David Dodge
David is the host and producer of GreenEnergyFutures.ca, a multi media project that tells the stories of Canadians engaged with green energy solutions in their homes, businesses and communities.
David is the former communications director of the Pembina Institute, he produced the EcoFile radio series for CKUA, was editor of Borealis magazine, the Alberta executive director of CPAWS and the production manager of Lone Pine Publishing. In his spare time David has coached soccer and basketball and has served as the president of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues.

Entries by David Dodge

500 Alberta Schools Are Powered By The Wind

(4) Comments | Posted February 8, 2017 | 3:54 PM

By David Dodge and Dylan Thompson

The rolling hills South of Wainwright are home to some of the most beautiful Aspen Parkland in existence. Nearby, just North of Provost, Alberta, you can see the sleek figures of 17 wind turbines, each 80 metre tall, poking their heads above the aspen tree line.

But these turbines are doing more than just keeping the lights on. They are powering the future of Alberta's children. In a unique agreement, the Bull Creek Wind Farm, a 29 MW facility, provides 500 schools around Alberta with 100 per cent of their energy needs.


"Lorne Young a school trustee with the St Paul Education Regional Division No. 1, one of 26 school districts powered by the wind project. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Wrangling 26 school boards into a long-term contract for renewable energy was no easy task, but as Lorne Young, a school trustee with St Paul Education Regional Division No. 1 explains, it required leadership and an understanding of the importance of securing price certainty:

"I think that a majority of the people on the board like the idea that we're part of a renewable energy project. We are an educational institution and we want to teach kids about that too," says Young. "We're an oil producing province but we also know we need to diversify it. So, we like being part of that. The predictability on the cost side is one thing, but we want to be part of a good project too."

On June 9, Young joined other dignitaries at the Bull Creek Wind Farm for its official opening.

"This project's really unique, we're quite proud of it. We have a partnership with a collection of 25 rural Alberta school boards, and that was facilitated through a purchasing group called the Commodity Purchasing Consortium, CPC," says Grant Arnold, CEO of BluEarth Renewables.

Carbon tax free zone

Neither Arnold nor school board officials would disclose the terms of the agreement, but Arnold says "It's a very good price over the long term, and in fact new wind farms are built at a price that's compatible with new natural gas-fired power. The cost of wind power and other renewables has dropped significantly."

Francois Gagnon is the superintendent of the Fort McMurray Catholic Board of Education and a representative of the CPC who finalized negotiations for the project. "We believe that we have a good price, a competitive price as far as electricity is concerned, but also it's a price that we know is there for the next 25 year," says Gagnon. "So there's the stability for us, and then as the price of carbon goes up, it becomes a better deal for us."

And this last point is a benefit of the getting your electricity from wind power. While other districts are wondering what the impact of the carbon levy will have on their power rates these 25 districts have carbon free electricity and will pay no carbon fees for it.

A deregulated market - Cheap debt is key

Deregulation is fine and dandy, but getting funding for renewable energy projects with no power contract is no easy task, but the PPA with 26 school boards allowed BluEarth Renewables to secure competitive financing from ATB Financial.

"A wind farm like this, or in fact many other projects that have a large capital up front cost, are funded with equity and debt ... the long-term contracts allowed us to get very, very competitive debt on the project, which brought the price of power down, which is key in the whole scenario," says Grant Arnold, CEO of BluEarth Renewables.

Farming the wind


Bull Creek Wind Farm sits on land belonging to David and his son Scott Blume who've farmed in the region for five generations.

"It's not like an oil company. An oil company has the right to develop their minerals. A wind group has to get the farmer's consent to develop on a farmer's property," says David Blume.

The farmers charge rent for the land and then negotiate snow clearing, maintenance and other service contracts with the developer.

"You have full opportunity to get involved," says David Blume. "We signed on with a 30-year contract with a 25-year renewable. So, that'll outlive me. But it's awesome, it's another income source there too. Like I say, we have the farm, we have other investments too, but this is a residual income. It's here no matter if it rains or snows or whatever. So, it's good."


The Bull Creek Wind Farm is on David Blume's land near Provost, Alberta. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Blume's son is getting a snow clearing contract and they've done other contracts for the wind company. Blume's one regret was not paying closer attention to the design of the roads, some of which created little wedges of land too small for his large farm equipment.

Bull Creek is a little more than half the size of the original plan for the project, so it's possible the wind farm could be expanded.

Blume says green energy was one of the NDP government's platforms "They want to replace the coal too, so to replace the coal we need 27,000 wind turbines in the province and so... And we've only got maybe 300 right now, well... A few more than that. But, we definitely have a huge upside for development on the wind turbine side," says Blume.

David Shepherd, MLA for Edmonton Centre was at the Bull Creek opening and he confirms there is more wind development coming. "As you know, we're moving ahead with our commitment to transitioning Alberta away from coal fire to 30 per cent renewables and natural gas here in the province, so we're going be moving completely to a brand new mix, I think, as we move forward with that and invest some of the funds that are going come in through the levy on carbon. We're going see a lot more of these projects springing up," says Shepherd.

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These Alberta Students Want Schools To Become Models Of Sustainability

(0) Comments | Posted September 16, 2016 | 3:45 PM

You may remember the students from the Centre for Global Education program. We told you about the white paper on climate change policy in Alberta they wrote and presented to Premier Rachel Notley well before the provincial NDP announced Alberta's Climate Leadership plan last November.

Premier Notley was so taken with these students she went back to meet with them at another virtual town hall meeting when the Alberta team of students started researching and writing a follow-up white paper on climate change action in Alberta schools.

The new white paper recommends infusing climate change into the curriculum, new strategies for student learning, making school infrastructure sustainable and funding climate leadership projects in schools.

Green Energy Futures went to that student town hall meeting and now the students have finished their paper Climate Leadership in Alberta Schools. These intrepid students were then invited to present the paper to the Hon. Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks and Hon. David Eggen, Minister of Education for Alberta.

Students want climate change in the curriculum

"We engaged the opinions and the passion of over 3,000 students," says Gareth Thomson, of the Alberta Council for Environmental Education, who acted as a resource to the student-led project. "We had 45 student leaders who spent time every week hanging out together, learning together. We had 2,200 students who responded to a survey that was sent out by the student leaders in eight high schools, both urban and rural across Alberta. It was a tour de force."

They want more learning to happen outside in the environment and they want to work with community leaders -- to learn how to address the real-world issue of climate change.

On June 7, a delegation of students took their white paper to the Alberta Legislature to meet with the ministers, just minutes after Bill 20, the Climate Leadership Implementation Act was passed in the Alberta Legislature.

Grade 11 student Stephanie Zuwaduk calls climate change "The defining issue of our generation."

"We understand that climate change can be intimidating and overwhelming. But we believe that the antidote to despair is action. We must not stand idle and wait for someone else to initiate change. We must initiate change as the youth and as Albertans so that we have a brighter future in the wake of climate change," Zuwaduk told the ministers.

Students from Fort McMurray, Bonneyville and Edmonton came to meet the ministers and present their ideas for how to take action on climate change by creating new curriculum and taking action right in schools.

The students did their own research, they invited resource experts to give presentations and then a delegation of 10 students locked themselves in a room for a weekend with some graduate students from the University of Alberta to boil inputs from 3,000 students down into a sophisticated set of recommendations for change.

Mudassar Javid, a grade 11 student from Queen Elizabeth High School, told the ministers they want initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of students and schools. They want more learning to happen outside in the environment and they want to work with community leaders -- to learn how to address the real-world issue of climate change.

Javid also said students want "equality of voice" a place on advisory committees in schools, at school boards and in the provincial government to ensure their voice is heard.

