Clean50 Honouree Tonja Leach, Executive Director at QUEST Canada, highlights why there is a need for policy solutions aimed at harnessing the key role communities play in leading Canada toward a sustainable, net-zero future.
Canada finds itself at a pivotal crossroads in the battle against climate change. The world has collectively committed to halving emissions by 2030 and working towards a net-zero future by 2050. Canada, with its historical emissions, faces a pressing need to do more than just halve its emissions–it must shoulder a significant burden in the fight against climate change and show its leadership. However, as we embark on this journey to address the climate crisis through emissions reductions, we must also safeguard the energy fundamentals of affordability, reliability, resilience, safety, and security. Additionally, climate action and energy policy must be leveraged to enhance equity and competitiveness, all while ensuring timely implementation.
To achieve this outcome we need a policy solution aimed at harnessing the collective power of communities to lead Canada toward a sustainable, net-zero future. This article highlights the key role communities can play if well supported and provides evidence-based arguments for establishing a “Community Energy Empowerment Act” (CEEA).
The Crucial Role of Communities
Communities are the linchpin to achieving a sustainable net-zero economy. Local governments, in particular, are essential players in this transformation due to their unique attributes and capabilities.
Control Over Urban Planning
Local governments wield significant control over various aspects of urban planning, including land use, transportation, building location, design, waste and water systems, and industrial integration–all of which require energy and produce emissions. This control empowers them to shape their communities in an environmentally sustainable manner, thereby reducing emissions.
Influence Over Human Behavior
Local governments are among the most influential and engaged with individual Canadians. Their proximity to communities allows them to effectively influence human behavior, ensuring that local social interests align with climate and energy policies.
Energy Supply and Demand Influence
Through Community Energy and Emissions Planning, local governments can significantly influence energy supply and demand at the local, regional, and provincial levels. A Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP) is a tool that defines community priorities around energy with a focus on improving efficiency, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and driving economic development.
Building Energy Efficiency
Local governments are best positioned to influence building energy efficiency and emissions. They can implement policies and incentives to promote sustainable construction and building retrofit practices.
Local governments have the ability to influence purchasing power across all community infrastructure, including transportation, which plays a pivotal role in reducing emissions.
Challenges and Barriers
Despite the availability of proven community-level solutions for greenhouse gas emission reduction in Canada, these solutions are underutilized due to several challenges:
Existing governance frameworks, including policies, regulations, and legislation, often hinder rather than enable local solutions. Communities frequently lack the necessary resources and tools for implementation, which usually require support from higher levels of government.
Limited Energy Planning
Canada’s energy planning primarily focuses on matching energy supply and demand through vertically integrated and siloed approaches. This narrow approach not only limits Canada’s ability to address multiple critical policy objectives but also inadvertently obstructs community-level solutions.
Neglect of Urban Planning
Traditional urban planning rarely takes into account its impact on energy use and emissions, overlooking numerous opportunities for energy savings and emissions reductions, such as waste heat capture and district energy systems.
Despite their high level of engagement with constituents, many communities lack the knowledge and resources required to implement effective engagement strategies.
To overcome these challenges and empower communities to take the lead in Canada’s transition to a sustainable, net-zero economy, Canada needs to actively empower communities through legislation. An innovative solution could be a “Community Energy Empowerment Act” (CEEA).
Designed to unlock the full potential of communities by addressing these key components, a CEEA would:
Support Community Energy and Emissions Planning
Allocation of funding to support communities in the development and implementation of CEEPs. This financial assistance would enable communities to define their energy priorities, enhance efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Policy Framework Reform
The legislation would promote reform in governance frameworks to ensure they apply a local lens to the development of policies, programs, and legislation related to climate change and energy thereby facilitating local solutions. This could involve revising existing policies, regulations, and legislation to empower communities and provide them with the necessary resources.
Integrated Urban Planning
A CEEA would mandate that urban planning at all levels of government take into account its impact on energy use and emissions. This would unlock significant energy-saving opportunities, such as waste heat utilization and district energy systems.
Community Engagement Training
To bridge the knowledge gap, a CEEA would allocate resources for training and capacity building within communities. This training would empower communities to engage effectively with their constituents and drive sustainable change.
A CEEA would promote collaboration among various stakeholders, including elected officials, government staff (federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal), utilities, real estate developers, homeowners, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and industries. This collective effort is essential for successful CEEP implementation.
Leveraging Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) and Conservation and Demand Management (CDM)
The legislation would facilitate community-level contracting with DERs and CDM activities, critical for achieving energy and cost savings in the short and long term.
Private Sector Investment
Recognizing the importance of private-sector involvement, a CEEA would create incentives for private-sector investment in community-scale projects. These projects offer an ideal opportunity for private-sector engagement, given the regulatory challenges associated with grid-scale projects.
Canada’s path to a sustainable, net-zero economy hinges on active engagement and partnership with communities. Local governments, with their unique powers and proximity to citizens, are well-positioned to drive the necessary changes. However, they face challenges stemming from governance frameworks, limited energy planning, and knowledge gaps.
The proposed Community Energy Empowerment Act offers a comprehensive solution to these challenges. By allocating resources, reforming policies, integrating urban planning, providing training, fostering stakeholder collaboration, enabling DERs and CDM, and encouraging private sector investment, Canada can unlock the full potential of its communities. In doing so, these communities become integral partners in the transition to a sustainable, net-zero future, ensuring a more equitable and competitive Canada in the fight against climate change.
 Paris Agreement, United Nations 2015, https://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/convention/application/pdf/english_paris_agreement.pdf
 The Forgotten Factor in Climate Policy: Energy Delivery, November 2022, https://energyregulationquarterly.ca/reports/the-forgotten-factor-in-climate-policy-energy-delivery
 Reforming Provincial Energy Planning: Summary and Analysis from Ontario’s 360’s Expert Roundtable, May 2021, https://on360.ca/policy-papers/reforming-provincial-energy-planning-summary-and-analysis-from-ontario-360s-expert-roundtable/