The best way for communities to identify their sources of energy consumption and GHG emissions is through the completion of a Community Energy Plan (CEP). This initiative provides a foundation for program, policy and investment decision-making for community leaders and organizations.
The main purpose of a community energy plan is to identify and quantify sources of energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions and to develop a broad strategy for improving energy efficiency and adopting renewables and local energy resources. The strategy can help communities reduce the use of carbon-intensive fuel such as oil, natural gas, propane, and gasoline, reduce exposure to commodity prices and utility costs, and become more resilient and independent.
Additionally, investments in energy conservation, renewable generation, and transportation efficiency contribute to keeping money invested in the local economy and the creation of local jobs, while establishing collective community and social objectives.
When it comes down to it, the goal of an effective CEP is to help communities save money, reduce emissions, and improve livability. But how does such a plan get started? What kind of funding is available to support the plan? And what kind of real-world benefits can be achieved? These are the topics in today’s post!
It Starts with Community Engagement to Inform Recommendations
When a community reaches out to an energy consultant or partner to help them develop a plan, it’s usually because they have already identified some ideas or issues they want to act on. The first stage of developing a plan involves consulting with both community leaders and residents to identify the biggest issues in the community. Community engagement is key – it’s important that community members are given the opportunity to provide suggestions as to what they would like to pursue, rather than being told what needs to be done.
After discussing and identifying goals and initiatives, the next step is to assess and develop an energy consumption baseline: basically, this involves identifying the current state of things and defining specific challenges and problems in the community. This baseline assessment will occur across all sectors of the community and pull available data from various sources. The baseline assessment will measure energy consumption from all sources and calculate baseline emissions from those sources.
After establishing an energy and emission baseline for the community, a community energy plan will set out broad short, medium and long-term goals and targets for reducing energy and emissions in the community.
Building on the specific goals and targets that have been identified, it’s time to make some qualitative recommendations. These could include:
- Identifying potential programs and initiatives that target implementation of Energy Conservation Measures for public, commercial and residential buildings (insulation, improved weather sealing, LED lighting, etc.)
- Investing in renewable on-site energy generation and community/district energy projects (e.g. Solar PV, Geothermal, etc.)
- Improving community infrastructure and social services (e.g. paving roads, revamping waste collection)
- Identifying potential economic initiatives or partnerships to attract business and improve local employment prospects.
Community Energy Plans Open the Door to Numerous Funding Opportunities
Investing in a CEP requires a financial commitment – but one benefit of developing a plan with a qualified energy partner is that there are potential opportunities to apply for funding to undertake the work. Furthermore, the community energy plan provides the foundation for which additional initiatives and programs are developed, and funding sources identified for implementation. Energy Efficiency Alberta (EEA), the Municipal Climate Change Action Center (MCCAC), Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Green Fund, and the Alberta Indigenous Climate Leadership Initiative are examples of potential funding sources for community energy initiatives.
Benefits of Developing a Community Energy Plan
Typically, the motivation behind the creation of a CEP stems from a desire to mitigate climate change since it poses a significant threat to communities. However, recently, it’s becoming more common for communities to create CEPs for a variety of other reasons as well. The following is a list of the multiple reasons for developing a CEP:
A CEP will recommend energy efficiency measures and on-site renewable energy options that facilitate local and sustainable energy generation. Reduced energy demand and an increase in locally generated renewable energy create a more secure energy environment for the community.
Community energy planning creates a link between the values of the members of the community and the energy system. Citizens are given the opportunity to become involved with how community-wide energy decisions are made and can take control of how to make energy efficiency improvements in their own lives.
A CEP is not just about what exists today, but also about how to grow and build the community in a more sustainable way. This includes informing decisions on future development, building standards, land use, and transportations systems. This also includes integrating energy strategies into the community’s economic development strategy.
A community that is known for its green initiatives will differentiate itself from other communities. Differentiating from nearby communities will help retain current residents, attract band members living off reserve and support local businesses. This can add value to the community and further facilitate investment.
Creating a green community often involves updating buildings to meet current standards and implementing large scale community level improvements which lead to a more modernized community in general. Communities with up to date policies and infrastructure are not only more sustainable but more desirable.
The Best Time to Start Working on a Plan is Now!
If your community is looking towards a more resilient and sustainable future, but don’t know where to start, we can help! We’ve partnered with a number of communities and organizations across the province to help improve the economic, environmental and quality of life outcomes in their communities. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to contact us!