Summerland's power advantage helping to stabilize grid and control costs

Summerland's energy centre

Sunny days for Summerland electrical utility

Summerland is one of five municipalities in B.C. to own and operate an electrical utility—the others being Penticton, Grand Forks, Nelson and New Westminster.

We each buy power wholesale and resell it to local residents and businesses. With the recent opening of the Okanagan’s first utility-scale solar and battery storage facility, Summerland joins Nelson as the only municipalities to produce some of our own electricity to supplement what we purchase wholesale.

The new Summerland Energy Centre, located on the toe of Cartwright Mountain, is a 412kW solar array and 1MW of battery storage, providing a 3.56 MWh power supply. The facility feeds electricity directly to the grid as well as releases stored power when and where it is needed, for example during an outage.

Every kilowatt we generate is a kilowatt we don’t have to buy. Savings are especially achieved when we put electricity onto the grid at peak times, which is the price point where the wholesale cost is calculated. We are seeing an immediate return on our investment.

The project, built with a $6 million federal grant, was the result of eight years of planning.

Before 2015, the Summerland electrical utility suffered from decades of underinvestment. Through our work in asset management, we knew the “infrastructure deficit” in the electrical system was higher than other municipal infrastructure, like water, sewer and roads. That meant it was older and in greater need of upgrades.

The district council of the day reviewed its options, including the possibility of selling off the utility. That we’d consider disposing of the asset upset many people in the community, and council agreed it was in Summerland’s interest to keep it, but we would need to invest in it.

Part of that renewed commitment included the idea of generating some of our own power. Solar made sense because it was a proven technology and relatively simple to implement. Summerland is also one of the sunniest places in the province. We receive about 305 days of sunlight a year, compared to 289 in Vancouver and 251 in Prince Rupert.

The Summerland Energy Centre aligns with federal and provincial plans to meet future energy needs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government makes no secret it supported the project to showcase it to other Canadian communities, and already has received a Climate and Energy Action Award from the Community Energy Association.

Certainly, if we’re serious about electrifying the economy— which we’ll need to do if we want to address climate change—we’ll have to produce far more clean energy than we do today, and part of the solution will be small-scale power generation feeding directly into local distribution grids.

But down here at ground level, for the day-to-day operation of the Summerland electrical system, the greatest benefit of the energy centre is to help stabilize the grid and control costs.

That is the primary reason, all those years ago, council made the decision to invest in our utility.

Doug Holmes is mayor of Summerland

Driving at work is dangerous but we can make it safer

Making our roads safer

Here’s something that may surprise you: Driving may be the most dangerous thing most of us do in our job, even if we do it only once in a while.

Don’t think you drive at work? You may need to think again. Sure, you may not be a courier, delivery person or have “driver” in your job title or job description, but you may get behind the wheel to run office errands, call on clients or travel to off-site meetings. All of those trips are work-related driving, whether you do them occasionally, part time or all the time.

Here’s why it matters. Work-related crashes are the leading cause of traumatic workplace death in B.C.

From 2017 to 2021, WorkSafeBC statistics show an average of 18 people were killed in work-related vehicle crashes annually, and another 1,537 were injured seriously enough to miss work. That’s the equivalent of almost one driver being injured or killed every work day.

As part of National Day of Remembrance for Road Crash Victims in Canada on Nov. 15, take a moment to acknowledge the losses felt by families, friends, co-workers, and communities. And recommit to eliminating all work-related injuries and deaths on B.C. roads.

A recent Road Safety at Work survey found only 11% of employers and 26% of employees believed driving for work is dangerous. Changing that attitude can help prevent injuries and save lives.

Most crashes are preventable if employers provide training, education and supervision, and if workers follow safe driving procedures.

Crashes aren’t inevitable. They aren’t always the fault of the other driver. And they’re certainly not a cost of doing business.

Preventing crashes is, in fact, smart business. Drivers who stay safe and healthy are available for work and that eases staff shortages. An organizational culture that focuses on road safety can be an advantage in recruiting and retaining drivers, who see that they are valued. Claims costs, repair bills, and insurance premiums can all be reduced. The bottom line here is road safety for workers is about making sure people return home after every shift healthy and safe.

