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2006 Energy ― Co-winner 2

Town of Okotoks

Harnessing the Sun — Okotoks’ Solar Initiatives

Population: 11,664

The solar rays that fall on Alberta every day equal the energy from all fossil fuels extracted each year in the province. So, it's easy to see why Okotoks chose to harness the sun in many of its projects. From a solar-powered ice resurfacing system and district solar heating systems to a solar wall, Okotoks is Canada's leading municipal user of solar energy. Drake Landing is the town's latest project. This 52-home subdivision will meet 90 percent of its space and water heating needs with solar energy, thus reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by five tonnes per home. The energy will be stored in underground boreholes during warmer months for reuse in winter. This is the first time such technology has been used in North America.

Background

In the late 1990s, Okotoks was at a crossroads. Due to its close proximity to Calgary, rapid population growth was exerting pressure on both its infrastructure and local environment.

In 1998, Okotoks adopted a new municipal plan. It included a policy framework called "Sustainable Okotoks" that allows the town to consider risk and long-term investment in its environmental decision making. Since adopting the new plan and framework, more than 70 initiatives have been completed, including building retrofits, alternative energy installations, and waste management and water conservation measures.

Many of these initiatives are funded through the Eco-Efficiency Revolving Fund, established in 1999. "In the early 1990s, we received a rebate from our electrical distribution provider and used that money as seed dollars for the fund," explains Rick Quail, Okotoks' municipal manager. The fund invests in energy-efficiency initiatives and the resulting cost savings are reinvested in other projects. "It's worked very well," says Mr. Quail. "There have been no tax increases and we have a sustained funding source to pay for the projects."

Results

  • Reduced energy consumption can be directly attributed to the use of solar energy in all four municipal buildings. Savings range from 15 to 80 percent.
  • Collectively, the four municipal buildings have cut annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 124 tonnes.
  • The Recycling Centre consumes 13 percent of the natural gas consumed by the conventionally heated Recycling Depot next door.
  • Before the solar heating system was installed in 2002, Swindells' Swimming Pool was retrofitted for energy efficiency. Compared to 1998, the pool uses 10 percent less natural gas and 13 percent less electricity, despite increased use of the facility. The saving amounts to $20,000 per year.
  • Each Drake Landing home was built to R-2000 standards and derives approximately 90 percent of its space heating and 60 percent of its water heating from solar energy. Greenhouse gas emissions will be cut by five tonnes for each home.
  • Okotoks has gained substantial local expertise in solar energy and energy efficiency. "We now have local framing crews who know how to incorporate solar panels onto homes and many who are now experts in R-2000 building," says Mr. Quail. "We are now seeing other homes in the area built to the R-2000 standard."

Lessons Learned

  • HAVE A COMMITTED MUNICIPAL STAFF. "You have to have a committed team of staff because it is an extra workload on the administration," explains Mr. Quail. He notes that Town Council has also strongly supported development of Sustainable Okotoks and the various solar projects.
  • EDUCATE THE PUBLIC. Okotoks took a proactive approach to informing residents about solar energy. It ensured that all its dealings with the public were transparent, thus building trust and understanding.
  • START SMALL. Sustainable Okotoks began with small energy-efficiency projects and worked its way up. "We invested wisely in major energy gains and then captured those gains for reinvestment," says Mr. Quail.
  • FINANCIAL CHAMPIONS. Okotoks obtained financing from many different sources, including Natural Resources Canada's Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative, GMF and the province of Alberta's Municipal Sponsorship Program. "Without that funding and leadership from the federal and provincial governments, none of these projects would have been possible," says Mr. Quail.
  • HAVE A CONTINGENCY PLAN. "Solar energy is powerful and sometimes you have too much," says Mr. Quail. "If your end-use demand isn't there, it'll be wasted." He explained that, by altering the Swindells' Swimming Pool's solar energy system, the town was able to use the excess energy to heat hot water for showers at the facility.

Partners and Collaboration

Internal

  • Town of Okotoks

Financial

  • FCM's Green Municipal Fund
  • Natural Resources Canada, Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative
  • Technology Early Action Measures (TEAM)
  • Climate Change Central
  • Province of Alberta, Municipal Sponsorship Program (provided funding for the municipal solar energy installations)
  • Province of Alberta, Innovation & Science Program and Alberta Environment
  • Sustainable Development Technology Canada

Project Partners

  • Natural Resources Canada
  • Climate Change Central
  • SAIC Canada
  • EnerWorks
  • Nu-Air
  • ATCO Gas
  • Sterling Homes
  • United Communities
Page Updated: 21/12/2015