Preparing for climate change in Smithers

Could Smithers get by without supplies from trains and freight trucks? That was a question asked at a resilience workshop hosted Smithers.

  • Dec. 21, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Could Smithers get by without supplies from trains and freight trucks? That was a question asked at a resilience workshop hosted by One Sky earlier this year.

The idea of community resilience — effectively how well a community could survive if certain things were taken away — is part of the work One Sky trying to address as the world’s supply of energy slowing drains away.

Mike Simpson, One Sky’s executive director, says that addressing the idea of climate change is much more a policy issue in government than it is a technical issue.

The One Sky offices provide a showcase of solar technology, and Simpson’s own home is entirely off-grid, running on solar panels on his property.

The technology is available to take some burden off fossil fuels like natural gas but leadership is needed, he said.

“What I keep saying to people is don’t subsidize renewable energy,” said Simpson. “In fact there should be no subsidies, period. Make the private sector work exactly the way the private sector should work.”

He said that if the playing field were leveled we would begin to see a lot more developments like solar power and wind generation.

Smithers itself could easily be powered by wind turbines, he said.

“We could put a wind generator up on the plateau, nobody could see it from town, wouldn’t be in the way of migratory birds, tons of wind up there all year long, and we could feed in and have enough power to run this community off of one or two wind generators,” he said.

He said the catch would be to get a guarantee from BC Hydro that they would purchase the power.

While power supplied to BC Hydro on a solar set-up is marginal — Simpson said he gets paid only about six cents a watt for his surplus energy — other places like European countries, and even Ontario, are much better as they have a feed-in-tariff. Ontario pays about 80 cents a watt, he said.

“We don’t need demonstration projects anymore, what we need is policies and politicians that will get off their butts,” he said.

He points to California’s thirst for renewable energy, with northwest B.C. sitting on some of the best wind resources in the world, as a place the province can begin to develop renewable energy.

So what are the stakes? Simpson said that 100 years ago the world had around 280 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere. Today, it’s 387 ppm.

Scientists are currently trying to envision a 1,000 ppm scenario.

All these numbers mean that today the climate has already shifted up one degree Celsius. With the effects of carbon in the atmosphere taking about 10 years to be felt — we’re feeling the effects of 1997’s carbon levels now — we’ll have to wait awhile to know what impact 2011 really had.

One Sky, through their workshop in the summer, found there are really only variations of two possible scenarios relating to climate change, which boils down to climate change not happening and oil lasting a long time, or climate change happening and fuel running out quickly.

“For our region, we are going to have a lot of interesting issues around food security,” he said.

With climate change comes droughts or flooding. Climate change, he said, is not about cooling or warming, but that weather patterns will become more extreme (hotter and drier or colder and more wet, for example).

“Our region is not going to be as affected by climate change as, say, sub-saharan Africa,” he said. “On the other hand, we live in a globalized world where if there’s a tsunami in Japan all of a sudden you can’t get a SIM card or you can’t get parts for your computer.”

Smithers itself is actually much more resilient than many other communities with locally grown food and the fact that people here seem to talk about these issues far ahead of many other places. Many people here also look to alternative energy. (See page B9 for how a local business is putting alternative energy to work.)

Back to developing effective policy, Simpson said it’s really a matter of time, as in, how much time do we have to develop alternative energy in society before it becomes too difficult to do so and where it will make a difference?

“We need more action [from government],” he said.