Could Squamish become a Solar City ?

mattBy Matt Blackman
Published: Nov. 29, 2014


Whether you are for or against it, the proposed Woodfibre LNG became a lightning-rod issue in the last municipal election and that has generated debate in our community like we haven’t seen in years. And although the jury is still out in whether it was a key factor in the election outcome, one important by-product of the debate was to focus our attention on where we get our energy.

In 2006, the District of Squamish (DOS) began development of the Community Energy Action Plan consisting of “green building policy development, a discussion on regional energy issues, and three catalyst projects that advance energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and community resiliency,” according to a June 2010  report (see link below).

The report also included a pre-feasibility study for a district energy system or Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU) to provide central heating using alternative energy sources. Analysis at the time indicated that there was a “promising opportunity for district energy in the Waterfront Landing development, with potential for expansion to other areas in the downtown peninsula.”

What progress has been made since then? Not much according to an article entitled Squamish Forgets It Alternative Energy Plans  

So why is an alternative energy plan even more important today? For starters, there are growing signs that the unintended consequences from our annual 30+ billion ton CO2 habit are getting more serious which have pushed CO2 concentrations above 400 parts-per-million for the first time in millions of years. For reasons marine biologists have yet to fully grasp, specific regions along the North American west coast have become more acidic, as much as 100 times more, than oceanographic models predicted would occur given accelerating CO2 emissions just a few short years ago. Instead of a drop in PH of 0.1 as predicted, these areas are as much as one full point lower on the logarithmic PH scale. The result is that oyster and scallop larvae that capture CO2 in the process of making their shells are suffering extreme mortality rates due to extreme ocean acidity which is posing a major threat to both industries. Increasing acidity is also impacting other carbon sequestering species in our oceans.

According to Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS), which records Arctic sea ice volume records in September each year, total Arctic sea ice volume in 1980 was 17,000 kilometres. In September 2014, it measured 6,970 km3. Using annual mean measurements, that’s a drop of more than 40%!

Rapidly melting Arctic ice is interrupting the Gulf Stream thermohaline cycle, resulting in colder winter temperatures in North America and Europe as well as significant weather changes around the globe (see ). Melting ice has also contributed to a 40% drop in polar bear populations in just four years, according to a recent study. And this is just the tip of the climate change iceberg.

Here is one idea to help curtail our fossil fuel addiction and attract new ‘green’ entrepreneurs and businesses. Why not look at making our town a Canadian Solar City?  It would be one of four municipalities in BC so far, following examples already set by North Vancouver, Colwood and Dawson Creek.

Here is a list of criteria to join this group as set out by

To become a solar city Squamish would need:

 1.  A climate change plan with short and long-term targets and time-frames in place.
2.  A community energy plan in place.
3.  An energy plan in place for its own facilities.
4.  Targets for a proportion of total community energy demand to be met by renewable energy.
5.  Policies and incentives for solar electricity and solar thermal utilization for residential homeowners.
6.  Policies and incentives for solar electricity and solar thermal utilization for commercial ratepayers.
7.  A communication plan in place to build awareness of its renewable energy projects and policies.
8.  Establish policies for land use planning to promote and encourage energy efficiency.
9. Community renewable energy, energy efficiency technologies and green living demonstration projects are developed, supported and encouraged by the city to demonstrate these concepts to the public.
10. Policies in place to encourage district energy projects within its jurisdiction.

I emailed Mayor Rob Kirkham and a number of Councillors asking how many of these criteria Squamish meets today but as of deadline had only received one reply from Susan Chapelle. Although her reply did not answer my question, it did provide insight into another form of sustainable energy that is being developed near Squamish.

“I have been in conversations with an engineer over the possibility of developing our own [Independent Power Project] and supplying Squamish with our own clean power.  When the last Mamquam [run-of-river] project went in, the proponents [were asked] to double the power line capacity to have my support. This means that the transmission lines are already in place for a district utility to go [ahead].”

There are two other run-of-river power projects near Squamish – Ashlu Creek, and Culliton Creek – and they are a great start.

Now it’s time to take our alternative sustainable energy program to the next level except that this one is a plan in which we can all take an active part!

Those interesting helping us along our alternative energy journey or just following our progress are invited to go to the Squamish Alternative Energy Group (on Facebook) page at


District of Squamish Neighbourhood Energy Utility Feasibility Report

PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice Volume Reanalysis

BC Hydro Clean Power Projects



  1. Lawrence says:

    Hi Matt, a well-written, progressive and very thought-provoking article!

  2. Eric Andersen says:

    Thoughts on the 10 criteria Squamish will have to meet to become the next Canadian Solar City.

    Squamish does not have this. What should a Squamish Climate Change Plan look like? Different than in North Vancouver, probably. How far should it go in addressing mitigation challenges? (Drier forests, hydrological changes in parts of the watershed, increased natural hazards of various kinds. Etc.)


