Nelson opts not to buy carbon offsets for 2012
Nelson City Council isn't sold on the idea of buying carbon offsets for the green house gas emissions produced through its corporate operations.
In 2007 the city was among the first in BC municipalities to voluntarily sign on to the Climate Action Charter with the intention of being carbon neutral by 2012. The city developed a Corporate Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan in 2010 and has undertaken numerous projects to improve the energy efficiency of its operations.
But the City passed on spending some $27,000 on carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality — though many neighbouring municipalities took the plunge.
Carbon Neutral Kootenays consultant Patricia Dahnel said out of 31 local governments her organization works with, 19 bought offsets this year.
Dahnel was at a Nelson city council meeting Monday with an update on the Carbon Neutral Kootenays project. She said that had Nelson bought the offsets, a provincial grant could have reimbursed the cost.
But Mayor John Dooley made it clear that purchasing offsets isn't an appealing option for Nelson.
"We believe our money is better off spent on projects to reduce our carbon emissions; buying carbon offsets might actually set us back on our goals," he said.
He also took issue with the provincial regulation that existing projects within our own municipality can't be used to offset the city's carbon emissions.
"We have urban forests that we're maintaining on city properties. Those trees are sequestering carbon, but that doesn't count for anything," Dooley said.
Provincial public sector operations, including school districts and health authorities, have been buying offsets since 2010.
Carbon offsets are created when approved private sector organizations undertake action to reduce green house gases, through fuel switching or carbon sequestering. Locally, the Darkwoods forest along the south arm of Kootenay Lake is an example of a carbon store that was able to sell 450,000 tonnes of carbon offsets for the amount of carbon sequestered by the forest from 2008-2010. That's equivalent to taking about 88,000 cars off the road for one year.
The offsets are purchased from the private sector by an organization like Pacific Carbon Trust or Carbon Neutral Kootenays and sold to public sector. Pacific Carbon Trust sells carbon offsets for $25 per tonne, while Carbon Neutral Kootenays offers the same for $15 per tonne, by cutting out PCT as a middleman.
This creates a carbon economy and offers an incentive for private companies to undertake carbon reduction projects. Because of revenue that could be generated through the sale of carbon offsets, several ski resorts around the province (including Revelstoke, Sun Peaks and Whistler) installed hybrid heating systems in their buildings to reduce carbon emissions. Such retrofits would not have been financially viable otherwise.
Some public sector projects have also been eligible to sell carbon offsets. Columbia-Shuswap Regional District sold 10,000 tonnes of carbon offsets when it closed the Salmon Arm Regional landfill. The Regional District of Central Kootenay is also looking into using the sale of carbon offsets to fund a program to divert organics from the landfill.
Carbon Neutral Kootenay consultant Dahnel said these projects were eligible because they weren't considered "business as usual."
"A local government can't sell carbon offsets for something it would have done anyways," Dahnel explained.
That's a problem for Nelson because it started planning projects to reduce carbon emissions before BC had a carbon economy to speak of.
"Nelson is ahead of the curve on this in many ways," Dooley said. "We have a whole department working on climate action. We take it very seriously."
He knows that eventually the municipality may be mandated to buy carbon offsets. He's hoping by then more local projects will be eligible for the funding.
"I believe [the development of carbon offsets] is still in the trial phase and regulations are being fine tuned," he said. "I'm not convinced that there's a benefit to Nelson to buy offsets at this point, but that may change in the future."