It’s an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of people in B.C. ICBC statistics show nearly 625,000 passenger and commercial vehicles in the province were insured for business use in 2022. The number of vehicles used for work may be much higher, though, because many people who drive their own vehicle on the job occasionally insure it for pleasure use. The designation allows them to use the vehicle for up to six days per month for business or delivery.

Our mission at Road Safety at Work is to help build a culture of work-related road safety by educating, empowering and engaging B.C. road users. It starts with knowledge and mindset.

First, we need to understand vehicles used for work are workplaces under WorkSafeBC regulations. It doesn’t matter whether the employer or an employee owns the vehicles. They need to meet health and safety standards for workplaces and road safety needs to be part of the organization’s health and safety program.

Second, we need to pay attention to all the work-related driving done during a shift. Remember the rule: If an employee gets behind the wheel for any work-related reason, they’re driving for work.

Many, many jobs involve some time on the road, including many we don’t usually associate with driving. That’s reflected in the occupations with most work-related crashes over the last five years. On the list you’ll find commercial truck drivers, couriers, and transit operators, but you’ll also see the following:

• Nurse aides, orderlies, and other patient service associates

• Social and community service workers

• Construction trades helpers and labourers

Third, we need to accept that driving on the job is dangerous. Driving too fast for the conditions, impairment and fatigue are the leading causes of crashes in B.C. They don’t stop when we’re behind the wheel for work.

Fourth, we need to recognize that nearly all crashes can be prevented with the right measures in place. Employers have both a legal and moral responsibility to make safety a priority. Employees have safety responsibilities too, including the need to follow workplace policies and procedures and the right to refuse unsafe work.

If we change the way we think, we can change the way we behave. By seeing the dangers of work-related driving, we can eliminate work-related deaths and injuries on B.C. roads.

Trace Acres is program director for Road Safety at Work, a WorkSafeBC-funded initiative managed by the Justice Institute of BC. For more information, visit RoadSafetyAtWork.ca.

Mayor reflects on Summerland's recreation referendum result

Moving on from 'No' vote

The people have spoken and the results of the Nov. 4 referendum (No: 58%, Yes: 42%) make it clear that now is not the right time for the proposed recreation centre project.

In the coming months, council will discuss the next steps and consider how to keep the community involved as we work together to determine Summerland’s future recreation needs.

While referendums enhance democracy by giving people direct involvement in the decision-making process, they are also inherently divisive. A “yes” or “no” choice leaves little room for nuance—you’re forced to choose a side. And whenever people are pitted against each other, tension and conflict follows.

Inevitably, the process, and the people involved in the process, become subjects of debate along with the question on the ballot. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s the province that makes the rules for everything from voter eligibility to the wording of the referendum question.

Some people were upset by the lack of options on the ballot, even though legislation requires a single “yes”or “no” question. The province would not have allowed additional choices like renovation of the existing pool or approval on condition of grant funding.

Without being able to provide multiple choices, council tried to work through the various options and scenarios in advance of the referendum. Over a period of five years, we undertook studies, planning and community engagement that included public surveys and open houses.

Several options were presented and the proposal that went to the vote was the one that had the most support from public consultation.

In last year’s general election, there was a clear consensus among the candidates about the need to bring the preferred option to a referendum. The economic situation may have changed over the course of the year but not proceeding with a referendum would have been an act of bad faith.

In this era of high interest rates and inflation, it is difficult to envision any municipal recreation centre being built without the support of senior levels of government.

People are right to question why the federal and provincial governments could contribute two-thirds of the cost for recreation centres in cities like Penticton but can no longer provide funding to smaller communities like Summerland.

It feels like we were penalized for doing a good job at maintaining and extending the life of our aging aquatic centre.

Our $25 million grant application to build a net-zero emissions recreation centre remains adrift in federal “limbo land.” We don’t know what will become of the application but it will have to be taken into account when council considers the next steps.

