Yellowknife and Inuvik have assessed their “smart energy” readiness using a new nationwide benchmarking system, launching on Tuesday, which both NWT communities helped to pilot.
The Smart Energy Communities Benchmark asks municipalities a series of questions about how they consider energy in areas like policy-making, staffing, land use, and transportation.
Communities are given a score for each of 10 sections, representing how close they are to becoming a smart energy community – defined as one that “seamlessly integrates local, renewable, and conventional energy sources to efficiently, cleanly, and affordably meet its energy needs.”
Questions were tailored to each community. For example, Inuvik was scored on questions related to natural gas that Yellowknife, which has no infrastructure for natural gas distribution, did not have to answer.
The system was devised by national energy non-government organization Quest and environmental charity Pollution Probe.
Quest and Pollution Probe give communities a comprehensive scoresheet (here they are for Inuvik and Yellowknife) showing how each was rated and summarizing any gaps or outstanding features.
Ultimately, Yellowknife currently scores 123 out of 215.5 and Inuvik scores 77 out of 176.5. Converted to percentages, Yellowknife scores 57 percent of its possible total while Inuvik scores 44 percent.
The communities of Calgary and Campbell River, as examples of southern communities, each scored 70 percent. However, the benchmarking team says direct comparisons are of limited use as the benchmark questions change from place to place.
The nature of the benchmarking system – which its creators admit is complex, and aimed at municipal staff – makes it difficult for ordinary residents to easily digest how their community is faring.
For example, the scoresheets contain no simple summary of each community’s performance and it is not immediately clear why the scoring systems differ between communities.
While Yellowknife could have scored a maximum 215.5, Inuvik could only score a maximum 176.5. The reason is the way in which some questions were removed or skipped depending on their applicability to each community – but you can only discover which questions were or were not asked by comparing multiple scoresheets or consulting a detailed methodology document.
In places, the scoring system penalizes communities for issues that aren’t necessarily the municipalities’ fault. For example, Inuvik loses many points on the grounds that “information could not be found” from the NWT Power Corporation.
Elsewhere, scores appear to have been incorrectly awarded. For example, Yellowknife is said to have scored six out of 22 marks in relation to energy and buildings, but seven marks are shown in the breakdown beneath the total. (At one point, the Yellowknife document refers to the City of Markham, a separate pilot community, in an apparent mistake.)
Yellowknife also loses a point for having no system of road tolls or congestion charge, despite the near-total absence of what most cities would consider congestion. Inuvik gets a free pass for this question on the grounds of its size.
‘First of its kind’
Nevertheless, the municipalities welcomed their participation in the pilot. The system is now being rolled out for other communities to use.
“Being a part of the development of the Smart Energy Communities Benchmark was an incredibly valuable opportunity to collaborate and learn from other communities,” said Mayor Natasha Kulikowski of Inuvik in a news release issued by the benchmarking project.
Inuvik and Yellowknife were two of nine communities to take part in the pilot. Others were Calgary, AB; Campbell River, BC; Beaconsfield, QC; Bridgewater, NS; Grande Prairie, AB; London, ON; and Markham, ON.
You can find all of their scoresheets here.
“The benchmark tells a story about how all communities across Canada – regardless of geography, population, or energy resources – are facing similar challenges and finding innovative solutions by learning from one another,” Kulikowski said.
In Yellowknife, Mayor Rebecca Alty said: “The Smart Energy Communities Benchmark is the first of its kind to help local governments and utilities show elected officials, stakeholders, and citizens where they’re making headway on becoming a smart energy community and where opportunities remain.”
Yellowknife scored well in areas like governance, finance, and data, but poorly in relation to energy efficiency in buildings – the subject of a scrap among councillors in 2018.
Inuvik scored highly in areas like how the land is used to support smart energy and the availability of retrofit programs. There were lower scores for the staffing Inuvik dedicates to smart energy (the benchmarking team said the town’s size had been taken into account) and some technical characteristics of its energy networks.