    A good start was made between 2006 and 2010 on the part of the District Planning Department. However, these initiatives were interrupted when planned developments that were to be venues for particular demonstration projects, including a Neighbourhood Energy Utility, did not proceed.

    A Community Energy Plan taken up today might have an expanded scope, to take in new types of projects, including smaller scale projects.


    In May 2009, an energy efficiency assessment was made of all District facilities. Upgrades have since been made to a number of buildings, including the Adventure Centre, ice arena, Forest Service building, among others.

    Where should School District facilities fit in – in a “community” energy plan?


    Presumably a Community Energy Plan is undertaken (first); then targets can be discussed.

    There’s lots of work to do in wood biomass utilization; but this is an issue needing regional coordination.

    Hydro electricity is renewable; but its use for some things, like space heating, should probably be discouraged.


    Zoning Bylaw adjustments may be necessary for some installations. During the last major Zoning Bylaw review, Squamish CAN successfully lobbied to get disincentives removed for passive design, thicker exterior walls, and also [height] exemptions for solar panels, solar collectors and accessory mounting equipment.

    During 2012, I lobbied successfully to remove restrictions on biomass boilers in the Zoning Bylaw. Previously, biomass boilers were only allowed at Woodfibre.

    More work is needed in the bylaw to accommodate small wind turbines, and for modular energy plants located exterior to a building.


    We have to keep in mind that “renewable energy” is diverse – solar, hydro, biomass, wind, tidal. In the area of biomass, District policies have a long, long way to go.


    Conversion of rare, strategic, high value employment lands to residential use must be stopped. The context for Squamish smart growth planning is regional, not just within the District boundaries.

    Solutions for biomass handling and processing must be found in District land use plans (OCP), and probably also in the Zoning Bylaw.


    OCP policies, Zoning Bylaw, Development Cost Charges Bylaw, and communication programs.


    A Hydronic Heating Bylaw is still only in draft form (since 2010) and has yet to be brought before Council.

  3. heather gee says:

    Thank you to both Matt and Eric for your interesting insights.

  4. MattB says:

    Thank you Lawrence, Eric and Heather! Am exploring to see if there is enough interest in Squamish to organize a photo voltaic solar one-day workshop. If you are interested, please let me know on the Squamish Alternative Energy Group (Facebook) page at


  5. Craig D. McConnell says:

    Yes, well done research and insights on the part of Matt and Eric.

    Prior to the referenced 2006 DOS Community Energy Action Plan, an effort in spring 2004 by the DOS Economic Development Office and consultant/partner Sea Breeze Energy Inc (a subsidiary of Sea Breeze Power Corp) was the Squamish Alternative Energy Project. Community focus group sessions occurred to explore the potential of wind power and a possible DOS energy utility.

    This was the time of BC’s “New Energy Policy.” Independent Power Producers (IPPs) were encouraged, having access and opportunity to sell electricity to BC Hydro. However, BC Hydro delayed in making a specific “call for proposal” of wind turbine-based electricity production, opting instead for numercous calls of “run-of-river” and micro-hydro projects. In the past decade in excess of 60 IPP Run-of-River power projects were in some form of planning stage within the Squamish Lillooet Regional District. Hence we have today the once locally controversial and strongly opposed Ashlu Creek IPP of 49 megawatts (no EAO permit required under 50 megawatts) and the most recent Culliton Creek IPP.

    Why the delay in IPP diversification for BC coastal wind power projects? Even the Canadian Liberal government of the day, under Paul Martin, had launched a Wind Power Production Incentive (WPPI) subsidy of a few cents per kilowatt hour with a target to produce enough wind energy to power 1,000,000 Canadian homes. Wind power generated electricity was apparently an ideal compliment to hydro-electric power due to the seasonally opposed optimal production curves of each. Observing the exceptional model and success of Hydro Quebec, BC Hydro eventually issued a wind power-specific “call for proposal.” In 2004, Sea Breeze was the first to receive a BC environmental assessment certificate for a wind turbine power project, the Cape Scott (Knob Hill) Wind Farm on north Vancouver Island. Another 6 years would pass before BC Hydro would negotiate and award Sea Breeze an Electricity Purchase Agreement (EPA) for the first 99 megawatt phase of the Cape Scott Wind Farm, comprised of 55 turbine towers, enough to supply the annual reuqirements of 30,000 Vancouver Island homes.

