Climate action plan makes economic sense
North Cowichan recently approved a Climate Action and Energy Plan that outlines how the municipality can drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce overall energy consumption over the next decade.
It presents nine broad recommendations focusing on such areas as transportation, housing density, renewable energy production, municipal operations and local agriculture.
A number of critics have already come out against the plan, arguing it would be too costly to undertake and that North Cowichan should instead focus on other priorities.
They point out that implementing its recommendations could require investments of $25 million a year by 2025.
What’s more, council is considering introducing an additional 1% property tax levy to pay for projects identified in the plan.
This comes after last year’s municipal budget shifted the tax burden from heavy industry to residents, resulting in an average increase of $275 per home.
With many working people already struggling to make ends meet and retirees stuck on fixed incomes, further increases in residential property taxes are clearly unsustainable over the long-term.
However, many of those who are quick to write off the Climate Action and Energy Plan miss some key points.
First, the total annual investments needed to implement the plan would not come exclusively from North Cowichan’s budget. In fact, it appears nearly all of the required financing would come from the private sector and other public bodies.
As the 191-page document clearly states, funding sources would include the federal and provincial levels of government, BC Hydro and other Crown corporations, private developers, credit unions and co-operatives, as well as community bonds and other forms of local investment.
Second, undertaking the recommended actions could bring significant returns on investment, in the strict financial sense.
For example, one recommendation is establish a municipally-owned energy utility that would produce renewable energy, develop district energy projects and implement energy retrofits of residential and commercial buildings.
Starting up an energy utility could require a certain amount financing from local government, however, it could also bring major financial benefits, including providing North Cowichan with an important source of new revenue, with any energy produced either sold to BC Hydro or directly to local residents.
In fact, the recent literature on reforming our municipal financing system in BC indentifies municipal energy utilities as a key area where local governments can generate additional revenue and reduce the pressure to raise property taxes and service fees as senior levels of government continue to offload more and more responsibilities.
And many local governments are taking this advice, not just in BC, but also in others parts of Canada and the industrialized world.
North Cowichan’s Climate Action and Energy Plan is clearly an ambitious document, and implementing its recommendations will certainly bring new costs to the municipality.
But let’s not lose sight of the economic benefits many of these actions could bring over the next decade, including their potential to improve the municipality’s financial situation through energy sales and other new revenue sources.
Rob Douglas writes monthly for the Cowichan News Leader Pictorial. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org