City releases greenhouse gas inventory


Homes, cars top emitters

What’s St. Albert’s contribution to climate change? Imagine setting 3,710 rail cars full of coal on fire each year.

That’s one of the results that can be derived from the city’s new greenhouse gas inventory, a draft of which was released to the environmental advisory committee (EAC) last Thursday. The report had been commissioned from Stantec as part of the city’s environmental master plan.

St. Albert residents emitted about 710,560 tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2008, the report found, which works out to 12 tonnes per person. That’s less than Edmonton (25 tonnes per person), but far more than Vancouver (five).

City operations accounted for just 3.4 per cent of these emissions, according to the report, with the rest coming from the community. The top two polluters in the community were homes (39 per cent of emissions) and transportation (34 per cent).

Reducing these emissions would require direct measures like regulations and incentives, says study co-author Innes Hood.

“We’re not going to affect change in this community by telling [people]what to do.” The city won’t solve this problem in 10 or even 20 years, but had to start now if it wanted to have a chance. “You have to start bending the [emissions]curve.”

Three big sources

Cheap energy has helped Canada thrive, the report notes, but has also depleted fossil fuel reserves. Canadians will need to reduce use of these fuels to avoid rising costs and keep their standard of living.

Fossil fuels have also caused human-based emissions to rise 70 per cent since 1970, the report found, creating a risk of climate warming. “Our impact on the climate system is real, and individuals, businesses, and institutions must go beyond what we are currently doing if we are to avoid the significant and potentially dangerous consequences of global climate change.”

About 41 per cent of the city’s emissions came from electricity use, says study co-author Amy Seabrooke, which is mostly due to Alberta’s use of coal power. About 34 per cent came from gasoline (transportation). The rest was from natural gas (heating).

What to do about them

The city is now developing a plan to reduce these emissions, says Meghan Myers, the city’s environmental co-ordinator. That plan could involve energy efficiency incentives or regulations for new homes.

Other Alberta communities already have emission-reduction plans in place. Calgary has cut its electricity emissions by buying wind power, for example. The city’s LRT system is wind powered, which keeps about 46,000 tonnes of emissions out of the air.

Medicine Hat offers homeowners $6,000 rebates to buy solar panels, according to the city’s website and slaps a conservation charge on their bills if they use more than a certain amount of power. Medicine Hat hopes to get 25 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

St. Albert will have to focus its reduction efforts on the community, says EAC chair Jason Cooke, as it’s the biggest source of emissions. He suggests a focus on energy efficiency, as that will reduce pollution and save people money.

Compact development will be one of the most effective tools St. Albert has to reduce its emissions, Hood notes, as it reduces transportation emissions. “Getting the land use planning part right first is critical.”

That might be a challenge for St. Albert, Cooke said, given its recent reaction to smart growth, which was voted down by city council. Residents are going to have to get behind the idea that denser development will be the main way for the city to meet its environmental goals. “That seems to be the silver bullet for virtually everything.”

A second report with projected emissions growth and a reduction target for the city is expected later this month.

What’s in 710,560 tonnes?

Stantec consultants estimate that St. Albert emits about 710,560 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. That’s equivalent to:
o burning 3,710 rail cars of coal
o driving 135,862 cars for a year
o providing electricity to 86,233 homes for a year
o adding about 6 million 60-watt bulbs to the sky (in terms of warming)
Source: Andrew Weaver and U.S. EPA


About Author

Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.