Students want schools to become models of sustainability

"We don't want small-scale change," said Leah Buchannan, another grade 11 student, to ministers Phillips and Eggen. "We're looking for Alberta-wide change. We're looking for solar panels on the roof of every school. We're looking for students who are being inspired by their teachers like we are. We can only achieve these things with your help."

For Helen Wang, a student from Westwood High School in Fort McMurray, climate change is even more important in the wake of the devastating wildfires that ripped through her home city.

"Well, I think more strongly of those issues now with the recent events that's happened," said Wang. "Again those events that are likely a result of the changing climate because this spring has been the driest and the hottest and the most sudden of all springs. That really hits the point closer to home. It gives additional motivation to make a difference."

She says integrating climate change into schools and the curriculum means "Students will be learning about climate change and how to prevent it through all subjects every year."

So what does the future look like if the students are successful?

"There will be fewer people denying climate change," said Wang. "There will be more awareness. There will be more activity done to address this issue. Of course, there will be physical changes like solar panels on the roofs, wind turbines and more renewable methods of energy."

In this weird new world, you might expect government ministers to cringe at the thought of being lobbied by a group of idealistic students, but the Hon. David Eggen, minister of education thanked the students for their hard work and said: "We're looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint in Alberta and we're also looking for ways to diversity our economy."

Shannon Phillips, the minister of environment, parks and climate change, who had just passed Bill 20, The Climate Change Leadership Implementation Act, told the students: "The act that we just passed is the architecture, now we move the furniture in. Initiatives like yours are exactly the kinds of partnerships we want to explore moving forward."

"That's the thing that people leave out of this conversation, how ready Albertans are to move this province forward," said Phillips. "We see it with folks like you, with solar co-ops, with dairy farmers in rural areas. People are doing these fantastic initiatives with no support whatsoever! Imagine what we can do now that we have the ability to reinvest a price on carbon into these initiatives."

Many of the students confirmed their deep pessimism when they started their climate leadership project, but as Helen Wang from Fort McMurray says: "I'm feeling far more optimistic than I was. Meeting with the leaders... really, really helps with the optimism."

Alberta has its Climate Leadership Implementation Act, it has even committed $3.4 billion to phasing out coal plants and building enough renewable energy for Alberta to get 30 per cent of its electricity from clean sources by 2030.

The proof will be in the pudding as they say, but it seems like the students have a powerful starting point for ensuring schools are models of sustainability and that students are equipped to deal with the real world challenges that will shape our future.

Student-led Climate Leadership for Alberta Schools white paper

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Saskatchewan Solar Co-Operative Brings Power To The People

(2) Comments | Posted August 19, 2016 | 3:37 PM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

On the roof of the Two Twenty building in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan are 90 solar modules comprising a 27.5 kilowatt solar system, the very first project built by the newly-formed SES Solar Co-operative.

The co-op is an offshoot of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) that works on conservation, sustainability and yes, energy issues. In fact, in its early days the SES fought the construction of a dam on the Churchill River. The society offices are in the Two Twenty building, a co-working space for social innovators in Saskatoon.

The SES wanted to push the envelope on solar and, let's be honest, "Environmental organizations are always strapped for funding so we decided what if we could form an entrepreneurial arm of the society, that would do things well by the planet and also make money for the society," says Joe Schmutz, president of SES Solar Co-operative.

People power

Many people seem to support the concept of community-owned power and the ability to get involved with solar without huge personal investments or loans.

"It empowers people to move from mere consumers of energy to being part of the energy enterprise," says Schmutz.

Community power is hugely successful in Germany and it's part of generating significant public support and involvement in building a clean energy grid. Some call it the democratization of the electricity grid. SolarShare in Ontario has been remarkably successful attracting $30 million in investment thanks to Ontario's feed-in-tariff. But in places like Saskatchewan or Alberta due to market structure and other barriers it's much more challenging.

But the SES Solar Co-operative in Saskatoon is determined to develop this creative way of supporting solar. While Saskatchewan has net metering in place, overproduction of solar energy gets "donated" to the grid. On the upside SaskPower offers a 20 per cent rebate on solar capital investments to a limit of $20,000.

Shares snapped up

Armed with ideals and the goal of building clean energy SES Solar Co-op ran an Indiegogo campaign and 100 investors each put up $1,000 to get regular and preferred shares.

The co-op also got seed money from Affinity Credit Union who ran a social enterprise competition in 2014. The SES came out on top and received $50,000 in start-up funds. Then Bullfrog Power stepped in a provided a $100,000 interest free loan. All together, SES Solar is now well on their way.

Their first completed project on the Two Twenty building is a collaboration with Shift Development, their landlord. The co-operative will own the system and Shift Development will use the electricity and return savings to the coop.

Despite being finished first, this is actually the co-op's second project. Their first project being a 26 kilowatt solar project in partnership with the City of Saskatoon at the City's landfill gas plant.

"The city wanted to take one extra step and install a solar operation to replace the power they buy from SaskPower, and we teamed up with the city. That project is 26 kilowatts, and we teamed up with the city 50/50," says Schmutz.

Why a co-op?

Any form of business could have potentially made the SES money. Mark Prebble is on the board of the SES Solar Co-operative. He explains why a coop made the most sense.

"The pooling of a diverse range of expertise and resources has been critical to our success," says Mark Prebble. "The co-op model has also certainly improved accessibility for many in reducing investment risk and encouraged entry into solar generation for those that are perhaps interested but wish to learn more through participation before committing to a greater solar investment."

A solar co-op "provides a mechanism to raise funds from a community for a community to best serve their needs" says Schmultz. "It also allows people to participate in solar even if their own house roof may be shaded."

The SES Co-op is "expecting and targeting a return of two per cent to three per cent over the 25-year lifetime of the panels," says Prebble, while Schmultz says this is about pushing change: "The buy in we got, we got primarily from Saskatchewan Environmental Society members and they weren't so concerned about the return. They wanted to make this work, they believed in solar, they believed in the planet and they believe that we need to make an energy transition."

Regulatory hurdles

The Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority of Saskatchewan was rigorous (perhaps rightly so) in ensuring that this type of coop would comply with their existing regulations. Because of this, the co-op was unable to raise more than $100,000 in funds, which is quite limiting for a start-up.

After 18 months they have finally received the thumbs up from the FCAA and may now actively market to Saskatchewanites. Currently, the coop has 98 paid members but this is sure to increase.

Speaking of increasing interest, across the provincial border, The Alberta Solar Co-op is in the startup phase as is the Solar Power Investment Cooperative of Edmonton. And in B.C. SolShare Energy has just finished their first project. Many people involved in these efforts are counting on Alberta to provide incentives to get the ball really moving on solar.

Solar powered co-work space

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This P.E.I. City Uses Smart Grid To Get Record Wind Integration

(6) Comments | Posted July 22, 2016 | 9:55 AM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

In 2015, the city of Summerside, Prince Edward Island, achieved the highest level of wind power integration in North America.

While the province of P.E.I. is already a leader with 26 per cent of its electricity coming from wind power, the City of Summerside Electric Utility has ratcheted that up to an astonishing 46 per cent by adding a smart grid with energy storage.

Less than a decade ago, Summerside, like much of the rest of the province, had its diesel generators running 24/7 producing very expensive electricity. P.E.I. imports 75 per cent of its electricity from New Brunswick, and the only on-island generation was 200 megawatts of diesel generators. Diesel generation is expensive, very expensive -- costing 35 to 45 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Something had to be done. The province was already home to the Wind Energy Institute of Canada and has among the best wind resource in the country. In just five years P.E.I. built 202 megawatts of wind power generation capacity in a province with a peaking load of 270 megawatts.

The City of Summerside, population 15,000, piled on and built its own 12-megawatt wind farm and secured another nine megawatts of wind under contract from North Cape, P.E.I.

