By Aida Nciri
and Eddie Oldfield
Canadian municipalities and energy utilities are on the front lines of the impacts of climate change.
A recent report by the Insurance Bureau of Canada highlights the financial costs of climate change, with insured damage for severe weather events reaching $1.3 billion in 2019. Of the top 10 highest loss years on record, eight occurred between 2010 and 2019.
Municipalities and utilities are learning to cope with unprecedented high winds, ice storms, floods, droughts and wildfires, as highlighted by Canada’s Changing Climate Report. Almost 90 per cent of Canadian energy utilities have been significantly impacted by a weather event in the last decade.
Reliable energy supply is needed by all of us for essential activities and services, from the operation of water and wastewater treatment plants and hospitals, to lighting, heating and cooling of buildings. While we all know this and certainly notice when these services fail, we’re less aware that there are limited tools and assessment processes to help local governments and utilities collaborate and plan effectively for climate adaptation and energy resilience.
At QUEST we’re dedicated to advancing Smart Energy Communities in Canada. Adapting energy infrastructure to increasing extreme weather events and securing the continuation of energy services are key components of Smart Energy Communities.
Just last month, QUEST launched the Planning for Resilient Energy Infrastructure in Alberta project to assist municipalities and energy utilities in the province adapt their energy infrastructure to the impact of increasing extreme events. The four municipalities participating in the project are Big Lake County, Ponoka County, the Town of Black Diamond and the Town of Raymond.
This Alberta-focused project builds on resilience work that QUEST has done across Canada. In January, QUEST released two publications that unveil key lessons learned from that work. During the Municipalities and Utilities Partnering for Community Resilience initiative, QUEST worked with 12 Canadian municipalities, their utilities and community stakeholders in four provinces through workshops, research and mentoring.
What did we learn?
- Communities face multiple and diverse climate hazards: floods, coastal erosion, hurricanes and ice storms, extreme heat and drought, forest and bush fires, and more, which places stress on food and medicine supplies.
- Canadian municipalities and energy utilities share common vulnerabilities that put their energy systems at risk, including energy infrastructure located in flood- and wildfire-prone areas, essential facilities with no backup power, and lack of incorporation of climate projection in land-use and assets planning.
- The initiative confirmed the need for more collaboration between municipalities and utilities. Municipalities and utilities want to collaborate together to advance local resilient energy projects.
Through this initiative, QUEST found that participating municipalities are willing to adapt to climate change. They also understand that the stakes are higher than simply adapting: without a significant reduction of greenhouse emissions, climate adaptation will become even more difficult and costly.
This is why they aspire to become Smart Energy Communities. Smart Energy Communities are not only more resilient, they also create new opportunities for local economic development, lower energy costs and a cleaner environment.
Community energy planning was a key recommendation selected by municipalities. A community energy plan is a tool that defines community priorities around energy with a view to improving efficiency, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and driving economic development.
At the same time, communities acknowledge limited human and financial resources, as well as limited access to sound and affordable expertise. This explains the significant gap between what municipalities aim for and their capacity to act.
The on-the-ground work being done is first step. It’s helping participating municipalities gain access to sound expertise that informed the development and review of planning documents.
The next step will be for the provincial and federal governments to continue providing financial and human support to local governments to continue the growth of Smart Energy Communities.
Visit our website to join our Feb. 20 webinar on community resilience.
Aida Nciri is the Manager, Policy and Research, and Eddie Oldfield is a Senior Lead, Projects and Advisory Services, at QUEST. QUEST is a national non-government organization that works to accelerate the adoption of efficient and integrated community-scale energy systems in Canada by informing, inspiring and connecting decision-makers.