    What was the progress of the Squamish Alternative Energy Project during this time span and the involvement of partner/consultant Sea Breeze Energy Inc? In 2004, the DOS Sustainable Energy Strategy considered 10% of energy needs from renewable sources by 2010, and a public or private DOS Energy Utility. Sea Breeze estimated that 4 to 5 wind turbines of 3.0 megawatt capacity could fully power the needs of the community, and even provide a surplus for sale. However, no consideration of a Electricity Power Purchase Agreement with BC Hydro was ever mentioned, and no early dialogue with the BC Utility Commission regarding a community-based energy utility was ever publicly disclosed. Sea Breeze and the DOS recognized the need for additional Howe Sound Airshed characterization, in addition to the longer term data collected from the Environment Canada meteorlogical station at Squamish Terminals. In the following years, DOS was fortunate to receive approximately $80,000 from the Canadian government via WED to purchase and install a meteorlogical instrumented tower on Alice Ridge for a full year data collection survey. Once completed, the data revealed insufficient annual averaged wind speeds to support a wind-turbine installation in the vicinity of Alice Ridge. Unfortunately, once dismantled in 2007 the met tower was stowed away or sold by the DOS, a squandered investment that could yet be providing airshed data collection in a second or third location on the waterfront to aid development of the current SODC for building envelope design, or a new assessment of a Squamish Alternative Energy Project as the current Community Energy Action Plan. Sea Breeze Energy concluded their business with DOS and moved on with priority projects such as the Cape Scott Wind Farm, among others.

    What was learned from this earlier Squamish endeavour and the experience of neighbouring communities to the north and south of us in the context of a district energy system or Neighbourhood Energy Utility? Even construction completion has only perceived success. Grouse Mountain’s wind turbine demonstration project was built and operational for over a year before any electrical power benefit occurred for the mountain operation or sale into the public distribution grid. They had neglected to negotiate an Electricity Power Purchase Agreement with BC Hydro and were reminded by the BCUC of the regulated marketplace, thus stranding the wind turbine from being grid connected as a productive asset.

    The new Whistler neighbourhood of Cheakamus Crossing (2010 Athletes Village) residents realized the downside of a “green” leading edge distributed heat recovery system derived from the nearby Whistler wastewater treatment plant. Six months after the Olympics the new owners of Checkamus Crossing began taking residence, not realizing that home heating system one year “parts & labour” warranty had been expiring from date of installation (pre-Olympics). The recirculating heat pumps plumbed into each residence appeared to be failing prematurely, and home owners were selecting various mechanical contractors to provide service, not necessarily the same one that was specified in the original install. System warranty was void in these cases, and also after the one year post install expiry. The expense of heat pump replacement and labour charges were a few thousand dollars for each effected home owner, and 5 to 10 times higher than the maintenance costs of traditional home heating systems with similiar operating hours.

    Reported in this media outlet Oct. 18, 2014, in the article “Squamish Forgets Its Alternative Energy Plans” is the story of “North Vancouver, where Lonsdale Energy Corporation (LEC) circulates hot water through a network of pipes and mini-plants to heat the buildings. LEC uses natural gas (fired) boilers to produce its heat, but solar panels and heat recovery from space-cooling heat pumps is also used in priority when available. Ben Thorens, the director of Londale Energy Corp. said ‘we are paying interest to the city on a loan and we started to make a small profit after approximately 5 years of operation.’ In fact, (the) district energy system is a very capital intensive process during its early years.”

    The potential certainly exists for a DOS district energy system, but acknowledging the need for a diverse energy mix (natural gas-fired boilers, run-of-river hydro, solar power, wastewater plant-to-heating, and wind turbine energy) is critical for reliability and success. In addition, the continuing model of public-private-partnership (P3) because of significant capital expenditure requirements and long timeframes for return-on-invest is of equal importance. Life-of-system maintenance costs is currently a study in progress, which could further reveal the economics in a full feasibility study intiated by the proponent P3.

    Craig D. McConnell
    Geoscience Analysis Technology
    Enviro-Guard Technology

  6. MattB says:

    Thanks Craig! A detailed history of alternative energy estimates to date. Hope we can do better in future! I would personally like to see a revision to the building code to encourage builders to make new structures alternative energy (solar, wind, etc) ready.

  7. Dave Colwell says:

    Thanks Craig.
    What should also happen is a stop to the gouging from the Solar Cell industry so that we can all use the technology. I cannot believe that the prices cannot be reduced and still give a fair profit to the manufacturers.
    This has to change if we are to move ahead in combatting climate change.
    Squamish also needs more winter sun! :-)

  8. MattB says:

    You make some very good points! Solar is still expensive despite the price reductions in the wake of the solar panel glut in the last two years. But there are some very exciting advances in both less expensive solar panels/films and in photovoltaic efficiencies. I post these regularly on the Squamish Alternative Energy Group Facebook page at

    Here are a couple interesting articles…
    Printable solar panels close to being on the market!

    This could be a real solar game accelerator! What it means is that only about half the solar panels required in a current system (with 15-20% efficiency) would be needed to power a rooftop or other solar system.

  9. Matt Blackman says:

    So can Squamish be the next Canadian Solar City? We will find out on February 3, 2015 when I make my presentation to Council at 2 PM. Wish me luck!