Local Energy Distribution Vancouver, Guelph, Connecticut

A February report describes the development of the low-carbon Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU), which uses a hybrid system of sewage heat recovery (SHR) backed up by natural gas boilers to deliver thermal energy to 24 buildings in the False Creek area of Vancouver. The opportunity arose from the redevelopment of former industrial land into a mixed-use community- a highly capital-intensive project which generated approximately 50 FTE jobs over 3 years of construction, and has resulted in 3.5 highly-skilled engineering jobs in the operational phase. Although the job creation impact is small because of the small scale of the project, author Marc Lee maintains that it is important as an example of public sector innovation which challenges the paradigm of centralized energy distribution, and which could be replicated by other cities. See Innovative Approaches to Low Carbon Urban Systems: A Case Study of Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility, published by Economics for Equity and Environment as part of their Future Economy Initiative.

Guelph, Ontario was recently profiled in “Community and Energy in Guelph: Environment and Economy in Partnership” in Engineering Dimensions (Jan/Feb 2015), which briefly describes Guelph’s Community Energy Initiative, begun in 2007. More recently, the Guelph District Energy Strategic Plan explains the concept of distributed urban energy systems, and includes case studies from Mannheim, Copenhagen and North Vancouver. The Guelph plan envisions a system which would supply at least 50 per cent of the heating needs of commercial, institutional and industrial facilities as well as residential dwellings.

In Connecticut in December 2014, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced a study to evaluate the merits of distributed energy. In response, a working paper by Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability discusses the monopoly power of electrical utilities and makes seven proposals to reform a system to reduce GHG’s and be worker- and community-friendly. Connecticut’s Electric Utilities: Time to Revise the Model specifically proposes that the ownership of energy distribution be transferred from private utilities to consumer-owned co-operatives, municipal or state-owned companies, or “other alternatives”. And for a more general vision of some of those alternative models, read the EnergyVision document, A Pathway to a Modern, Sustainable, Low Carbon Economic and Environmental Future by the Acadia Center, released February 15.

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