March 22, 2004

First projects approved under Alberta municipal energy efficiency scheme

The Alberta government is providing a total of $4.3 million dollars in interest-free loans to help seven municipalities achieve energy savings in their operations. The projects, announced last week, are the first to be approved under the Municipal Energy efficiency assistance, or ME First! program.

Developed in consultation with municipal leaders, the four-year program was launched in September 2003 by the provincial departments of Environment and of Municipal Affairs. It will provide up to $100 million in interest-free loans for municipal initiatives that improve energy savings.

"The interest-free loans are paid back with dollars saved through reduced annual operational costs, saving the municipalities money for years to come. That is true sustainability," said Municipal Affairs Minister Guy Boutilier.

Environment Minister Lorne Taylor said, "This program is good for municipalities and good for the environment. They can save money and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at the same time."

The following are the seven municipalities receiving ME First! interest-free loans.

*Edmonton: $2.5 million to retrofit traffic signals with energy saving light-emitting diode (LED) lamps.

*Spruce Grove: $700,000 to reduce energy consumption by 35% in a 25-year-old municipal building.

*Fort Saskatchewan: $459,235 to retrofit the city's aquatic facilities for greater energy savings.

*Drumheller: $262,100 to increase automation at the water treatment plant by replacing/upgrading process controls and control systems.

*Peace River: $218,400 for energy saving upgrades to the administration building.

*Chestermere: $130,970 to increase energy savings in the new municipal office building.

*Redwater: $76,020 to install new lighting and low-E ceilings in the community's recreation centre.

Candidate projects are reviewed by a committee whose members represent the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, Climate Change Central, Alberta Municipal Affairs, Alberta Environment, and the Alberta Capital Finance Authority (the agency through which the loans are provided). The deadline for the next round of applications is June 1, 2004.

More information is available from Jeremy Franchuk at Alberta Municipal Affairs, 780/427-8862, or on-line at www.municipalaffairs.gov.ab.ca.

The ME first! grants are among several "firsts" documented in a progress report summarizing key achievements to date towards implementing Alberta's action plan on climate change, "Albertans and Climate Change: Taking Action." Environment Minister Lorne Taylor, who released the report on March 15, said Alberta is leading the country in terms of commitments and investments aimed at emissions reductions.

Since the action plan was released in October 2002, the province has:

*passed Canada's first legislation to address greenhouse gas emissions; the Climate Change and Emissions Management Act, passed last fall, provides the legal backing for implementing the climate change action plan.

*signed North America's largest ($200 million) green power contract, committing the government to purchase 90% green power for its facilities by 2005.

*launched Me First!, Canada's first provincial $100-million interest-free loan program to help municipalities with energy efficiency initiatives.

*become one of the first North American jurisdictions to require that any proposed facility's design or layout can accommodate future changes to emissions standards, limits and guidelines. This requirement is built into Alberta Environment's environmental impact assessments for projects whose size or type warrants it (e.g. pulp mills, mines, oil refineries).

In addition, the provincial government is investing more than $30 million in technology and innovation focused on energy efficiency, alternative and renewable energy, and sustainable development. It is also finalizing a framework for mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting, and is working with other governments to ensure that this framework will be compatible with the newly-launched national reporting system (see lead story, this issue). As well, the government has accepted and will carry out recommendations made by the Clean Air Strategic Alliance (CASA) for reducing emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from the electricity generation sector (ELW March 8, 2004).

"I am extremely pleased with the progress we have made over the past 18 months," Taylor said. "Our work and success to date serves as both a model and as a starting point for future discussions with the federal government and the other provinces and territories in developing a truly national plan on climate change."

While the Alberta government remains firmly opposed to Kyoto as a flawed agreement with unrealistic targets and timelines, Taylor maintained that Alberta's actions speak very loudly about the province's commitment to reducing emissions.

The implementation of Alberta's action plan is on schedule. The plan calls for a 50% reduction in emissions intensity below 1990 levels by the year 2020, or 60 million tonnes less of emissions below "business as usual" levels. To measure progress towards that target, the province has set an interim target of a 20-million-tonne reduction from "business as usual" levels by 2010.

The province's overall approach involves both investing in technology and changing behaviour, which together will yield permanent and larger emission reductions in the long-term. This, it says, is preferable to taking short-term actions which may have a hefty economic cost with little or no benefit to the environment. The plan is also projected to result in reductions well below the Kyoto targets by 2050 and beyond.

Albertans & Climate Change: Key Actions to Date is available at www.gov.ab.ca/env, or by calling 780/427-6267.

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