Opinion teaser

COP26 carbon emission blues

By Robert M. Macrae

As COP26 concluded, I was asked how Castlegar might eliminate its carbon emissions by 2030. Here’s my blue-sky list.

What if Castlegar created a municipal renewable energy utility similar to Nelson Hydro? The utility could rent flat rooftops and parking lots from commercial and institutional buildings such as the Rec Complex and retail stores. The utility would install gantries in parking lots and install and maintain solar PV systems on the gantries and rooftops. Power generated would be sold to pay rent, capital, and other operating costs with earnings reinvested to eliminate additional carbon emissions.

A further investment would be to purchase a service station and convert it into a co-operative for electric vehicles where vehicles can be rented by co-op members and where vehicles can be maintained and stored. There could be rapid charging stations fed by solar PV installed on site.

Perhaps the utility would explore commercial gasification of wood waste into DME as a carbon neutral alternative to gasoline, diesel, and natural gas. DME can substitute as a fuel in gas and diesel engines with minor engine modifications rather than scrapping entire vehicles for replacement with electric vehicles. DME can run in natural gas furnaces with minor tweaks. DME gasification is a proven technology so DME could be synthesized profitably and locally at current energy prices. There’s enough wood waste produced annually within 100 km of Castlegar to make this an option worth exploring.

The utility could develop Merry and Boomer Creek for small run-of-river hydro power generation. Both creeks are culverted as they transect the city so environmental impacts would be minimal.

The utility could retrofit the Castlegar & District Library to net-zero energy by installing a ground source heat pump under the adjacent park. Such a retrofit could serve as a demonstration project for other commercial and institutional buildings and train trades people to undertake net-zero energy retrofits.

Based on Toronto’s Now House project, the utility could purchase and retrofit a residential house to net-zero energy, open it for public inspection for 12 months, sell it, and repeat. The goal would be to demonstrate how to retrofit houses to net-zero energy and to train trades people with the skills for net-zero energy retrofits while increasing the inventory of net-zero energy housing.

Based on Passive House design, the utility could work with a local commercial or institutional building owner and retrofit the building to net or near net-zero energy so the building’s energy bill is reduced by a minimum of 80 per cent and the retrofit is completed without requiring building operations to stop.

The utility could hire local trades people to craft a reproduction of an old-time paddle wheeler like the S. S. Moyie designed to run on renewable energy. The boat could be moored at the MillenniumWalkwayPark where it would offer river tours: the sunset cruise, the Saturday night dance cruise, the Sunday brunch cruise, the Castlegar to Trail cruise, etc. Project goals would be to create a family-centred tourist attraction that supports Castlegar’s unique natural environment.

Castlegar could lock arms with other municipalities and lobby BC Transit to provide a co-ordinated inter-city bus service across the province that could evolve into inter-city passenger rail service, and renewable energy electric inter-city passenger rail service.

Castlegar could design a seven-story flatiron building between the Pioneer Arena and Columbia Avenue with retail stores on ground level, professional services such as medical offices and labs on the second and third floors, and housing on the upper levels including affordable and accessible housing. The building would be net-zero energy, built from local materials by local trades, and built in consultation with the community as a community hub. Concurrently, Castlegar could upgrade the Pioneer Arena to expand its use for activities such as a year-round indoor farmers’ market and summer roller skating.

Every municipality in B.C. is going to need to generate a similar list as a first step in keeping global warming below 1.5°C and building more sustainable, more resilient communities.

Robert M. Macrae, BSc(Agr), MSc is Environmental Technology Instructor at Selkirk College, West Kootenay & Boundary Region, British Columbia.

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