Summerside grid transformed overnight

This transformed Summerside's electrical grid almost overnight. The city realized it could produce wind power for five cents per kilowatt hour, around one-ninth the price of diesel power.

The City replaced nearly all of its diesel power and then had a new challenge: "In Summerside, we have too much wind at times," says Greg Gaudet, director of municipal services for the City of Summerside.

In P.E.I. wind energy has a very high capacity factor, up to 50 per cent, but that still means you get too much wind power at times and too little at other times. To increase the amount of wind energy the City was using they needed energy storage.


Totally affordable energy storage

If energy storage has you seeing banks of expensive batteries, think again. The very pragmatic folks in Summerside instead started using water heaters and furnaces in local homes and businesses that can store energy as heat. They call it the "Heat for Less Now" program. Those appliances are hooked up to Summerside's spanking new smart grid, installed in 30 per cent of the homes in the city, which allows the utility to turn them on when the wind is blowing.

The one big change for homeowners is lower home heating bills.

Homeowners who purchase these energy-storing appliances get a discount on electricity for five years. They pay only eight cents per kilowatt hour, five cents less than the market rate and less than half as much as   oil.

Energy storage has helped Summerside get 46 per cent of its electricity from wind power. And they have done this with only 314 appliances hooked up to their smart grid.

How does it work?

The Electric Thermal Storage (ETS) home furnaces are made by Steffes out of the U.S. and range in size from room heaters to full-size commercial heating units. The ductless heaters use electric powered heat pumps that operate with between 150 and 300 per cent efficiency to produce heat for the home., The units also produce extra heat when the wind is blowing and store that heat in thermally dense ceramic bricks for later use.

Gaudet explains that even though the bricks get up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit (650 degrees C), the heater doesn't get very hot on the outside. "It's not going to hurt your kids or anything."

The heaters store energy as heat for up to three days, allowing Summerside to use their smart grid to run the heaters when the wind is blowing, saving that heat for use by the homeowner when it's needed.

The Holy Grail of affordable clean energy

The water heaters are made by Marathon and are super insulated, allowing water to be heated to 77 degrees C under the control of Summerside's smart grid. The water heaters lose only one-quarter of a degree per hour and have mixing valves on top to mix the super hot water with cold water to ensure the home gets hot water that's not too hot to use, about 60 degrees C.

This allows the water heaters to use off-peak electricity when the wind is blowing, helping Summerside use even more wind power at a rate discounted by 35 per cent for residents.


In P.E.I. energy circles, Summerside found the Holy Grail of affordable clean electricity. And they're not just replacing diesel generated electricity, they're also replacing heating oil, since Summerside is also shifting home systems from fuel oil to wind power.

"A lot of people in Summerside in Prince Edward Island have used fossil fuels to heat their homes and hot water over the years, because electricity prices have been high. We're finding with displacing those emissions from fossil fuels and using renewable energy from the wind to power the hot water and heat we're seeing a 42 per cent to as high as 85 per cent reduction in the home's greenhouse gas emissions," says Gaudet.

With only 314 appliances installed, Summerside is able to shift 10 per cent of its electricity demand to times when the wind is blowing.

This has been a game changer. For the last three years the City has been powered by 100 per cent wind energy 20 per cent of the time. The City utility says customers are saving 15 to 40 per cent on home heating, while customer satisfaction is running at 99 per cent.

In pretty short order Summerside has become a North American leader at integrating wind power using smart grid and energy storage technologies.

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Bob Chelmick's Solar-Powered Cabin In The Woods

(0) Comments | Posted July 15, 2016 | 5:29 PM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

On a crisp spring morning, a pair of Canada geese lift off and glide low over Nakamun Lake. The beating of their wings breaks the still waters which ripple with reflections of pink clouds, hovering low in the predawn air.

Bob Chelmick rises from a chair on the east-facing porch of his solar-powered cabin in the woods near Edmonton, Alberta, to greet me.

"Can I get you some tea?" Bob asks as SunnyBoy, a golden rescue dog, and Samantha, a foundling black dog left at the local Nakamun Superette, bound to greet us.

A veteran broadcaster, photographer and artist, Chelmick is the producer of The Road Home, one of the most innovative radio programs on air today.

Chelmick calls it "extra-ordinary radio" and it surely is. You could call it spoken word radio, but that doesn't quite do it justice.

"I hesitate to use the P-word, but I'm going to," says Chelmick. "For people who haven't heard The Road Home and who have been brought up in normal schooling, poetry is a nasty word. I discovered the beauty of poetry when I was a teenager and started reading it and exploring it that way. I've always wanted to integrate it on radio, because when it's presented as an oral art form, it really sings."


To be clear--this is not a poetry show, at least not in the way you might think. It's about stories of home, Bob's cabin in the woods, his dogs, horses and the boreal forest. It's a journey home for the dedicated fans who love and live in the show for the two hours it's broadcast on Sundays at 8 p.m. on CKUA Radio. It's a home for modern poetry wrapped in story, music and Chelmick's silky smooth baritone voice.

A renaissance man, Chelmick is known to many as a former news anchor for CBC or CTV. But he is also an accomplished photographer, the former morning host of CKUA Radio in Alberta and a lifelong student of poetry.

Coming home from the bright lights of news "infotainment"   

As a young man, Chelmick dreamt of being a forester, he performed in a folk band, drove a Datsun 240Z and had "long hippie-ish hair." After studying Radio and Television Arts at NAIT in Edmonton, he got a taste of his future at CKUA Radio, before becoming an accomplished news anchor. But one day, 20 years into his news career, he had an epiphany.

"'Television is crap!' What is it? Infotainment? I just, I had to get out of it," says Chelmick. He hasn't owned a TV since.

"When I came back to CKUA, 1999 I think it was..." says Chelmick. "I felt like I was coming home to community radio that wasn't focused on the mighty dollar. I loved that and it was authentic. You could be authentic on the radio."

Though Chelmick was a very popular morning man at CKUA, it wasn't long before he starting formulating an idea for his next adventure.

What came first: The Cabin or the Road Home?

Chelmick's solar-powered cabin in the woods was, "an escape. By day, the bright lights, the studio, the news, all that stuff. By weekend, the calming quiet of the country."

After a long search, Chelmick purchased a quarter-section of forested land near Nakamun Lake, about one hour northwest of Edmonton.

Chelmick's getaway required the hard work of clearing brush and laying a foundation. The original cabin was 600 square feet and solar-powered, complete with battery storage.  Why solar? Chelmick recalls seeing brown streaks across the sky near Lake Wabamun.

"It was from coal-fired generation at Wabamun, and it really was disturbing to me" says Chelmick. "It would stretch as far as the eye could see, this brown haze. I didn't want to be part of that. I didn't want to buy into it literally or figuratively."

"Another consideration was purely economic. I'm about half a mile from the power line and so that was costly. Back then, they quoted me about 15 or 16 grand to put power in here."

Solar-powered Cabin in the Woods

Chelmick started small, with an 80-watt solar module, powering the fan in his composting toilet. Solar was much more expensive then. Over the years the system was expanded several times. Today, it's 3.4 kilowatts.

Ten years after adding the battery storage system, Bob faced a dilemma. It was going to cost $10,000 to replace the batteries, so he decided to bite the bullet and hook up to the grid and use it as his virtual battery instead. Luckily, the utilities have changed their approach and the hook-up was a much cheaper today than it once was.

As for his storied Cabin in Woods, Chelmick had done research into straw bale construction, EarthShips, cob and even cord wood masonry construction. But eventually he settled on "stick construction and good insulation."  When the time came for additions, Chelmick used "double-wall construction, two by six and two by four, with rigid insulation between them."

The cabin has a natural gas furnace, but a wood stove provides most of the heat, from wood harvested by Chelmick just outside the cabin's door.

It was from this place in "the calming quiet of the country" that The Road Home was born.

