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“Electrifying” Public Forum at St. Peter’s College

I’m very pleased to share this excellent report sent to us by Council of Canadians Quill Plains (Wynyard) chapter activist Elaine Hughes!

In her welcome to the April 7 forum on Renewable Energy, Chapter Chair, Elaine Hughes, acknowledged that they were gathered on Treaty 6 (signed in 1876) land, the traditional territory of the Cree, Assiniboine and Ojibwa peoples.  Margaret Lewis, Chapter Secretary, then introduced the first speaker, Dr. Mark Bigland-Pritchard.

Dr. Bigland-Pritchard, is an applied physicist and energy consultant based in Saskatoon and operating as Low Energy Design Ltd.  He has worked on home and small business energy audits, energy-efficient home design, renewables system design, corporate environmental strategy, an alternative provincial electricity plan and climate-friendly policy development. He campaigns for policy change with Climate Justice Saskatoon and a number of related groups.

Mark’s presentation emphasized that, based on the scientific understanding of climate impacts, we have to move fast to get off fossil fuels to live up to commitments of the 2015 Paris Agreement.  Generation of renewable electricity needs to move faster than other sectors in order to enable a shift to such as transport or heating.  A limited carbon budget means that we have to leave the dead organic matter in the ground – even in the places where we are already extracting it.  We cannot afford to let the interests of the fossil fuel industry determine the speed of the transition to efficient and renewable options, many of which are now cheaper than fossil fuels.  These are getting cheaper at a dramatic rate while the fossil fuel options increase in price.

For landlocked Saskatchewan, renewable options mean wind, solar and sustainable biomass (that’s energy from burning residues from forestry and agriculture, subject to a series of conditions to protect food production and ecosystems).  It may also mean hydro and deep geothermal power but we need to set strict conditions to protect Indigenous rights and local ecology. Ultimately, with shifting to renewables, our priority should be looking at reducing our demands through efficiency and conservation measures.  Economically, renewable energy transition can more than replace the jobs lost from fossil industries – green energy jobs are growing rapidly worldwide.

Citing a view from Germany, he went on to discuss Energy Democracy – what is it and how do we get it?  He explained that Energy Democracy means that, for example, you have the right to make and sell your own energy and receive a fair price for it.  Renewable energy resources are public goods and there is no right to monopoly.  In a democracy, people are citizens first, consumers second – energy is more than a mere commodity in modern life.  He suggested that, besides its inherent benefits, energy democracy could be a means of accelerating the required transition, emphasizing that the needs of future generations must always be taken into account.

In conclusion, he believes that there are three areas in which things need to be right for energy democracy to take off:  renewables need to meet basic criteria for local viability – there needs to be a real potential for community-owned projects; government policy should be favourable or at least not discriminate against citizens’ initiatives; and grassroots people need to catch the vision – the attitudes of ordinary citizens are crucial.

Following the Q&A discussion and coffee break, Dr. Lewis then introduced our second speaker, Stephen Hall.

Mr. Hall from Regina, graduated from Carleton University in 1987 with a degree in Industrial Design. He is passionately interested in new energy solutions, particularly photovoltaic (PV) solar, and has recently launched nrgPartners to advocate energy literacy, especially for PV solar, distributed energy and smart grids, with a particular focus on the positive economic impacts associated with sustainable energy solutions.

In 2014, Stephen’s family installed solar panels on the roof of his studio—a separate building on their property in Regina.   The total installed cost of the 7.65kW system was $28,000, but after receiving a rebate through SaskPower’s Net Metering Program, the Halls’ out-of-pocket cost for the 30-panel system was $23,000. Since the system is guaranteed for 25 years, the Halls rolled the cost of the system into their home mortgage.  The amortized cost of the system at 4% per annum is $125/month.

In the last 3 years, their PV solar array has produced over 24MWh of electrical energy—about 8.2MWh annually.  They still purchase some electricity from SaskPower but the amount of coal-fired electricity they buy has been reduced from over $160 per month, to about $20 per month.  And, since the electricity they produce with their solar panels is free, the total cost for the family to have electrical power has actually been reduced from a total monthly cost (based on current rates) of $193 per month to a total monthly cost of $173, which includes the capital cost payback of $125 per month, some additional electricity from SaskPower, admin. charges and taxes.

Since the family wishes to increase their electricity output to offset the electrical energy required for an EV (Electric Vehicle), they are now planning to install additional panels to harvest even more of Saskatchewan’s bountiful and free sunshine!

Mr. Hall believes that, as more people in Regina purchase PV solar, install battery back-up systems and purchase EVs, the infrastructure for a distributed grid will develop and grow to the point that will supplant the need for large scale power plants.  Hall likens this transition to that of the Internet.  “The  Internet is powerful because it’s a network of interconnected, modestly powered nodes .. computers that send packets of information up to the net, or receive packets of information down.  The new distributed electricity grid will be a kind of ‘internet of energy’… sending packets of electrical energy up, or drawing packets of electrical energy down… it will be powerful for exactly the same reason as the Internet”.  Hall remains very optimistic about the uptake of sustainable energy solutions.

Each presentation was followed by a truly ‘energized’ discussion with numerous good questions from the audience.  The Quill Plains (Wynyard) Chapter of the Council of Canadians wishes to thank Dr. Mark Bigland-Pritchard and Mr. Stephen Hall for their presentations and we wish them well in their future endeavours to educate and inspire Saskatchewan residents in this critical movement.