In the meantime, it’s important council and the community as a whole puts their differences aside, accepts the referendum results and moves on. The important thing isn’t how any one person voted, but how we engaged in a democratic process as a community.

With rights come responsibilities and it was heartening to see so many residents attend the open houses, information sessions and tours to learn more, weigh the pros and cons and ultimately cast their votes.

We all need to remain engaged and try to build consensus on a way forward.

Doug Holmes is the mayor of Summerland

Multiple climate change actions add up to big steps forward 

City's environmental moves

I want to take a moment to reflect on the summer we experienced and the incredible teamwork and dedication we saw throughout our region during the wildfires.

The collaboration between municipal fire departments, BC Wildfire Service, local governments and thousands of volunteers was inspiring and I am very thankful for everyone’s service to our region. It is going to take a similar spirit of prolonged teamwork and collaboration to combat the root cause of the wildfires and floods our region has experienced over the past several years.

Local and regional governments influence approximately 50 per cent of the nation’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so we are intent on trying to influence our community’s shift toward a low-carbon lifestyle and respond effectively to climate impacts.

The City of Kelowna’s actions have always focused on doing what we can to mitigate factors contributing to climate change along with making adaptations to limit the effects of climate change. As the city’s current five-year Community Climate Action Plan reaches the end of its life, staff are in the process of developing the next phase of a Climate Resilient Kelowna Strategy that will map out plans to reduce our carbon footprint and continue the process of rebuilding our city in a more sustainable way. That strategy is expected to be completed early in 2024.

We know that we must continue to provide options to help Kelowna residents reduce GHG emissions. Along with promoting healthy lifestyles, the city has invested heavily in “active” transportation corridors and encouraged other modes of travelling around our city in ways that reduce GHG emissions—walking, cycling, scooters, electric bikes, transit and supporting the use of ride sharing opportunities.

At the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Vancouver, I met with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming to discuss progress on a new transit operation centre, which we need to expand and improve local transit service.

The City of Kelowna will benefit from $9 million in senior government funding that will see upgrades at our current transit facility for service expansion and initial electric battery procurement for buses. In addition, funding will help advance the design of the new transit operations centre that will allow expanded transit service and the electrification of the entire fleet over time.

Decarbonizing new and existing buildings has also been a major component in meeting the city’s GHG emissions reduction targets. The 50-year-old Parkinson Recreation Centre, for example, is one of the largest emitters of GHG among all City of Kelowna properties, and we expect the new facility to be a net-zero carbon building. We are also developing an energy concierge pilot program to support homeowners through what can be a complicated home energy retrofit journey.

In 2018, YLW became carbon accredited through Airports Council International (ACI) and its carbon accreditation program. As part of the ongoing program, in June 2022, YLW received Level 2 carbon accreditation from ACI, gaining recognition of our efforts to measure and reduce our GHG emissions. We are currently working on a plan to further reduce energy consumption and to meet our commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

The city has a strategic energy management plan that is targeting a GHG emissions reduction of 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030 for all corporate facilities and will implement equipment upgrades accordingly.

Current actions to reduce GHG emissions include:

• Focusing growth in the five urban centres and along major transit corridors with a goal of putting more people and more jobs within easy walking distance of reliable, direct transit service?

• Developing an energy concierge pilot program to support homeowners with energy retrofits

• Top-up rebates for heat pump space heating, heat pump water heaters, electrical service upgrades, and electric vehicle (EV) chargers in multi-unit residential buildings

• Amendments to the zoning bylaw to include EV ready requirements for new residential developments

• A new climate action and environmental stewardship department to apply a climate lens to policy development and decisions

• 22 EV chargers on city properties with plans to install more

• The city has completed a deconstruction pilot project on city-owned homes to assess waste reduction options and reduce lifecycle GHG emissions

• Continuing the Neighbourwoods program to encourage citizens to help grow and preserve Kelowna’s urban forest

Environmental protection and climate change adaptation are also essential for the City of Kelowna as we take measures to protect our beautiful landscape.