The Road Home, solar-powered radio

"When I came with the title of the program, The Road Home, and put the proposition forward to CKUA, I thought of Sunday nights coming back from the lake after a summer weekend--it's kind of a magic time, you're weary and you're looking forward to getting back into your life," says Chelmick.

"I wanted to integrate the things I love in my life most. Living here in a cabin, living out of the city, living in nature, making radio, storytelling, and painting pictures through that storytelling."

"The best pictures I make are on radio," says Chelmick, an accomplished and exhibited photographer.

Oh, and poetry: "I think poetry belongs on radio. It's not the rhyming poetry of our fathers and grandfathers. It's free verse, which is I think very powerful and beautiful. It has an aesthetic. The Road Home has an aesthetic, that's for sure, that's based on its poetry and its mix of music," says Chelmick.

Listening to one episode of the Road Home, wood frogs from Bob's pond sing in the background and take me to my childhood home in north Edmonton where boreal chorus frogs and wood frogs greeted me every spring just outside my bedroom window.

The Road Home is much more than a destination. "Don't be looking to get somewhere without enjoying the process of getting there, the road home is home," Chelmick says paraphrasing 13th-century Persian Sufi mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī, who provides the best description of Chelmick's show.

"People say, they live vicariously through The Road Home, so they have this little oasis, their little cabin in the virtual woods through this radio program. And I love that."

What about the "P" word?

The Road Home is a multilayered weaving of story, music, nature, the cabin-in-the-woods and yes, poetry. Friends advised Chelmick to be "careful with the 'P' word, just call it spoken word" radio, they suggested.

But Chelmick is an unabashed evangelist of poetry and proselytizer of his favourites, including Mary Oliver and Lorna Crozier who, like Chelmick, take inspiration from the natural world.

"The people I relate to who write poetry, [are those] who tell stories from their environment, which is similar to my environment, and do it so well, they're so inspiring," says Chelmick.

In a way he's right. The Road Home is not a poetry show per se. It's a soothing, intricate blend of storytelling woven together with inspiring music, the sounds of nature and yes, poetry all wrapped in a peaceful sense of place. A place we can all call home.

You can hear The Road Home live on the CKUA Radio Network or listen anytime at roadhome.fm.

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Iron And Earth: Oilsands Workers Call For Training In Renewable Energy

(13) Comments | Posted June 24, 2016 | 3:05 PM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

The call to action on the Iron and Earth website says it all:

 "As oil sands workers, or friends and family of somebody in the energy industry, we acknowledge the contribution of fossil fuel extraction projects to our lives and livelihoods. As global citizens, we also acknowledge the need to reach climate change targets. Let's seize this opportunity and create jobs in the renewable energy sector."

Lliam Hildebrand is first and foremost a boilermaker. On his last oilsands project in northern Alberta, a colleague said to him over lunch, "Man, oil prices are still dropping. They're going to go below $30 soon, and if we don't start diversifying our jobs into renewables, our union is screwed."

It was many conversations like this that inspired Hildebrand to join forces with other like-minded oilsands workers to start Iron and Earth, a campaign calling for training and retraining in renewable energy.

New energy jobs for energy workers

"Our primary goals are number one, to build up the workforce capacity to build renewable energy projects in Canada and in Alberta," says Hildebrand, now the executive director of Iron and Earth. "Secondly, we want to help build up the manufacturing sector required to build renewable energy. And third, we want to ensure that our contractors and unions can position themselves within this emerging sector."

The campaign has really taken off. "It's been absolutely incredible, the amount of attention and support we've received so far," says Hildebrand. "We only launched a month and a half ago, and we already have 4,000 people who have signed our pledge and over 450 of those are actually workers interested in the program and excited about our initiative."

Hildebrand says that diversification is already built into how various trades operate.

"These tradespeople actually work in all of these industries, whether it'd be coal or natural gas or the oilsands," says Hildebrand. "So the work force is capable of diversifying, just as we're capable of diversifying our energy grid."

"We're going to need these oil-sector jobs for a very long time," says Hildebrand. "But new construction opportunities are largely going be in renewable energy. Renewable energy investments were more than double that of fossil fuels in 2015, and that trend is going to continue."

"We have an incredible opportunity in our society today to really own this pivotal moment. We have recently signed the Paris accord, there are all kinds of national climate commitments being made. A number of provinces have made very ambitious climate commitments -- Alberta to transition to 30 percent renewable energy by 2030, and we have Saskatchewan making a 50 per cent commitment by that same date."

And for Hildebrand all of this renewable energy development means jobs. "It's going be an explosive industry. I think a lot of people underestimate how much this is going to really change Canada."

The Iron and Earth Solar Skills Campaign

The Iron and Earth idea is rapidly evolving. Hildebrand says his new organization is looking at four projects or campaigns. "Our primary focus right now is our solar skills campaign, where we are going to retrain 1,000 electricians and other tradespeople with solar PV, solar heat, energy efficiency, and EV charging station skills."

"Our priority goes to out-of-work electricians. So imagine you're an out-of-work electrician, and if you sign up to this program, we start our first project this fall. So show up on-site, do a couple days of class time learning about the entrepreneurial opportunities in the solar PV world and industry. And then you go on to the roof and install the system," says Hildebrand.

The training program they envision will run for four weeks, with other solar skills training following the solar PV module.

Iron and Earth has partnered with Randal Benson of Grid Works Energy who already runs training programs. "He's already retrained approximately a thousand electricians with solar PV skills," says Hildebrand.

Iron and Earth already has a list of 450 workers interested in training programs and this has certainly helped Hildebrand get audiences with politicians like the federal environment minister.

"We got an opportunity to meet with Catherine McKenna already," says Hildebrand. "It's pretty exciting that we're able to have meetings at that level already, and it really showcases the need for these practical solutions-based projects and initiatives."

First we take Alberta, then Newfoundland

A second initiative of Iron and Earth is to start a Newfoundland chapter. "One of our directors is from Newfoundland and when he arrived home there were a ton of people contacting him, just really overwhelming amount of support from workers in the province," says Hildebrand.

Adam Cormier organized a meeting in Newfoundland and, within 48 hours, had 35 workers signed up. Soon after the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers pledged $5,000 for the effort.

The third initiative Iron and Earth is working on is an interactive website for workers that will include a directory of renewable energy stakeholders and "a space for workers to meet each other."

"We're also running a worker's climate plan campaign ... that will be focused on engaging workers around the federal climate consultation," says Hildebrand.

What about renewable energy and jobs?

"From the numbers we've been looking at, it seems that solar industry employs approximately 10 times the number of workers in comparison to wind energy. Now, wind energy is also a cheaper source of energy and is going to make up the majority of the larger renewable procurement in Alberta and in Saskatchewan, but it's going to be really important that we make sure that we're also exploring these other renewable energy technology types such as solar, geothermal, biomass and biofuels," says Hildebrand.

In the U.S., solar jobs grew by 20.2 per cent in 2015 with the industry employing 208,859 workers as of November 2015. 

No one has run the numbers for the ambitious pledges made by Alberta and Saskatchewan, but building somewhere between five and 10 gigawatts of renewable energy will most certainly produce jobs here.

With the tragic fires in Fort McMurray, it's been a difficult few weeks for Hildebrand's colleagues in the oilsands. "It's pretty rough. I actually received a call from one of my friends who was almost in tears when that was all going down. She wasn't sure if her husband was going to actually escape in time, and it's crazy. There's a lot of families like hers, whose houses didn't escape those fires. And considering the amount of economic downturn that's happening in that community right now, it's just unreal," says Hildebrand.

For Hildebrand it's not solar versus oilsands, but he sees this as a pivotal point in history where new opportunities can be created for all energy workers.

