By Louis Bockner
If the West Kootenay EcoSociety has its way Nelson and the entire West Kootenay region would be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
After a year of groundwork, gathering thousands of signatures of support from residents and businesses, and building energy models they will be hosting a weekend conference to demonstrate there is momentum behind this ambitious movement.
The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Conference will be held at the Castlegar Community Complex from Thursday to Saturday and will be the first of its kind held in the Kootenays. The event will feature talks and workshops led by leaders from Canadian municipalities that have already committed to transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, including Vancouver and Oxford County, Ont.
According to Matt Carroll, co-executive director of the society, the conference, and the work that has been put in up to this point, go hand in hand.
“We’re trying to bring municipal leaders, business leaders and experts together to start figuring out what it looks like from a municipal and policy perspective. It’s all been building towards this conference, which is a key point in this campaign.”
Representing Vancouver, the first city in Canada to make the 2050 renewable energy transition commitment, are city councillor and deputy mayor Andrea Reimer, and Vancouver’s climate policy manager Matt Horne.
Both Reimer and Horne will share their experiences during the opening evening of the conference on Thursday. The event will start at 7 p.m. and tickets can be purchased for $10 in advance at www.kootenaygreenenergy.com or at the door provided it isn’t sold out.
Reimer will discuss why Vancouver made this commitment as well as the vow to become the world’s “greenest city” by 2020, and how they are planning to achieve them. Horne will talk about the lessons Vancouver has learned in developing its energy strategy and his experience working on projects that will move the city off fossil fuels.
While an urban centre like Vancouver will face different challenges than the Kootenays, Carroll said there are similarities as well.
“How do you shift home heating and transportation? We’re looking mostly at those two sectors and we can learn a lot from the resources a city like Vancouver can bring to tackling those problems.
“But then we need to apply it to our context here in the Kootenays.”
To balance the urban and rural aspects, the keynote speaker for a free, all-day, workshop event on Saturday will be Jay Heaman from Oxford County — a region made up of multiple municipalities much like the West Kootenays. Heaman is the manager of Strategic Initiatives and is leading the 100 per cent renewable energy and zero waste programs for Oxford.
In a phone interview with the Star, Heaman expressed his excitement in making the trip to the Kootenays and was quick to point out that participating in these conferences is a two-way street.
“That’s the beauty of these types of outreach. We go out there and share but we come back with new ideas.”
At this stage Carroll and his associates are looking to local government to follow in the footsteps of Vancouver, Oxford County and Victoria — the third Canadian municipality to sign on — and allocate support and resources towards making the shift off fossil fuels.
Friday will be dedicated to bringing local governments, business owners and experts together in a think tank-style event and is not open to the public.
“The goal of the conference is to build momentum towards the transition to 100 per cent renewable energy and to demonstrate to municipal leaders that business and the public are rallying to achieve this goal,” Carroll said. “Is it possible? The answer is yes. It would obviously be a lot of work but it would be possible even with today’s technology and we’re shooting for 2050 by which time technology will have moved forwards leaps and bounds.”