Original Published on Jul 13, 2022 at 10:02

By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Just over one year ago, the MD and Town of Pincher Creek joined forces to enter the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre program. The program allows for an energy manager to work with both municipalities to identify ways to lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower energy costs by increasing operation efficiency.

Tristan Walker updated both councils this past month on how the program is going so far.

A major focus has been completing energy scans to identify how facilities are using energy and identifying measures to increase efficiency. More than 20 scans still need to occur.

One hundred and fifty-eight energy conservation measures have been completed, such as retrofitting lights in facilities and removing the lights on the town’s welcome signs. Over $20,000 has been saved in energy costs, dropping greenhouse gas emissions by almost 220 tons.

Reducing emissions is a major focus with the federal government’s carbon tax increasing each year to $170 per ton by 2030. Shrinking a municipality’s carbon footprint has the potential to save a lot of money; currently, the town spends $850,000 per year on energy. If nothing were to change in its energy consumption, the town would pay $500,000 per year just in carbon taxes by 2030.

A key part in saving energy and reducing emissions is utilizing the knowledge of municipal employees, Walker says.

“This is one of the most important parts, because the staff are the ones that are in that facility every day and they’re going to have ideas and knowledge about how the facility is used and how to save energy,” he says.

The buy-in for staff, Walker continues, has been exceptional.

“When you have staff doing things on their own or bringing ideas to me, it makes my job a lot easier to identify what things to target.”

For example, the maintenance manager for the arena and pool recognized the output for a filter pump was higher than needed; by reducing it to match the needed level, the town saved $4,000 last year.

Changing small, daily habits, like turning off a light when leaving a room or programming the thermostat to a lower temperature at night, also makes a difference.

Other projects like improving the insulation in the multipurpose facility and completing an engineering study for the arena have also been completed.

The MCCAC program provides grants and funding for municipal projects, meaning the MD and town spent only $33,923 last year. Without the program rebates, the cost would have been over $127,000.

Projects for the next year include updating the town’s street lights and arena ice plant, and installing solar panels on municipal buildings. Project completions will depend on municipal budgets and available grants, though the anticipated emissions reduction over the next year is 150 tons, with $29,000 saved.

Additionally, both the MD and town are working to enter the Clean Energy Improvement Program, which will offer loans to residents and businesses to outfit their properties with technology to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions.

The program involves each municipality working with the Alberta Municipal Services Corp. to create a bylaw that would give property owners access to financing options for their project.

Property owners could then register through CEIP and select program-approved contractors to do the work; upon completion and approval from CEIP, the municipality would then provide the funds for the CEIP to pay the contractor.

The municipality would then recoup costs by applying the project cost to yearly payments included as part of the property tax. Because the loan is tied to the property and not the owner, payments would continue even if the original owner sold the property.

CEIP allows municipalities to finance projects through banks or other institutions like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Town council will have first reading for the CEIP bylaw at the end July and the MD will present its bylaw in September. Both the MD and town are projected to be in the program’s  first cohort of 2023.

Another grant both the MD and town are applying for is the climate resiliency grant, which would pay for studies to identify local risks associated with climate change and plans on how to address those risks.

For example, the first study analyzing climate risks could assess risks of forest fires and plan how to control fuel distribution to limit where fires burn and how easily they spread; the study would also provide modelling to predict how many fires could occur over the next several decades. The second study would then analyze what local firefighting resources are currently available and what would need to change to address the increased risk of fire.

Normally $80,000 is available for the first study, but since both municipalities are applying together, $160,000 could be received. Total amounts of funding for the second study would be determined after receiving the first-stage funding.

The climate resiliency grant will be applied for in September.

Overall, Walker says addressing energy usage is helping the community put its best foot forward as a leader in sustainability.

“We’re creating a community that people value and want to be a part of,” he says.

“These kinds of efforts enable people to see Pincher Creek as the leader that they are, and help them know they can come into a town that’s pushing forward the boundaries of sustainability.”

This item reprinted from Shootin’ the Breeze, Pincher Creek, Alberta