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PEI Rocks Wind Power

(9) Comments | Posted June 10, 2016 | 3:40 PM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

Prince Edward Island is the smallest province in Canada. It's known for Anne of Green Gables, mussels, lobster and some "bright red mud" as Stompin Tom Conners called it in his song Bud the Spud, about the red earth that grows one quarter of all the potatoes in Canada.  But, perhaps less famous, for lack of a catchy theme song, is that Prince Edward Island (PEI) also has the highest proportion of wind power of any jurisdiction in North America.

"PEI actually is one of the leaders in wind in the world ... and 25 per cent of our electricity is produced by wind on Prince Edward Island," says Paul Biggar, Minister of Energy for PEI.

The province lacks a suitable landscape for hydro-electric and has few non-renewable natural resources. So a decade ago, PEI was dependent on expensive diesel and oil powered generators for its on-island electricity production while the New Brunswick grid provided about 75 per cent of its total electricity needs via a pair of undersea cables.

Wind power in just one decade

When PEI's government crafted a plan to wean their grid off costly and carbon-intensive diesel, they turned to wind power, one renewable resource that the island has plenty of. A map of the wind potential of PEI glows red showing high potential for much of the island. As we write this 34 per cent of PEI's electricity is coming from the wind.

PEI began investing in wind generation in 2006 and today has 204 megawatts of wind capacity in a province that has an average demand of 200 megawatts and a winter peak of 260 megawatts.

The PEI Energy Corporation, a crown corporation, owns three wind farms and 73 megawatts of generating capacity. Engie, formerly known as GEF Suez, owns 108 megawatts of capacity and sells most of its power to New Brunswick through a contract. The Wind Energy Institute has 10.6 megawatts while the City of Summerside also has 12 a megawatt wind farm. Interestingly, almost half of PEI's wind is under contract to New Brunswick.

Focus on wind power comes down to dollars and cents

"On Prince Edward Island, it costs us five cents per kilowatt hour to produce it (wind power), but we sell it off for eight cents per kilowatt hour," says Biggar. "So it is a revenue generator for our energy corporation. We take in about $20 million a year of revenue on our wind."

That's quite a contrast to diesel generation that costs up to 45 cents per kilowatt hour. That's also the reason PEI is pretty keen to find ways of integrating even more wind power. Since building out their capacity, PEI uses it's 200 MW of diesel facilities mostly for backup. These days only one per cent of PEI's electricity comes from on-island diesel generation.

However, PEI has reached a bottleneck with their undersea power cables to New Brunswick.

"We're right in the middle of installing a new cable, a 360 megawatt cable from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island," says Kim Horrelt, CEO of PEI Energy Corporation.

The $140 million project will provide new baseload electricity capacity as demand grows in PEI and it will also allow the continued export of wind power from PEI.

How renewable will PEI go?

The province recently decided to delay building a new diesel plant while they seek public input for their new energy strategy.  Some wonder if PEI has tapped out the potential of cheap wind energy. But a PEI Energy Commission report in 2012 said: "The potential to advance beyond 30 per cent contractual wind integration and utilize even more of the wind energy generated by all of the wind farms in Prince Edward Island can be realized through time-of-wind electricity consumption initiatives."

PEI is looking closely at ways of using more wind power through energy storage. A smart grid program in Summerside shows good potential to expand the use of wind power. Meanwhile, Biggar says "The other area we're looking at is solar power and more biomass" along with "more energy efficiency programs."

Solar one more tool in the clean energy toolbox

The cost of solar is still higher than wind, but much lower than diesel so it may be another part of the puzzle since peak production for solar is midday and in the summer, whereas the wind blows strongest at night and in the winter."Whereas wind sometimes is generating in the overnight hours when the demand may not be there...solar is likely to be generating at those peak times of the day when the sun's still out and energy use is high," says Scott Harper CEO of the Wind Energy Institute of Canada, founded in 1981 in North Cape, PEI

PEI already has energy efficiency programs aimed at improving building efficiency and electric heating systems such as air source heat pumps, thermal electric furnaces and water heaters. Consultants advised the province that the cost of energy efficiency is much cheaper than any energy source available to PEI.

Energy efficient and electric-powered, air-source heat pumps, like the ones we've seen in net-zero homes are being installed across PEI including the motel I stayed at.

Integration the key

In a report to the PEI Government Dunksy Energy Consulting reported the costs of various energy solutions: Energy efficiency 4 cents/kWh, wind 6.8 cents/kWh, biomass 15 cents/kWh, solar 18.9 cents/kWh and tidal 30 cents/kWh. But it's not a simple matter of simply picking the cheapest solution. Different solutions provide different benefits and services to the grid. And PEI is already bending the curve through implementation of non-traditional energy storage solutions. The future is not clear, but one thing is certain: PEI appears motivated by early success to push the envelope further.

"I think our end game is if we can get that capacity to store that wind, you would see at least 50 per cent and I think that's our ultimate goal," says Biggar. "How can we capitalize the most on our wind capacity here on Prince Edward Island? Because that is our greatest resource in terms of potential for electricity. That is the goal we're working towards."

More than any other jurisdiction, PEI is wrestling with grid design, energy storage and even the structure of their market to build the clean energy grid of the future.

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The Wind Energy Institute Makes A Big Investment

(0) Comments | Posted May 9, 2016 | 12:09 PM

The Wind Energy Institute on Prince Edward Island's North Cape.

Long before you get to the North Cape of Prince Edward Island, you see them on the horizon. Wind turbines, spinning in tandem, go from the size of your pinky to towering...

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How Calgary Is Looking Ahead And Embracing Clean Energy

(2) Comments | Posted April 28, 2016 | 8:58 AM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

Alberta's carbon tax is expected to have a relatively minor impact on middle to lower income folks, but what about a major city that buys $60 million worth of power every year? That's going to cut into some budgets!

It turns out there's one municipality that's positioned very well for a carbon tax but its name might surprise you -- Calgary. That's right, the oil and gas capital of Canada is expecting to save $9 million thanks to their forward-thinking embrace of clean energy.

"We meet all of our corporate energy demand through renewable sources," says Arsheel Hirji, leader of sustainable infrastructure for the city of Calgary. "It started with the Ride the Wind program in 2003 where all of our light rail vehicles, our LRT system, was powered with renewable electricity. Now, renewable energy powers everything from the office administrative buildings to the street lights, to the libraries."

According to Hirji, powering Calgary's infrastructure costs more than $60 million annually. So, when the city approached ENMAX, their utility provider, with a desire to green that part of their grid, ENMAX was given the financial certainty to develop 120 megawatts of power generation at the Tabor and Kennel Hills wind farms.

"I can point to a wind farm in Tabor and Kennels Hills and say, "That power comes right to our doorstep," says Hirji.

This forward thinking was undoubtedly justified as a way to reduce emissions or be progressive, but now, Hirji says, this clean energy contract will save Calgary an estimated $9 million in carbon taxes in 2018 and $12 million in 2019.

Renewable energy will save money

Recently, the City of Calgary installed a 153-kilowatt solar system on their Southland Leisure Centre. Hirji confirms the city is looking at a much larger solar system, perhaps as large as 625-kilowatts on its composter facility now under construction.

"We hope that by 2017, in the opening of that composting facility, we'll also have the unveiling of Calgary's largest solar plant to date," says Hiji.

But the city isn't stopping there. Just in time for the province's plan to invest $3.4 billion in renewable energy over the next five years, Calgary just completed a solar assessment of all of their civic buildings.

"The city of Calgary owns and operates thousands of buildings," says Hirji. "That includes recreation centers, office administrative buildings, waste treatment plants, water treatment plants and more. A resource assessment told us that on those rooftops we could install about 26 megawatts of solar."

Unfortunately, Hirji says Alberta's municipal solar program isn't sufficient for the city to take the leap. Currently, the province's municipal solar program provides up to 20 per cent of the funding for a project, up to a maximum of $300,000. Hirji says two simple changes would make the math add up to a solar boom in cow town.

