Kimberley says no to offset purchase

Council will put money aside until local project found

When the City of Kimberley signed the Climate Action Charter in 2007, it committed to striving for carbon neutrality by 2012.

As most municipalities are now admitting, the goal was a good one, but unlikely to be achieved. While every effort was made to reduce emissions, reaching zero emissions is not possible while buildings need to be heated, and fleets run, on fossil fuels.

The common approach was to reduce as much as possible, then measure annual emissions and purchase offsets to balance greenhouse gas emissions.

The RDEK voted just last Friday to purchase offsets in order to achieve carbon neutrality.

The vote came before Kimberley City Council on Monday evening, with a report from Manager of Planning Services Troy Pollock, outlining options.

The best option in Pollock’s report was to purchase offsets at $25/tonne or less from the Kootenay community Carbon Fund, which will pool resources from participating local governments to support select projects in Kootenay, Boundary and Columbia basin areas. The current project carbon offset purchases would support is the Darkwoods preservation project in the West Kootenay.

The City has budgeted $32,000 in the financial plan for carbon offsets and Pollock told Council that 2012 emissions should be somewhere around the 1353 tonnes produced in 2010. The City has reduced emissions since then, Pollock said, but new facilities such as the Conference Centre have added to emissions.

“Darkwoods could be as little as $16/tonne with enough participation,” Pollock said.

However, Council had a concern with purchasing Darkwood offsets — while the project is in the Kootenays, it is hardly local.

“There is an appetite to see how we could support local initiatives,” said Mayor Ron McRae, but he was in favour of purchasing from Darkwoods.

Not so Counc. Don McCormick.

“It’s impossible for any public organization to get down to zero,” he said. “The money needs to stay here. What is the value we are going to get for our $30,000?”

Also speaking against the motion was Coun. Kent Goodwin.

“I have a bit of trouble with offsets in general. And I’m not sure Darkwoods is a good place to store carbon, given climate change and the likelihood of wild fires. I would like to see a project that would actually reduce emissions like methane capture.”

What good was saying you’re carbon neutral if you’re not actually doing anything? Goodwin asked.

Coun. Darryl Oakley said that, having read the Climate Action Charter, there was nothing in it that says it is legally binding to purchase offsets.

“I do not support spending one penny outside municipal boundaries. The City has done some great things but it will never be carbon neutral. $33,000 is a big chunk of money and it needs to stay here.”

However, McRae and Coun. Hoglund and Ratcliffe were concerned about the ability to acquire grants without participating.

“There is an  uncertainty that exists in the province in terms of the whole program. We don’t really know where the province sits. But this comes up as a criteria on many grant applications.

Pollock said there was a strong value for Kimberley in being able to say it was carbon neutral.

“Nobody wants to see the money leave Kimberley,” Hoglund said. “But this is the only Kootenay project to buy carbon offsets. I do fear what will happen if we don’t buy the City goes looking for grants.”

“At the RDEK the tone was we’ll do it this time, but this is the last time,” McRae said. “I think they will be looking for closer to home projects.”

“Having so few options leaves one feeling held hostage, especially when there is so little money,” McCormick said. “I just can’t support this.”

Coun. Goodwin proposed that the City set aside a reserve fund at $25/tonne of 2012 emissions.

“Two years from now when there is a local project, we’ll have double the money.”

He didn’t want to cap the fund at the amount reserved in the financial plan because he said the whole idea was to reduce emissions. It had to be based on the amount the City produced, he said. He also said he wouldn’t tie the fund to a project within Kimberley’s boundaries because if the RDEK had a project like methane capture at the landfill, Kimberley could certainly support that.

Coun. Ratcliffe did not agree.

“The City did sign the Charter,” he said. “WE have major grant requests out there. I don’t like too, but I will support it.”

“The whole idea of grants riding on it — I challenge that,” Oakley said. “It clearly says in the document that it’s not binding.”

“I agree,” said Coun. Bev Middlebrook. “I hope we a re a Council that does think out of the box and take some risks.”

A vote was called and with only Hoglund, McRae and Ratcliffe voting for offset purchases, it was defeated.

Kimberley will not purchase carbon offsets, but will put the money in  reserve for a local project.

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