School trustee: carbon offset program unfair

After cutting a cheque to the Pacific Carbon Trust in the amount of $87,000 this year to achieve carbon neutrality, School District 27 is urging the provincial government to change the rules for public agencies attempting to achieve the zero emission target.

After cutting a cheque to the Pacific Carbon Trust in the amount of $87,000 this year to achieve carbon neutrality, School District 27 is urging the provincial government to change the rules for public agencies attempting to achieve the zero emission target.

Recently, the board resolved to write a letter to Finance Minister Kevin Falcon requesting that monies paid by public school districts be held in trust for future carbon neutral projects in corresponding districts rather than the current structure where they fund carbon neutral initiatives in the private sector.

Currently the public sector can only purchase offsets. It cannot provide them to the Pacific Carbon Trust, a Crown corporation that buys and sells offsets.

In 2010 the government began requiring public agencies to track their carbon emissions and purchase offsets from the Trust. The offsets are provided by approved projects submitted by private companies who then receive a portion of funding from the Trust to carry out those projects.

“It’s unfair for a district like ours, a northern district where fuel costs are high and we use a lot of fuel,” says Pete Penner, School District 27 trustee for Zone 2 of the current situation.

“We get penalized both for having to spend so much money on fuel and have to pay the carbon offset on top of it. It seems a bit ridiculous.”

For one remote facility the district purchased between $70,000 and $80,000 worth of diesel fuel to heat and provide electricity. In that situation, the district pays carbon tax on the fuel and purchases carbon offsets to negate emissions.

Penner says the school district currently has some green projects on the books but has no money to implement them. If public agencies could participate in the Trust, he says, that would provide a pool of money for districts wanting to upgrade.

“We have energy saving projects all around the district with solar projects on the roof, solar water heating and a geothermal project and the reason we’re not doing more of it is we can’t apply for those (PCT) funds.”

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson agrees that school boards are being put in an untenable position.

“What’s happening now is you’re taking money away from them,” Simpson says. “So any money they might have with additional funds to do an energy retrofit they don’t have that ability so they are doubly punished when they can’t reduce their emissions and they have to pay for emissions,.

Simpson is further concerned that education money is not being used to fund education, and that the public sector is required by law to reduce emissions when the private sector isn’t.

“Only the public sector is penalized on a per-emission basis, where as the private sector doesn’t have any hard targets and they get subsidized. So that’s where the public policy is just wonky,” he says.

As of March 31 the government, says Simpson, has run out of the funds for school districts to perform energy retrofits; that money is not scheduled to be renewed.

The local school district has made use of funds from both the provincial government and public agencies like B.C. Hydro to lower its facilities carbon footprints.

Simpson has requested that the government consider making a trust for public agencies and one for private businesses that would allow both to take advantage of funds through the PCT.

“I agree with carbon neutrality and I agree it’s a laudable goal. … The issue is how do we go about it and whether the way we’re doing it is fair,” Simpson says.

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says the program has not been set up the way Simpson or the school district propose and suggests that while school districts across the province paid $5 million to purchase carbon offsets they received $25 million over five years for energy conservation projects and carbon tax reimbursements from the provincial government. However, she agrees that money has now been spent and isn’t sure whether it will be renewed.

“You have to have incentives for everybody (business) to buy into programs like this,” says Barnett of the carbon offset program.

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