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  • The fight against ISDS in Romania June 24, 2019
    CCPA is proud to co-sponsor this terrific video from our colleagues at Corporate Europe Observatory. It chronicles grassroots resistance to efforts by Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources to build Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine in a culturally rich and environmentally sensitive region of Romania. After this unimaginably destructive project was refused by the Romanian public and courts, the […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • A critical look at BC’s new tax breaks and subsidies for LNG May 7, 2019
    The BC government has offered much more to the LNG industry than the previous government. Read the report by senior economist Marc Lee.  
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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    The 2019 living wage for Metro Vancouver is $19.50/hour. This is the amount needed for a family of four with each of two parents working full-time at this hourly rate to pay for necessities, support the healthy development of their children, escape severe financial stress and participate in the social, civic and cultural lives of […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Time to regulate gas prices in BC and stop industry gouging April 29, 2019
    Drivers in Metro Vancouver are reeling from record high gas prices, and many commentators are blaming taxes. But it’s not taxes causing pain at the pump — it’s industry gouging. Our latest research shows that gas prices have gone up by 55 cents per litre since 2016 — and the vast majority of that increase […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • CCPA welcomes Randy Robinson as new Ontario Director March 27, 2019
    The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is pleased to announce the appointment of Randy Robinson as the new Director of our Ontario Office.  Randy’s areas of expertise include public sector finance, the gendered rise of precarious work, neoliberalism, and labour rights. He has extensive experience in communications and research, and has been engaged in Ontario’s […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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The Progressive Economics Forum

Low-carbon urban infrastructure: a view from Vancouver

I have a new case study (full pdf; summary article from the publishers) out as part of the Economists for Equity and Environment‘s Future Economy Initiative. I look at the City of Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU), a low-carbon district energy system that hits a sweet spot of clean energy, local control, and stable prices at competitive rates.

The NEU arose as part of a vision for redevelopment of former industrial land into a mixed-use community in the Southeast False Creek area of Vancouver. The first phase included construction of the False Creek Energy Centre and service to the Athletes’ Village for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

At the core of NEU operations is a hybrid system of sewage heat recovery (SHR) backed up by natural gas boilers to deliver thermal energy to buildings in the service area. The NEU targets a key GHG mitigation opportunity in buildings through shifting away from fossil fuels for space and water heating.

While the system is not fossil fuel free (due to the natural gas component), GHG emissions were reduced by approximately 56-77% in 2012 and 44-61% in 2013 relative to development that did not include the NEU. This decline in performance between 2012 and 2013 is due to new buildings being added to the existing system, which increase the system’s reliance on natural gas. Planned new SHR capacity is added in 2018. Future mitigation opportunities for the NEU could include biomass as a substitute for natural gas.

Capital costs were supported by a federal grant, low-interest loans and self-financing from the City. The NEU’s rates are modeled on a traditional regulated utility, with revenues obtained entirely from its customer base. Because the eventual customer base will be built out over more than a decade, the city implemented a rate structure that under-recovers capital costs, running deficits in the early years. Cost competitiveness is a key objective, and the NEU rate structure compares favourably to other DE systems and energy providers.

The NEU is a modern example of public sector innovation. It challenges a paradigm of centralized energy distribution, and links and expands municipal services in a novel way. To reduce risk and achieve economies of scale, the City requires mandatory connection of all buildings in the service area.

As a highly capital-intensive utility, most of the job creation occurs during the construction phase, which involved approximately 50 FTE jobs over a three-year period. Ongoing expansion of the network to new buildings ensures continuing construction work. In NEU operations, there are 3.5 FTE jobs, and these are highly-skilled engineering jobs. While these numbers are relatively small, it represents only 24 buildings and a very small percentage of total energy demand in the city.

The NEU has environmental and economic attributes that could be replicated in other cities (and it is already having an influence in other parts of Metro Vancouver). A key challenge is upfront capital costs, which could be ameliorated by senior government support and through the development of green bonds. But the NEU case also shows how a public utility model can be developed for low-carbon district energy, even in the absence of subsidies.

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