Local governments as social innovators

May 15, 2017

We need more local governments and utilities acting as social innovators in community energy planning and implementation.

This is a brand new role for local governments in many ways. For most of their existence, local government in Canada has served as a vehicle to deliver provincial services.  That is why they are often called “creatures of the province”.  Overall, this has not encouraged a culture of developing their own policies or programs. While Ontario municipal legislation was modernized in 2001 to a more permissive framework, old habits die hard – for everyone involved. Mayor John Tory has described his relationship with the provincial government as “being treated like a little boy going up to Queen’s Park in short pants”.  On the flip side, some municipal governments can get overly comfortable waiting for a regulation to compel them to act rather than leading.

Of course, there are always brilliant exceptions to the rule.  They help us imagine a new role for local government in the future.

These exceptions were the most refreshing part of the 2017 Ontario Climate Symposium. In the spirit of Canada’s 150th, the symposium looked forward 150 years and asked: what do we need to do now – collectively – to set us on a just path to a low carbon and climate resilient future?  I moderated a panel of leaders in the community energy planning space. So, what do we need the next 150 years to look like?  Well, we need it to look like that panel.  Local governments and utilities acting as social innovators in community energy planning and implementation.   The panelists shared the challenges and opportunities when asserting a role in the transition to a low carbon future.

The Panelists

Michael Lee, from Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow (QUEST), provided a national overview of community energy planning and the emergence of Smart Energy Communities.

Lisa King is the Senior Environmental Policy Planner for the City of Toronto. She spoke about Toronto’s breakthrough policies to achieve net zero emissions in the building sector.

Shannon Carto is the Climate Change Specialist for the Town of Caledon.  She shared her experiences as a leading municipality in the community energy planning space that is punching well above its weight.

Neetika Sathe is the Director of Emerging Technologies at Alectra Energy Solutions.  She spoke to how a municipally-owned electricity utility is thinking beyond their traditional role by deploying several innovative community energy solutions at the grid-edge.

These leaders are bringing value to their communities. They are informing emerging federal and provincial policies and programs.  And they help us imagine a world where local governments and utilities are social innovators.