consumption through renewables.  The town of Wilspoldsried is producing 300 percent of its electricity demands, and will meet 100 percent of its heating and transportation needs by 2020.  The German village of Grossbardorf is producing 400 percent of its electricity and 50 percent of its heating through renewables.  The city of Dardesheim is producing 4000 percent of its electricity demands through wind, solar and biomass.  The town of Kronprinzenkoog is producing 5000 percent.

In Central America, Costa Rica already produces 96 percent of its energy through renewables, and will achieve 100 percent by 2021.  Sydney, Australia has developed a plan to transition to 100 percent renewables by 2030.  According to the plan, about 30 percent of the total mix would come from wind and solar, and 70 percent from waste-to-gas projects involving garbage, sewage plants, landfill sites, livestock, agriculture, and forestry.  And so the story goes in many other places in the world.

Turning to home, what we find instead is a dystopic nightmare – a federal government fighting tooth and nail to protect corporate interests in the phenomenally destructive tar sands, and a provincial government bent on developing new coal mines and an LNG industry that would send greenhouse gas emissions through the roof.  Our country has won numerous Fossil of the Year awards at international climate talks, culminating in a ‘Lifetime Unachievement’ award last year for utter lack of a credible climate policy plan, and for year-after-year blocking of progress at climate conferences.

It should come as no surprise that right here in Kelowna, we have no plan at all for energy self-sufficiency through the development of renewables.

In fact, last year the city sold the only publicly owned electricity utility we had because, it said, large costs for maintaining and upgrading infrastructure were forecast – $70 million over 20 years.  It would be better for the people of Kelowna to become investors rather than owners, Mayor Walter Gray said, by socking the sale proceeds of $55 million into Fortis stocks.

Fortis is the company that bought our electrical utility, which supplied one-third of Kelowna’s energy consumers.

Despite the forecast high costs for maintenance and upgrading, the city in fact had no trouble finding a buyer.  Surely Fortis did the math – an average $3.5 million per year would have to be invested if, and only if, the forecast turned out to be right.  Sixty percent of those costs could be covered by the average annual profit of $2.1 million the utility earns, despite the city having outsourced its operations and maintenance to, you guessed it, Fortis.

Twenty years from now, Fortis will still be the owner-operator of an up-to-date and profitable electricity utility, and the people of Kelowna will still be hanging onto a certificate for stocks that have so far failed to meet the minimum expected earnings by more than two and a half times.  If the stocks ever do reach the maximum expected earnings of $4.8 million a year, imagine what the cost of energy will be for the residents who no longer own and control their electricity utility.

Better news is that the previous city council had the foresight to develop a biogas project at the Glenmore landfill.  The greenhouse gases produced by decomposing garbage were converted to electricity through microturbine technology – enough electricity to run the landfill site itself, with the surplus sold to the Fortis electrical power grid.  It was a perfect world, you might say.

But that changed in 2010 when a business case was made to increase production and to also seek third-party ownership.  It was thought that it would be better for a third-party to provide initial capital investments and carry so-called operating risks.  So the city entered into a 15-year Landfill Gas Management Agreement with Fortis Corporation.  Due to go into production this fall, the project will see the city selling our raw gas for a variable $3.1 to $6.9 million throughout the length of the agreement.  The corporation will convert the raw gas to high grade pipeline gas rather than to electricity, and Kelowna’s residents will buy back the refined product at a much inflated cost.

Did it really have to go this way?  It’s not an easy subject to research and there may be glaring holes in my findings.  What I’ve found is that capital costs for the biogas processing facility, due to open this fall, seem to have been only $1.1 million.  Moreover, it seems these costs will be allocated to customers.  Operations and maintenance costs have been estimated at just $30,000 a year.  So I don’t see any reason for having gone down the path of third-party ownership of our energy resource.

Just the other day in the news, we learned that yet another of our energy resources is escaping our ownership and control.  The city has signed an agreement to pay $1.15 million per year for the next five years to have our biosolids trucked up the highway to Merritt, where the solids will be converted to compost and sold for profit by a private company.  What a gong show.  These biosolids could instead have been processed by our own city for energy consumption.

So I know this has been a very long exercise in listening, and I thank you for your patience.  I’m going to close by asking you to help me put pressure on the candidates for election and re-election to city hall in November to come up with a plan to divest from Fortis and buy back our electrical utility.

And they shouldn’t stop there.  If they want our votes, they should think long and hard about what they’re going to do to achieve 100 percent renewable energy for our community.  In letters to the editor, through tweets and phone calls, at all-candidates’ meetings, we need to hold the line.  We want 100 percent renewables for electricity generation, transportation, heating and cooling, and we want them by 2030.

Dianne VargaKelowna


Kelowna Capital News