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North Cowichan looks to accelerate GHG cuts on new buildings

But many in community have concerns
North Cowichan Mayor Rob Douglas said council made a commitment to the community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and it should stick to it. (Citizen file photo)

North Cowichan is moving forward with plans to quickly accelerate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new buildings, despite deep concerns being raised on the issue.

Council voted 4-3 at its meeting on Oct. 4 to give the first three readings to an amended bylaw that would see the municipality limit the amount of GHGs emanating from new builds to a maximum of 800 kilograms by Jan. 1, 2024, and down to 500 kilograms a year by July 1, 2024.

The province has recently established an ambitious program that would see incremental reductions in GHG emissions from new buildings in B.C. in the coming years, and has introduced an energy step code to guide local governments in the mandatory transition to lower emissions.


All municipalities will be required to be at Step 2 in the code in 2024, which means new builds will be allowed to produce a maximum of 2,400 kilograms of GHGs per year, and have been instructed to lower those amounts each year until 2032, when it’s hoped zero GHG emissions will emanate from new builds.

But municipalities are being encouraged to move faster than the mandated provincial requirements, and North Cowichan is moving in that direction.

The initiative means that builders will likely have to move away from using natural gas as the main source of heat and energy, and use more hydro-generated electricity.

Fossil-fuel space heating (64 per cent) and water-heating equipment (35 per cent) currently produce the majority of GHG emissions from buildings in B.C.

Council’s decision to move forward at an accelerated pace has raised the concerns of three councillors, and many others in the community who packed into the council meeting on Oct. 4.

Carmen LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for FortisBC, a utility that provides natural gas and electricity in the province, said FortisBC recognizes the importance of addressing climate change, and supports a transition towards zero-carbon new construction that provides time for families and businesses to engage with and adapt to these new requirements.


She said that includes ensuring adequate public engagement, considering broader impacts to B.C.’s energy systems, understanding impacts to affordability and customer choice, and gauging overall market readiness to deliver on the transition.

“The decision by North Cowichan council to accelerate the implementation of the highest level of the zero-carbon step code has not adequately considered these factors and will serve to increase costs and limit energy options for homes and businesses who depend on the energy FortisBC provides,” LeBlanc said.

“We believe further work is required to inform a reasoned and orderly transition that will avoid these impacts.”

Coun. Tek Manhas added that the province is not planning to reach the highest level of the zero-carbon step code for another six years.

“We’re creating a disadvantage for our own people that buy homes by adding costs to new builds,” he said.

“As well, the GHG savings will be minimal and will make very little change for us in North Cowichan, and not an iota on the world stage. We always seem to be consulting with environmental groups on these issues, but never the business community.”


Coun. Chris Istace said natural gas won’t be banned in the initiative and that new building designs will limit higher costs.

“The way many buildings are being constructed actually makes them very efficient to operate, and the costs of living in these homes is substantially reduced,” he said.

Coun. Christopher Justice said the communities in North Cowichan have agreed to follow the science on climate change and to act decisively.

“This is a moment where leadership is really critical,” he said.

“We need to be signaling to our residents that we take our GHG reduction targets very seriously.”

But Coun. Mike Caljouw said he’s sure most in the development community are looking at the increased costs of constructing new buildings, and these costs will be passed on to consumers at a time when affordability is one of the major factors keeping people out of the housing market.

“I don’t see any benefits to jumping ahead of senior levels of government in the step code,” he said.

Coun. Bruce Findlay said he did an (unofficial) Facebook poll on the issue and found just 34 respondents indicated they want to accelerate the program, while 225 said North Cowichan should follow the province’s steps in implementing the code.

“So if the community doesn’t want it and we’re elected to represent the community, why accelerate when there will be significant impacts to our residents?” he asked.

Mayor Rob Douglas said there’s no clear information indicating there will be significant increased costs on new buildings, and there may even be cost savings.

He said council has made a commitment to work on climate change and adopted its Climate Action and Energy Plan, which was updated in 2021, that sets an aggressive target of an 80 per cent reduction in GHGs in North Cowichan by 2050.

“We adopted CAEP after extensive public engagement and strong public support and if we made that commitment, it’s imperative that as leaders in our community, we follow through on that,” he said.

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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