"I'm simply saying, 'Increase that number to 30 per cent and a $500,000 cap', and that makes significant enough of a difference to catch my attention.'"

"The province of Alberta has my commitment that with the right type of financing strategy for the city of Calgary, we could easily see within a three-year period, between three and a half to five megawatts of installed capacity within our municipal boundaries," says Hirji. For perspective that's half as much solar that is currently installed in all of Alberta.

The carbon tax is coming

Calgary's previous investments in renewable energy will now save them millions of dollars in avoided carbon taxes. The question going forward is how much more renewable energy the city will invest in.

 "By 2026 the carbon taxation program in Alberta is going to cost the municipality into the tens of millions of dollars," says Hirji. "By investing in renewables, that tax is effectively avoided because the source of generation is tax free and therefore, our investments will help us hedge against cost increases related to Alberta's climate change strategy."

Calgary has a sustainable buildings policy, which can help make buildings solar ready, an idea that unfortunately didn't come in time for the new composting plant. The city is investing more in energy efficient buildings, installing more LED streetlights, combined heat and power systems and even providing education programs to teach city employed drivers how to save fuel through their driving behaviour. 

Speaking of drivers, another big challenge for the city going forward is their vehicle fleet. Currently, transit buses and other city vehicles are primarily diesel-powered. The bus fleet alone is nearly 1,000 vehicles. According to Hirji, Calgary is looking at using electric garbage trucks and doing some pilot programs with electric buses as well. That could add up to a significant savings in a post-carbon tax economy.

For the average person the carbon tax will mean a 6.7 cent per litre increase in gas prices, and one analysis suggested Albertans who fall below a net-income threshold of $47,500 for singles or $95,000 for a couple could get back more in the form of a rebate than they will pay in carbon taxes. Make your next car some more fuel efficient model and you will actually be ahead of the game.

It's hard to say how many municipalities are as ready for the carbon tax as Calgary is, but one thing is pretty clear -- the carbon levy is already inspiring the kind of thinking that will reduce emissions. In the case of Calgary, the city seems poised to avoid paying almost $10 million in carbon taxes and through their solar program they are ready to capture funds through Alberta's municipal solar programs--money paid in carbon taxes by other, less prepared organizations.

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Investing In Energy Efficiency Can Jump-Start Alberta's Economy

(4) Comments | Posted March 18, 2016 | 11:29 AM

On March 2, 2016, energy efficiency companies and experts from Canada and the United States gathered in Edmonton to talk about Alberta and energy. On the surface, that doesn't seem odd. Alberta is almost synonymous with energy in a lot of circles. However, when it comes to energy efficiency programs, the province...

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The Sustainable Benefits Of Building A Carbon Neutral Laneway Home

(24) Comments | Posted March 4, 2016 | 1:21 PM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

Thanks to innovative zoning, hundreds of beautiful laneway homes have been built in Vancouver, B.C. This has increased urban density and provided an affordable option for people to live in the core of a city where homes sell for more than a million dollars.

In a sprawling city like Edmonton, Alberta, infill garage suites or laneway homes, are a rarity. So when we heard that Karly Coleman and Andy Hengst were building a carbon neutral, net-zero garage suite in Edmonton's Westmount neighbourhood we just had to see it.

Garage Mahal

"The Garage Mahal of your dreams," says Karly Coleman, leading me through this amazing laneway home.

Coleman and her partner Andy Hengst needed a new garage. But beyond increasing Edmonton's density and building a revenue-generating property, they wanted something cutting edge and green.

"It has solar walls, solar panels, a thermal heat pump, really thick walls, and energy efficient appliances. It's really cutting edge," says Coleman, who strove to include sustainably-sourced flooring, paint and windows as part of the build.

To build their dream suite, the couple hired Carbon Busters, an Edmonton-based zero-carbon design and energy-efficiency specialty firm.

A carbon neutral home?

"Zero carbon is basically a building that doesn't emit any carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions on a net annual basis by replacing the energy with renewable energy," explains Godo Stoyke, president of Carbon Busters and author of the Home Energy Handbook.

A carbon neutral home and net-zero home are similar in that both produce as much energy as they consume over the course of a year. The difference is a net-zero home produces its own energy right on the home, whereas a carbon neutral home can produce its energy elsewhere in the community.

"Let's say you're in an area where you're shaded from a high rise, well, if you have a net-zero ready building, it's almost impossible to make a net-zero house in that area," says Stoyke. "But with a zero carbon, you can! Put the renewable structures on a different building or somewhere in the community."

This distinction becomes important if you want to build a district geothermal heating system like the one that will be in Edmonton's planned Blatchford community, which will house 30,000 people and hopes to run on 100 per cent renewable energy.

This carbon neutral garage suite is net-zero and produces its own electricity using a 6.8 kilowatt solar system right on the roof.

Amazing solar home heating system with energy storage

The thing that really makes this laneway home unique is the solar-powered home heating system, which stores thermal energy in a 2,600-litre water tank to heat the home when the sun doesn't shine. It all starts with a solar air wall.

We've talked about solar air walls before. We even built one! But comparing it to Karly and Andy's solar wall is like comparing a dachshund to a husky.

This solar air wall is 2.5 meters wide by 5 meters tall and covers a large portion of the laneway home's south wall. A sheet of black metal material is mounted behind a wavy sheet of plexiglass, with an air space in between.

"When the sun hits this solar wall, the heat gets converted to infrared," says Stoyke. "Trapped inside, [the heat] travels all the way up to the ceiling."

The solar air wall preheats the air for an air-to-water heat pump, making the latter much more efficient.

"In the attic, you have a fan that blows this hot air towards an air-to-water heat pump," says Stoyke. "And this air-to-water heat pump has a refrigerant that transfers the heat down to the utility room where there's a second part of that heat pump, which stores [the heat] in water. This water gets used both for space heating and for domestic hot water."

The heat pumps work like your fridge, but in reverse. The system strives to keep the water in the large storage tank at 55 degrees Celsius. This stored thermal energy is fed to the water heater and directly into the home's radiant hot water heating system.

100 per cent solar heating system

The heating system runs on 100 per cent solar energy -- solar electricity for the air source heat pumps and passive solar energy for the solar air wall.

The home has LED lights, energy efficient appliances (including a condensing dryer with no external vent) and high levels of insulation.

"The walls are 10 inches, so it's nominally R38, which is about twice as well insulated as a regular house. The attic is R105 which is two and a half times a regular house, and the floor has insulation of over R40, where most homes have R5," says Stoyke.

Learning as we go

This project is very innovative. Stoyke has built numerous sensors into the home to make it part of his PhD research project at the University of Calgary. He hopes to learn just how much of a home's embodied energy can be offset through innovations in design.

"It's called a life cycle assessment," says Stoke. "We're recording the energy it takes to make the building, the energy it takes to run it, and the energy to decommission a building at the end of the life cycle."

The goal is not only to offset the energy a home uses, but to eventually turn the home into a net producer of energy.

A blueprint for carbon neutral homes

Karly Coleman wants this project to be a model and inspiration for others.

"I hope this becomes the norm. I hope that technology like this, with the research that we're doing into how it's functioning and how well it functions in a climate like Alberta, both politically and temperature wise, provides information and awareness and opportunity for others to do the same thing."

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Can This Radically Sustainable Home Survive A Cold, Canadian Winter?

(0) Comments | Posted February 26, 2016 | 12:22 PM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson 

When we last visited the Kinney Earthship it was a smokin' hot 30 degrees Celsius outside. Michael Reynolds and his crew from Earthship Biotecture, along with a group of volunteers, were just finishing work on this radically sustainable home. 

