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It’s Time to Unleash the Potential of Smart Energy Communities in NB and PEI

Eddie Oldfield

Sep 2, 2020

COVID-19 has significantly reduced local economic activity and lowered revenues for municipalities across Canada. Municipalities in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are no different. They know that the implementation of their Community Energy Plans can aid post-COVID-19 economic recovery by supporting lower energy costs, a cleaner environment, improved community resilience, new business opportunities, and more.

In part I of this series, we outlined why Smart Energy Communities are a solution for post-COVID-19 Canada and this blog breaks down why that matters to a particular part of Canada – New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Unleashing The Potential

Unleashing the potential of Smart Energy Communities means creating an enabling environment for municipal action – updated provincial programs, policies, and legislation, increased capacity to implement Community Energy Plans, involvement of local and community energy stakeholders, and new governance structures.

QUEST’s New Brunswick – Prince Edward Island Municipal Working Group (NB-PEI MWG) brings together municipal professionals to exchange knowledge, identify and address issues, and facilitate the advancement of Community Energy Plans and Smart Energy Communities in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. With over twenty participating municipalities and bi-monthly meetings, this group identified some high priority policy and program opportunities that facilitate the implementation of Community Energy Plans and enable our municipalities to be front and center in the economic recovery.

Policy and Program Changes that Enable Economic Recovery

The policy and program opportunities have been broken down into 5 key areas – Governance and Strategy; Financial Capacity; Energy Efficiency & Conservation; Sustainable Transportation; and Renewable Energy.

Governance and Strategy

Capacity Building and Training

Create provincial programs to address gaps in capacity and expertise of local governments. This could include:

  • Establishing a Smart Energy Community Accelerator Program.
  • Developing regional energy coordinator roles (that serve smaller communities in a specific geography).
  • Providing municipalities with access to embedded energy managers and energy technical advisors to help develop and implement Community Energy Plans and deliver projects that reduce energy costs and GHG emissions.

Opportunities for Collaboration

 Enhance collaboration between governments, regulators and utilities to align policies, programs, pilots and initiatives with Community Energy Planning principles and solutions.

Data

Establish a province-wide standard data collection centre or process for energy consumption and GHG emissions reporting to enable a baseline energy and emissions inventory to support municipalities in developing informed climate and energy plans, and measuring their impact over time.

Communications

Establish provincial communications strategies to improve energy literacy and promote Smart Energy Communities such as those participating in the QUEST Smart Energy Communities Benchmark or Accelerator Program, and members of FCM-ICLEI Partners for Climate Protection.

Financing Capacity

Access to Funding

Improve municipalities’ access to funding such as low or zero interest loans and grants from private or non-profit sources to support the implementation of Community Energy Plans. This has the potential to enable transformative energy and infrastructure solutions, as well as enable new investment structures for local energy projects, such as an equity tax credit program.

Align and Simplify Funding

Align and simplify access to Federal & Provincial funding and FCM funding programs which support municipal projects to reduce energy and GHG emissions.

Support Multi-year Financing and Programs

Allow multi-year energy efficiency financing and programs via provincial utility, and include deep energy retrofits to existing housing stock (low-income in particular).

Establish Province-Wide Community Efficiency Financing Program

Establish on-bill financing or Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) style programming. These have been effective in Nova Scotia & Alberta, and enable energy efficiency retrofits and clean energy conversion in residential and commercial sectors. Although a traditional PACE program would not be possible under current legislation in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, alternatives such as on-bill financing are possible.

Avoid Increasing Debt Burden

Remove secure energy-related municipal borrowing (including for Community Efficiency Financing or PACE) from the calculation of municipal Debt Service Coverage Ratios (DSCR). Also consider developing Provincial tools to de-risk and expand municipal lending, (e.g. a revolving PACE loan fund and a loan guarantee program). FCM provides up to $2M loan guarantee through the Community Efficiency Financing stream.

Reduce Tax Barriers

Enable tax exemptions or reductions for rental housing owners who increase energy efficiency of their properties and pass savings on to their tenants.

Energy Efficiency and Conservation

Accelerate building energy performance standards

Improve efficiency by accelerating energy performance standards for new and existing buildings, by:

  • Adopting National Energy Code for Buildings – Municipalities currently follow the Province, and the Province hasn’t adopted the most recent codes.
  • Allowing municipalities to develop and enforce their own “stretch” building codes if they are more environmentally stringent than the provincial code.
  • Looking at BC’s Energy Step Code as a possible model.

Offer Training Opportunities

Support training opportunities for developers and building inspectors (on new Building Codes, Energy Performance Standards, new technologies, etc), as well as increase the number of building inspectors.  Bolster trade sector capacity and training to undertake the required energy efficiency and renewable energy work, and community energy planning in NB and PEI Municipalities.

Provincial Government Procurement

Ensure energy performance standards for equipment and buildings are established for all government-based procurement activities.

