At its Monday meeting, council committed itself to the goals of the West Kootenay EcoSociety’s 100% Renewable Kootenays campaign.
This makes Nelson the sixth city in Canada to join an initiative that has over 300 municipal signatories worldwide.
“For me there was disbelief followed quickly by elation,” said EcoSociety co-executive director Nicole Charlwood the day after the vote. “We have invested a couple of years on this. We were not convinced we would get the votes we got last night.”
The campaign will aim for a Kootenay region fueled by renewable energy by 2050. In Canada, four other B.C. communities have signed on — Vancouver, Victoria, Saanich, and Slocan — as well as Oxford Country, Ontario.
At the Nelson council table, the strongest advocate for the initiative was Councillor Valerie Warmington.
“We are in a period of dramatic climate change,” she said, “and we have a short period of time to respond to what our government has committed at the Paris Accord.”
She said it would help council look at decision making “through a new lens,” as it has in Vancouver, she says, where companies are moving there to be associated with the 100% renewable brand.
“I am concerned this might fall by the wayside,” she said, in the face of a city management staff recommendation to refer the matter to the next council following the fall 2018 municipal election.
“There are good reasons to do this now, and make a political statement now, that this is something we aspire to. We have this excellent group of people who have done amazing research. I know the provincial government is going to put forward money for investment in renewables, so we would be in a good position if we had this resolution under our belt.”
Councillor Robin Cherbo said he agreed with Warmington, but then explained his reasons for not wanting to endorse the initiative.
“There is a carbon footprint making electric cars and solar panels and windmills,” he said. “So all this stuff sounds good, but in reality, it hard to see the feasibility. Plastic is made from oil, the interior of cars are plastic.”
Warmington replied, “Yes, things do have a footprint, but we can’t just do nothing because of that. This allows us to take another step in that it binds us regionally, because this is a regional initiative, in fact it is global. I don’t see there is any reason not to commit. It is important to make a statement now. We need aspirational goals to drive us to success.”
Cherbo replied, “I don’t disagree. I have read that climate change is happening 1,500 times faster than expected. But I would like to see how it could possibly be done. Even electric batteries are made from mining.”
Councillor Michael Dailly said the initiative would fit within the city’s Path to 2040 Sustainability Strategy.
“It is already our goal to be self sustaining. I am prepared to add our voice to this campaign. I agree with Councillor Warmington that we need to act and provide leadership.”
Councillor Janice Morrison was reluctant to have the current council commit itself, in light of the municipal election in the fall of 2018.
“Being renewable by 2050 is a stretch goal. Stretch goals are important to have. But I am also thinking of getting this even started in the waning hours of this council.”
Morrison said the city’s Path to 2040 Sustainability Strategy should first be revisited and updated.
Councillor Bob Adams worried that supporting the initiative would mean a change of council’s direction and Warmington responded that it would not be.
In the end, after tweaking the wording of the motion, council voted in favour of a commitment to achieving the long term goal of deriving 100 per cent of its net energy from renewable resources by 2050, and to including the 100% Renewable Kootenays Campaign in council’s 2019-2023 strategic planning process.
Asked what happens next, Charlwood said the Ecosociety is not expecting anything from council in the short term.
“Now we bring it into the community, reconnect with the community. And this endorsement helps us tap into funding.” The community asked for this, council said yes, but we are not pushing it onto council yet. We need to baby step it, we don’t want to overwhelm a new council coming in soon. But the endorsement helps the campaign in huge ways. Momentum is definitely rolling.”
Charlwood said they will be guided by 100% RE building blocks: a practical toolkit for a sustainable transition to 100% renewable energy, published by the international 100% Global Renewable Energy Campaign. She said the EcoSociety will recommend that document to city council.
Cities that have committed to the initiative include Frankfurt, Vancouver, Sydney, San Francisco, Copenhagen, and Oslo.