Citizen panel tackles city's energy challenges

(Edmonton) A citizen panel that developed climate change and energy recommendations for the City of Edmonton released its report this week and will present its conclusions to city council April 15.

The panel studied key reports and studies outlining plans to shift Edmonton’s reliance on carbon-based energy sources to cleaner energy sources and uses. After more than 42 hours working together on these energy and climate issues, the 56 panellists agreed to recommend that city council move forward with a bold shift in energy use in the city.

Alberta Climate Dialogue and the Centre for Public Involvement, both based at the University of Alberta, along with the City of Edmonton, co-ordinated the panel of citizens to discuss Edmonton’s climate and energy issues last fall. The group reflected together on values, tradeoffs, costs and benefits over the course of six Saturdays from October to December 2012.

The panel members’ goal was to decide whether they, as representatives of the city’s diverse population, wanted Edmonton to become “low carbon,” and to discuss ways of achieving that goal.  

Their final report supports six key recommendations from an expert Energy Transition Discussion Paper commissioned by the city, with additional cautions and guidance from the panel.

The recommendations include working to green the city’s electricity sources; encouraging mixed-use, denser urban development; making industrial operations more energy efficient; and supporting cleaner energy use, energy-efficient building practices, and transit.

“The panel represents Edmonton’s diversity, not only demographically but also in levels of environmental concern and degrees of belief in climate change,” said David Kahane, political science professor at the U of A and project director of Alberta Climate Dialogue.

“This group found a lot of common ground: a strong majority concluded that a low-carbon pathway makes sense for diverse reasons relating to environmental responsibility, quality of life, cost savings and more,” he said.

“I came in, and there were a few others who were like-minded, that we didn’t believe the science of climate change,” said Scott Hannah, a citizen participant in the panel. “But in the process, and one of the things we did agree on, is that doesn’t mean the city shouldn’t move forward with being smart about energy.”

“A lot of the participants are really excited about continuing to be involved and continuing to use the skills and knowledge they learned, so I think that’s a great resource for the city as well,” said Fiona Cavanagh, project manager for the Centre for Public Involvement.

After the panel presents its recommendations to the executive committee of city council April 15, they hope to remain involved in the city’s initiatives to move forward on issues of energy and climate change.