The City of Kelowna was recently awarded the Climate and Energy Action Award at UBCM for our FireSmart Community Chipping program, which has collected well over 100 metric tonnes of vegetation to reduce wildfire risk.

Other environmental protection and climate adaptation initiatives in place include:

• Continued work on the Mill Creek Flood Protection Project (year four of an eight-year project) to improve flood passage and public safety on Mill Creek

• Initiated development of a water security plan

• Amended the Development Application Procedures Bylaw to require a pre-development tree inventory to identify trees that may require root zone protection and help ensure trees proposed for the development are retained and protected

• Finalizing a sustainable urban forestry strategy to expand Kelowna’s urban tree canopy. (This year more than 1,000 trees were planted)

• Continued implementation of the Community Wildfire Resilience Plan

Along with council’s other priorities of acting on crime and safety, affordable housing, homelessness, transportation and agriculture, we have a lot of important work to do. An Oct. 16 report to council at the six-month point since priorities were developed provided encouraging evidence we are making progress on all priorities.

Ultimately, for Kelowna to become resilient to climate change, it will require collaboration with all levels of government, businesses, organizations and the broader community.

At the time of writing this column, conversations are happening between the federal and provincial government regarding the federal carbon tax. It will be interesting to see how the policy evolves in the coming weeks, months and years. Nonetheless, as a local government, we are uniquely positioned to influence this shift and how our community will grow, how we commute, interact and protect natural assets to maintain the quality of life we cherish in Kelowna.

We will all breathe easier if we work together to protect our environment and lessen the impacts on our warming climate. This is something the city has done in the past and I can assure you city council will continue to use a climate lens when reviewing city policies, infrastructure and programs.

Tom Dyas is the mayor of Kelowna.

Kelowna store on a mission to reduce food waste

Fighting food waste

Food waste has far-reaching impacts, from the most vulnerable in our society to the economy as a whole.

With so many struggling with food insecurity, it’s even more concerning that after so much work in growing and transporting fresh food, it ends up going to waste.

Food waste is also bad for the environment. When food ends up in a landfill, it generates methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Concerningly, nearly 60 per cent of the food produced in Canada, or 35.5 million tonnes, is lost and wasted annually, amounting to a $49 billion impact on our greater economy, according to Harvest Canada.

There are many sources of this waste, such as losses at the farm, waste at the manufacturing plant, unsold product in grocery stores and food not eaten by consumers at home. Regardless of the source, we can all agree, any amount of waste is too much.

That’s why, our team at Kelowna’s Real Canadian Superstore is on a mission to end food waste. We want to make sure we are playing our part to support our community, all the food that leaves our location ends up going to good use, and most importantly, not going to landfill. We’re committed to sending zero food waste to landfill by 2030 which has required a lot of change.

We use a number of initiatives to work towards zero food waste. First and foremost, we’re making sure good food ends up going to those who need it most. Thanks to a partnership with the Central Okanagan Food Bank, we provide safe, nutritious food to the community. Together, we’ve kept 131 thousand tonnes of food from going to waste.

We also work with Flashfood, which enables us to find a home for products that may have some imperfections and allows families the chance to get a great deal on a variety of food groups that will help stretch their grocery budget. It’s one of my favourite programs at our store, that helps to feed everyone.

When it comes to the food from our store that is no longer okay for people to eat, like waste from our bakery, salad bar or other departments, we’re reversing the food lifecycle – by taking waste from table to farm.

Loop is a great resource that helps us support local farmers and also prevents food from going to the landfill. Local farms support us by supplying fresh food, and we can help support them with feed by diverting food waste back to their farms.

Taking it a step further, we’re working with ZooShare Biogas Ltd., to transform food and animal waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill, into biogas to power the electricity grid.

The first project of its kind in?Canada, ZooShare converts thousands of tonnes of animal manure and food waste from grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses into renewable power.

Join us in putting an end to the cycle of food waste – from farms, to stores, and to our homes. We all have a role to play in preventing food from ending up in the landfill. Together, we can make sure that no waste goes to waste.

Brandon Varley is the store manager at Kelowna’s Real Canadian Superstore

More Opinion articles