Sustainable Transportation

Enable Electrification of Transportation

Support electrification of transportation within communities, not just highways. While most focus has been on L3 charging stations along major transport routes, municipalities also need support by way of technical expertise and funding to implement L2 charging stations, as part of NB Power’s e-charge network, in their communities.

Support Alternative Fuels

Offer infrastructure and incentives for converting to lower emission fuel sources / alternative fuels (eg CNG, hydrogen, renewable natural gas, etc) for transportation and building heat.

Incentivize Electrification of Fleets/Vehicles

Incentives for electric vehicles for municipal, commercial and private vehicles could include point of sale discounts, provincial refund, installation of home chargers, and car recycling.  Success depends on strong collaboration with car dealerships.

Invest in Public Transportation

Improve public transit and multi-modal transit with a focus on regional planning and alignment, as well as funding or incentives to increase ridership. 

Support Non-motorized transportation

Require that all land use plans include provisions for non-motorized transportation as part of any development beyond a specific density threshold.

Invest In and Improve Active Transport Networks

Focus on regional planning and alignment, transit and active transport amenities, as well as incentives such as point of sale discounts of bikes and bike rack installments. Active Transportation requires multiple land use decisions (eg right of way, lanes, trails, crossings, amenities, connectivity, hub access, etc) which could be guided, and regulated by the Province as part of municipal plans.

Support Telecommuting

Through education, marketing and incentives if needed, encourage  telecommuting in the age of COVID-19.

Institute Emissions-Based Vehicle Registration

Implement an emissions-based vehicle registration fee or use charge to promote emission free transportation options and use revenues to reinvest in zero-emission vehicle supports.

Renewable Energy

Improve Net-Metering to Enable Small Scale Generation

Increase caps on net-metering which is currently set at 100kW, and allow enhanced virtual net-metering to enable community and cooperative development of renewable energy projects. For example a solar farm installation to offset energy used by multiple municipal facilities on multiple meter points. In addition, ensure residents and businesses are able to lease panels or purchase power segments from community energy installations.

Increase Total Cap on Renewable Power Procurement

Several municipalities are keen to harness local resources and develop local clean energy generation, however in New Brunswick the current Embedded Generation program and LORESS have already achieved their caps/targets thus NB Power is not accepting new applications until approved to do so by the regulator and government policy. 

Enable Grid-Tied Renewable Energy Generation Systems

Establish Community Feed-In Tariff program or some type of community-based Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

Enable Municipal Ownership of Local Energy – Update legislation to enable municipalities to own and operate local small-scale energy systems (e.g. Combined Heat and Power, District Energy, Microgrid, Wind Farm, Solar Farm, MicroHydro), and to accrue savings from efficiency measures or revenues from clean energy production, which can be used to capitalize new projects (including further efficiency measures, renewable energy systems, active transportation initiatives, etc), year over year.

Enable Municipal-Utility Ownership of Local Energy – Update legislation to allow municipal utility-owned renewable energy systems, permit municipal utilities to access provincial transmission infrastructure and to direct revenues to their stakeholder (the Municipality), which could accelerate progress toward both economic and environmental goals. This would encourage investment in new grid-tied renewable energy systems and accelerate Return on Investment / Rate of Return.

Support Renewable Energy Systems

Establish provincial policy to require that all land use plans and zoning bylaws in NB (or PEI) include provisions for the inclusion of commercial (e.g. large scale wind), district (e.g. energy from waste on farms), or micro renewable energy systems (e.g. neighbourhood solar gardens or home based systems).  Provide best practice examples from existing local policies in NB and other jurisdictions.

Where Do We Go From Here?

QUEST is leading the way forward through a number of different initiatives which are laying the groundwork for municipal action by connecting, influencing and educating key stakeholders.

Our working groups are a meeting place for governments, utilities & energy service providers, the real-estate sector, the product and professional service sector, among others to collaborate, learn from one another, and evaluate how to implement on the ground solutions.

Our leading edge applied research is developing tools such as the Smart Energy Communities Benchmark, the Innovation Sandbox and Accelerating the Implementation of Renewable Energy by outlining existing local policies, bylaws, zoning practices that enable renewable energy development, as well as highlighting some of the best practice examples.

And we are telling the story of the vital role of communities in meeting Canada’s energy and environmental objectives and enabling a collective voice for change.

Our communities, and the municipalities that serve them, have always played an important role in Canada’s economic future, but now more than ever Smart Energy Communities and their Community Energy Plans are the pathway to our economic and environmental prosperity.

Lend your voice in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island as we collectively encourage the program, policy and legislative changes outlined above that will unleash the potential of Smart Energy Communities.

 Eddie Oldfield

Eddie Oldfield

Senior Lead, Projects & Advisory Services

Eddie is the Senior Lead, Projects & Advisory Services at QUEST. Based in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Eddie facilitates the NB-PEI Municipal Working Group. He also helps deliver regional and national projects and supports FCM Partners for Climate Protection members in Atlantic Canada.

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