Mainstreaming local energy

July 4, 2017


Mainstreaming local energy will come in many different shapes and sizes.  Some will be far-reaching like recent changes to Ontario planning legislation which will require local governments to embrace climate and energy policies.  Others will be small tweaks that bring familiarity.  For instance, I have often wondered whether we should have used the term “Local Energy Master Plan” – just like a Water Supply Master Plan, Transit Master Plan, Transportation Master Plan, or Recreation and Parks Master Plan.  Maybe, with time, this will happen.

A simple tweak happened last week with some colleagues as we discussed the process for a community energy plan in two communities.

The first step in many community energy planning exercises has been to engage key stakeholders.  That made sense ten years ago. Stakeholders had to be convinced just to get the data to start a conversation.

However, this is not how local governments usually work.  They make sure they have as much data possible first before they begin engaging people.   

Take for example, when a municipal water department wants to engage their community in developing a water conservation and efficiency strategy.  The department will know how much water is currently used by local homes and businesses.  They will have data on how much water is consumed during a heat wave compared to the middle of winter.  And they will have a pretty good idea how much more water they will need in the future and what it will cost.  That will be their starting point for a conversation with the community.

Bottom-line, they don’t sit down with the community and say – “hey, I wonder how much water we use”.  They know.  That is their job.

Except for energy.

It is time for local governments to put good data in front of community energy planning.

Local governments must step up to ensure good data is available in advance of a community energy planning exercise.  The good news is that many are stepping into this role.

Residents and businesses should first learn where and how their community uses energy, how much it costs everyone and how many of those energy dollars leave the community.  This should be the starting point.  Not only is this a more practical approach, it is more respectful of the time and contribution of community members and represents a clear role for local government in mainstreaming local energy.