on behalf of Transition Sooke
Young people are right to be out on the street protesting. It is not clear what the world will look like, for those who are now children and several generations beyond. Yet, we need hope…especially for the children. Even if the politicians and corporations dither and persist in short term thinking, we can initiate significant change as citizens, for long term impact. Many are, all around the globe.
In this spirit of hope, the folks of Transition Sooke have been working hard over the past few years to prepare Sooke to be a more habitable place during what scholars are calling the “long climate emergency.” Many people want to be part of the solution but are not sure what that means. The Transition Sooke’s Green Energy Team is committed to determining what it will take to make a difference for the generations beyond our own.
What are some solutions? One key principle is for human society to mimic natural systems, in this case, “taking” in equal measure to “putting back”. As we began our research, we became aware we have visionaries among us already, the T’ Sou-ke Nation!
In a recent tour, Elder Shirley Alphonse welcomed us, sharing two rituals and the importance of sacredness in their worldview, enabling Indigenous peoples to live sustainably for thousands of years. As Project Manager Andrew Moore explained, the question they asked was what would be needed in a 100-years from now, akin to the Iroquois who plan for the seventh generation. We toured their massive solar installations tied to the BCHydro power grid but also their battery bank for emergency off grid power. Their administration buildings are now all net zero energy. T’Sou-ke ‘s solar project was twice as large as any project in BC when it was installed over 10 years ago. However, it also led to some powerful discoveries and ‘Best Practices’ for others aiming to reach net zero.
Their discovery, and now advice, is that going solar should be the last step you take to arrive at net-zero energy consumption. Andrew stated that the most effective initial steps are those that cost the least. Not only are these steps lower in cost, but they also are easy to do, everyone can do them, and they make the largest difference in terms of provincial energy consumption. They identified four steps to net-zero energy consumption.
Step One is aggressive energy conservation measures to reduce your overall energy consumption. This step can result in a 20% savings on your annual energy bill. We calculated that doing a range of simple measures could save you over $500 a year.
For instance, according to Consumer Reports, changing your household to LED bulbs saves $6 a bulb annually or about $120 for 20 lights. Installing a programmable thermostat and turning down the heat just a few degrees can save you $200 annually. If you set your water heater to a few degrees less or heat only during certain hours, you can save another $15-30 annually. Energy eaters, such as TVs, can be reduced by adjusting it to “home mode”, saving another $50 a year. Devices, especially gaming and other electronic devices, draw power when not in use, called phantom energy. Simply purchasing a power bar for a full shutoff each night can save you $125 annually. If you do cold-water wash of all your laundry, you can save $60 a year. Setting your refrigerator and freezer to slightly lower temperatures will also net you important savings. You can borrow an Electrical Usage Meter from the Sooke library. Plug the meter into each of your appliances, to determine which are your energy eaters. You will find that simply turning off appliances immediately after use, like your coffee pot, saves a surprising amount of money. Such a series of small actions can add up to big change, another principle of sustainability. For qualifying households, BCHydro has energy conservation kits for households that meet the qualifying income criteria: https://www.bchydro.com/powersmart/residential/savings-and-rebates/savings-based-on-income/free-energy-savings-kit).
Step Two is attending to energy-efficient heating. We have debated various options, and our best advice is to choose the option that best fits your specific situation. We suggest that the easiest and most cost-effective actions are “draft busting” — check your home for drafts and then weatherstripping doors and caulking windows. This alone can boost efficiency by 44%. Annual furnace inspections and filter changes can save another 5%. Finding large heat leaks, such as weak attic, crawlspace and wall cavity insulation can boost efficiency by 30% and save another $200. Sooke Library has an infrared thermostat gun that you can borrow to assess where you are losing heat.
The next step is replacing your windows and doors with the most energy-efficient models, boosting your energy savings by 30%. When purchasing appliances, the most energy-efficient or top Energy Star appliances can save more money. Most importantly, purchasing a heat pump will save you around 30% on your heating bill. The BC government is now offering rebates for heat pumps and energy-efficient appliances (see www.betterhomesbc.ca/GPR and https://betterhomesbc.ca/rebates/cleanbc-better-homes-and-home-renovation-rebate-programs/).
Step Three is addressing water heating. Simply fixing leaky faucets can save almost 9000 litres of hot water a year. Our recommendation is to purchase a hot water heat pump which is four times more efficient than regular hot water tanks. The good news is that there is a Pay as You Save program via the BC Sustainable Energy Association that enables homeowners to invest in efficiency improvements through loans that are then repaid by savings on their utility bill, to BC Hydro or Fortis (BC) Gas (https://www.bcsea.org/solutions/government/policy/pay-you-save-bc-response). Some banks, such as Van City, offer low-interest loans for home renovations toward energy efficiency.
The other good news is that once you complete these three steps, you will have removed approximately 75% of your energy use. The money saved can be used to pay for Step Four.
Then…Step Four is to convert to renewable energy. If we have done our best to limit the amount of energy we use, then the conversion to renewables is far less expensive. Our recommendations for renewable energy are solar, geothermal and green design homes. Solar is far more affordable now and there are reputable suppliers here in Sooke. Your choices include being off-grid where a stand-alone system powers one part of your energy needs, such as a single small building or perhaps water heater. Most people here, however, are going toward a grid-tie system where you generate solar energy. The excess power you produce is stored with BCHydro. When you are not generating as much, such as in winter, you consume your stored energy and when that is depleted, buy energy from BCHydro power at regular prices. Many people can reach net-zero energy easily in this way.
The other option is to install geothermal energy, which simply extracts the constancy of heat from under the earth into piping that heats or cools your home. Again, there are local suppliers and this option can make your heating invulnerable to power outages. Check out the geothermal homes being built in Sooke’s Woodland Creek neighbourhood.
If you are building or renovating, the best option is to design a green home. The key element of a green home is thick wall insulation (8-10”) and passive solar where a south-facing window with appropriate size eaves, heats concrete, brick, stone, or tiles called thermal mass, and releases it slowly during the night. In this way, very minimal heating is required, even in the coldest of climates. There are many other options, such as super-efficient wood stoves and electric thermal storage furnaces, so we challenge you to explore these options before you build or renovate. We also suggest avoiding seductive features which are heavy energy users, such as heated towel racks.
In summary, no matter where we live, what we live in, or whether we own or rent, we can conserve energy. Collectively, this makes a huge difference in terms of lowering the need for energy generation in BC. Such reductions would make proposed expansions such as Site C less necessary.
We know that personal habits change and change in family behaviours is difficult. We have many ideas that have proven successful in this regard. Come see us at Earth Day for our Four Steps Checklist Guide, which lists all these measures and steps. Look for our next presentation to learn more, about habit change and our purchase recommendations. Join us on our annual tour of sustainable homes.
We believe it will take the work of many people, people of goodwill and good heart, to make what is called The Great Transition to a life-giving rather than life-harming society. Over the next critical ten years, we CAN make a huge difference if we work hard to reduce energy use and collectively move toward non-fossil-fuel alternatives. In this era of climate change, we do it for the generations beyond our own.