B.C. expands carbon-neutral fund to colleges, universities, hospitals

Hospitals, colleges and universities will start getting back the money they pay government to offset greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment Minister Mary Polak announced Tuesday that post-secondary schools and health-care facilities will receive $9.5 million for projects that reduce energy costs and use clean technology.

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“The amount that they contribute each and every year to be carbon neutral is the amount that they will receive in capital projects,” she said.

Public K-12 schools already get $5 million a year to replace old boilers, install energy-efficient heat pumps or purchase electric vehicles.

Health authorities and post-secondary schools have been paying carbon offsets without receiving capital grants in return.

School districts have complained in the past they receive less in grants than they pay in offsets and that the program wastes money that would be better spent on students and education.

But Polak said school districts have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3,000 tonnes in just two years. They now save $75,000 in carbon charges and about $800,000 in operating costs annually, she said.

“We certainly see it as money worth spending.”

Schools and other public sector bodies pay $25 per tonne of emissions. The money went to the Pacific Carbon Trust before it was scrapped late last year and folded into the Environment Ministry; payments are now funnelled back to schools, universities and health authorities through the carbon neutral capital program.

NDP critic Spencer Chandra Herbert questioned why the government has set up such a confusing and circuitous system.

“Is this administratively efficient to be taking from one, holding it, sitting on it for a while and then giving it back when the province has provided the money in the beginning?” he said. “It just seems like a bit of an awkward process.”

Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation said the other problem with the carbon neutral grant program is that schools sometimes get less back than they contribute.

“Frankly, I’d like to see this whole carbon-neutral program scrapped,” he said. “We overcharge these public agencies for those carbon credits. A credit that you can get for $8 to $10 [per tonne] on the open market; we charge $25 internally.”

Bateman said he’d rather government left the money with the agencies.

“Save yourself the bookkeeping and let them spend it on the actual needs facing those patients and students.”

Island Health pays about $800,000 a year to offset its carbon emissions and expects to receive the same amount back in grants.

Deanna Fourt, director of energy efficiency and conservation, said the health authority likely will use the money to renovate ventilation systems or switch to more efficient fuel sources at some facilities.

“If they gave us $30 million, we’d do $30 million worth of projects,” said Dr. Jatinder Baidwan, Island Health’s executive vice- president and chief medical officer. “There is so much potential out there in this area it’s staggering.”

He said recent retrofits and upgrades to ventilation and heating systems at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 180 tonnes and saved $56,000 every year.

Royal Roads University president Allan Cahoon said the grant program will allow his school to cut emissions even further.

Royal Roads has already cut its greenhouse gases 20 per cent by doing everything from replacing boilers to insulating historic Hatley Castle, he said.

“We have saved over $130,000 each year in our utility bills — dollars that we know can invest in education for our students.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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