An earthship is an off-grid home that produces its own energy, captures its own water, treats its own wastewater, grows its own food and passively collects the sun's energy for heat. 

That's the idea, anyways. But ever since the Kinney Earthship was built in the summer of 2014, Duncan Kinney has received many emails about one particular subject: how does it hold up so far north?

"I still get emails from people interested in earthships and they're like, "How does it do in the winter? How does it do in the winter? How does it do in the winter?" says Kinney.

Duncan is the former editor and production manager here at Green Energy Futures. He and his parents Glen and Dawn built their Earthship on a plot of land along the Little Bow River just north of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.  

The cold, dark Canadian winter 

I remember the prairies of Southern Alberta as lush and green. Today, as I pull my Rav 4 through the rolling hills, the area more resembles a lunar landscape. The word that comes to mind is bleak. But as I look closer, some life stirs. Down in the coulees a herd of mule deer forage among the bits of land that poke through the sheets of snow. On the neighbouring property, cows are grazing, while a flock of about 500 waterfowl lift off from a field that still has corn stalks from last year. 

I question the wisdom of the waterfowl wintering in a place where temperatures can drop to -30 degrees Celsius. But maybe they would say the same of the Kinneys and their Earthship.

"It's the middle of January," says Duncan Kinney. "It's been cloudy and crappy weather for four or five straight days. It is about -15 outside right now and here we are inside and it's 20."

The Earthship's primary heating system is its passive solar design. A greenhouse that covers the entire front of the home captures plenty of heat, even in the winter. The Kinneys added a petite wood stove, tucked into a corner, which provides supplementary heat to the living room, kitchen and master bedroom. While I was there, the overnight temperature dipped to -22 degrees Celsius outside but remained a comfortable fourteen degrees inside the Earthship. That's just one degree cooler than my city home at night with its setback thermostat.  

On a sunny day the inside temperature bounces all the way up to 22 degrees from solar heating. On cloudy days the Kinneys light a fire in the morning and hardly notice the difference.

Tomatoes in January 

The whole goal of earthship design is for it to be an independent vessel, sailing on the Earth, providing its own essential elements. Perhaps this is why Glen Kinney starts my tour in the greenhouse.  

"You can see even during this cold time of the year, we've got some tomato blossoms," he says, cradling the blossoms in his hand.

The greenhouse goes down to just a few degrees Celsius on the worst nights of January, but soars back up to the mid teens each day. Peppers and tomatoes ripen on the vine.  

"For greens, we've got some Swiss chard and I planted some turnips just to get some turnip greens," says Glen. "We got some green onions that are growing here and some different herbs. I think that's rosemary there and some parsley." 

The greenhouse is the Earthship's garden, its water treatment centre and passive solar heater. 

The off-grid Earthship gets electricity from a 3.8 kilowatt solar system with battery storage. While I was there, and for only the second time since it was completed, the Earthship ran out of electricity. 

Imperfect paradise 

Well, not totally. 

"Everything that's on DC is still running," says Duncan. "The fridge is still running. The water is still running."

Essentials such as the fridge and water receive power because they are modified to run on direct current (DC) power, the stuff that comes right out of the solar module and batteries. The alternating current (AC) power comes from an inverter that gets turned off when the battery reserves get low.

"Right now, we're just charging up our system with this weak morning daylight in order to tick on our AC as soon as we can."

The Kinneys could have installed a larger solar system, but they are conservationists by nature and chose this size energy system to match their needs. The family seems to get along fine without satellite TV for a few hours.  

Part of the reason they are able to get away with such a small solar system is they also have a propane system. 

"We do have a big propane tank off the side of the house, which we've had for a year and a half now," says Duncan Kinney. "It's still 65 percent full, so we don't use very much of it. That's what we cook with, a natural gas stove that's been converted to run on propane." 

Propane is used for the stove, clothes dryer and for the back-up on-demand hot water system. 

We enjoyed our morning coffee under candle light while the weak morning light began to slowly recharge the solar batteries.  

Managing water on a dry Canadian prairie 

"The water system here has been incredible. It's one of the best features of the house," says Duncan. 

Water is collected from the roof and stored in a 26,000-litre cistern system buried beneath the earth behind the home. Greywater -- anything that doesn't run through the toilet-- is piped into the greenhouse to water plants and undergo natural water treatment before it is reused again in the greenhouse or in toilets. 

"We get about 13 inches of rain a year and there's cactus everywhere, so it's not like we're getting a lot of rain," says Duncan. "But [our supply] has never been below three-quarters full. Aside from having to clean the filters when you get a lot of silt in the system, it's been one of the best parts of this house. It's been rock solid." 

We visited the Earthship in the middle of a Canadian prairie winter after a series of cloudy days, and the only hiccup was a short-term loss of AC power. It is indeed an independent vessel sailing much more sustainably on the planet Earth.

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Dispelling 7 Solar Energy Myths

(37) Comments | Posted February 11, 2016 | 4:47 PM

In Greek mythology, Icarus, while escaping Crete wearing homemade wings, ignores the advice of his father and, in an act of hubris, flies too close the sun. The wax holding his feathery wings together melts and he falls to his death.

As it turns out, it's important...

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Lethbridge Biogas: Turning Food Waste Into Green Power

(0) Comments | Posted February 4, 2016 | 12:52 PM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

Brown gold. Prairie pies. Monkey missiles. Whatever you call them, they're all over the place in feedlot alley near Lethbridge, the food processing centre of Alberta.

Where you or I may turn up our noses at a pile of ripe, smelly manure, Stefan Michalski, director of operations at Lethbridge Biogas, sees a resource that can be turned into clean, green energy.

Michalski came to Alberta from Germany more than a decade ago with a dream, to tap the back-end of Alberta's agriculture industry and spin green energy from brown waste.

While biogas is relatively new to Alberta, it's very common in Germany.

"As of today, there's more than 8,000 plants in Germany alone," says Michalski. "It is a proven technology. It works even in Canada's climate, which we have a lot of sceptics always asking about, and it has been around for decades in Europe."

Recipe for turning brown waste into green power

Normally, manure is spread on farmland as fertilizer, but this can pollute runoff, cause odors and release tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Normally, food waste is simply landfilled which costs money and, like manure, releases plenty of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Lethbridge Biogas takes the manure and food waste, mixes it together, heats it to 39 degrees Celsius and captures the methane (natural gas) to power twin 1.4 megawatt generators to produce enough power for 3,000 homes.

The 3.9 million litre digesters resemble giant, squat grain silos with dome tops. While it's easy to make jokes about cow manure, it's an essential ingredient for making biogas.

"Manure from a process perspective is a very valuable input material because it carries the form of bacteria you need, but it is actually very low in energy," says Michalski. "So if you can balance that out and add organics that are higher in energy content, you can create an ideal mix with a higher output that manure couldn't deliver."

Turns out food waste is very high in energy. It really makes you wonder when you see the food being dropped off (we saw vegetables, dog food, buns, coffee grounds and some messier stuff), but at least it's better to turn this food waste into biogas than to dump it in a landfill.

Lethbridge is a food production hub, so there is plenty of organic waste from potato and vegetable processing as well as from local restaurants and stores.

 "Typically, we are cheaper than the landfill which is an incentive to do it here, not only because it makes more sense, but you want to create some diversion with an economic incentive," says Michalski. Many places in Europe have banned organic waste from landfills, thus ensuring the waste is used.

So how does Lethbridge Biogas make money?

"First and foremost, we make power. Power still makes up about 60 to 70 percent of our revenue stream," says Michalski.

In addition to selling electricity, Lethbridge Biogas also collects tipping fees for organic wastes, which provides 20 per cent of its revenue and the final 10 per cent comes from selling carbon offsets.

"It is a small piece now but with the recent announcement of carbon tax and other initiatives around the Climate Change Leadership Plan, we think this is a piece that can grow," says Michalski.

Reducing pollution

Producing clean energy from waste is pretty cool on its own, but biogas production also helps cut pollution in several ways.

When farmers spread manure in the fields, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It can pollute local streams and runoff and let's face it, manure stinks.

The biogas production process takes the methane out of the manure and burns it to produce electricity, which reduces emissions almost 25 fold. Digestate, the leftover solids from the digestion process, is an even better fertilizer than manure, with fewer odors and significantly less pollution.

"[The farmer] has a product now that doesn't stink as much," says Michalski. "A product that's better balanced, that has a better nutrient and phosphor-nitrogen ratio. He can deal with it the same way he dealt with the manure before."

Lethbridge biogas collects the manure and returns it as a better product.  "So for [the farmer], it's almost a no-brainer because he has to do nothing," says Michalski.

Most biogas applications are smaller than the 2.8 megawatt Lethbridge Biogas power plant which makes it perfect for farm scale and a great tool for economic diversification. James Callaghan has 250 head of dairy cattle in Lindsay, Ontario and he built a farm-scale digester and a 500 kilowatt power plant. Ontario has almost 30 farm-scale biogas plants. Michalski says there is room for hundreds of the same in Alberta.

A place for biogas

Michalski says the biggest hurdle to developing a biogas industry in Alberta is the patchwork of regulation currently in place.  Thanks to red tape and uncertainty, it took Michalski and his partners the better part of 10 years to get their plant going.

"Well, we need a place for bioenergy and biogas, in particular," says Michalski. "We need some regulatory mechanism and incentives to get there."

Michalski thinks biogas should be recognized for its special benefits of not only producing base load green power, but solving a handful of environemental problems and creating economic diversification at a time when people are hungry for it. 

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Let's Address Some Common Wind Energy Myths

(61) Comments | Posted January 26, 2016 | 11:40 AM

It seems to happen with every new technology. It wasn't so long ago that some people were convinced a photograph could steal your soul. We may read about that now and have a little chuckle, but are we so far removed from the same phenomenon today?

They may...

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Insulation 101: One Builder's Secret Blueprint For A Net-Zero Home

(5) Comments | Posted January 20, 2016 | 10:39 AM

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

The era of net-zero homes is upon us. These super-efficient homes use rooftop solar energy production and smaller, electric powered heating systems such as air source heat pumps to produce as much energy as they consume.

That's some sexy technology, but...

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A Commitment To Building Energy Efficient Homes In B.C.

(1) Comments | Posted January 12, 2016 | 11:07 AM

All Carl Lauren wanted to do was promote the construction of energy efficient homes. It sounded easy enough. So a few years ago he called up the mayor of Kimberly, B.C. and suggested his hometown make constructing homes to the Built Green standard mandatory.

The mayor at the...

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2015 Was A Breakthrough Year For Green Energy

(3) Comments | Posted January 6, 2016 | 1:20 PM

No question, 2015 will be remembered as a banner year for clean energy in Canada. Perhaps surprisingly Alberta led the way as the new government there pledged to invest in clean energy.

"Alberta is going to move away from coal and towards clean power," said Premier Rachael...

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How Vancouver Plans To Go 100 Per Cent Renewable

(0) Comments | Posted January 5, 2016 | 1:34 PM

It seems as we increasingly become a nation of urban citizens it is cities that are leading the way on climate change and renewable energy. Poll after poll after poll has shown Canadians support action on renewable energy, and municipal politicians are moving the needle here...

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Vitoria-Gasteiz: Spain's Green Capital Is Made For Walking

(0) Comments | Posted December 17, 2015 | 12:17 PM

Change is hard. Green energy enthusiasts talk a lot about creating more sustainable cities, reducing emissions and greening up our lifestyle. But then we toil away inside the bubble of our geography and culture while the inertia of our traditions resists innovation.

Shedding this inertia, we flew to Vitoria-Gasteiz (or VG) in the Basque Country of Spain to take a look at the 2012 European green capital. I was looking for a shake-up, some stimulating ideas for creating new sustainable cities that are resilient, beautiful and oozing with livability.

A world away from home

Vitoria-Gasteiz could not have been more different than what I was used to. Where my home city of Edmonton is relatively new, VG is old, having been founded in 1181. Where Edmonton is one of the most sprawling in North America, VG is only six kilometres in diameter at its longest point. Where Edmonton is in the process of building a huge concrete ring road that encircles the city, VG has opted instead to build a massive 1,000 hectare greenbelt surrounding the city on recovered gravel pits, drained wetlands and industrial parks.

Their decades-long effort at rebuilding nature is creating resilience from climate change and floods while giving citizens an amazing place to live -- there are 2 million visits a year into the green belt alone. In fact, Vitoria-Gasteiz might be one of the greenest cities anywhere. It has an impressive 45 square metres per person of green space and gardens. You are never more than 300 metres from a park or natural space in VG. But the city is green in more ways than its parks and trees.

"There is a focus on using the biomass potential we have here, because we have 10,000 hectares of forest surrounding the city," says Gorka Urtaran, the mayor of Vitoria-Gasteiz. "That's one aspect. But also solar, wind, and geothermal power. Most of the new buildings, they consider including all these four types of energy."

Vitoria Gasteiz is a very compact city of 250,000 people and because of its geographical density you are never more than three kilometres from downtown, no matter where you live.

But in spite of its compact form, Vitoria-Gasteiz used to have a twelve-lane roadway that ran right through its heart. Then planners did something other cities only talk about.

They ditched the 12-lane roadway and built a truly multi-mode marvel of design for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and yes, even car drivers too. This is almost never done, but planners simply looked at what modes of transportation were important in terms of numbers of users and then built infrastructure that works.

A revolution in urban design

Today fully 54 per cent of all trips in Vitoria Gasteiz are taken on foot, one of the best figures anywhere.

"We redesigned a very high speed traffic avenue into a new river corridor," says Luis Andres Orive, director of the Environmental Studies Centre describing the transformation of Gasteiz Avenue. "There were 12 traffic lanes. We divided it [the public space] in a more democratic way for pedestrians, for bicycles, and also reconstructed the river that was there 40 years ago. That meant a revolution inside the city."

The result is a stunningly walkable, beautiful urban landscape, bustling with pedestrians and natural spaces. With these projects, the city has increased their bicycle trips from one per cent to more than 12 per cent of total trips. Meanwhile, car trips have dropped from 36 to 24 per cent with transit making up the rest.

Energy retrofits - the big energy efficiency prize

Mode shift in transportation is tough, but one of the biggest energy efficiency nuts to crack is renovating old building stock. In Vitoria-Gasteiz, 60,000 homes were built with little or no insulation. These represent the largest energy-saving emissions reduction opportunity imaginable.

To take advantage of it, Vitoria-Gasteiz has embarked on one of the most ambitious home energy efficiency retrofit projects in the world. It aims to retrofit 750 to 1,000 homes in one neighborhood to reduce energy consumption by 75 per cent.

"There is no insulation at all," says Juan Carlos Escudero, director of the Vitoria-Gasteiz Environmental Studies Centre. "We have only brick walls and windows. So the possibilities for improving energy efficiency is really high."

Adding insulation is a no brainer, but the city also plans to install a district heating system for the entire neighbourhood. This involves setting up a biomass heat production facility that links to all the homes in the neighourhood. It has the capability to drastically lower heating costs and emissions. This is not easy to do unless you are retrofitting an entire neighbourhood such as they are doing in Vitoria-Gasteiz.

The average cost of the renovations is expected to be €21,000 ($30,660 Canadian) per home (for façade changes, insulation, exterior work, connection to district heating etc.), but thanks to various programs, each homeowner will pay about €9,600. It's a €29 million project with €6.4 million in EU funding; the balance will come from energy service contractors and homeowners.

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