Creating a clean-energy Kootenays

Kootenay Employment Services partners with Community Energy Association to launch Kootenay Clean Energy Transition Pilot Project.

Eden Yesh is not shy to jump into the unknown.

Up until recently, he says, the myriad details of policies, action plans and targets centred around greenhouse gas emissions – was something he knew about, but not in detail. That has all changed as Mr. Yesh, the Regional Community and Economic Development Manager at Kootenay Employment Services (KES) is looking to launch a new program that will assist the Kootenays to transition to a clean energy future.

He recently returned from a Clean Energy conference, where his head was filled with charts, numbers, reports, and, most importantly, a vision for what the Kootenays could become – a low carbon-emitting region, leading targets set out by provincial and federal governments.

So, why would an employment centre develop a program like this? Well, Mr. Yesh explains, KES offers more than employment services. They do offer a wide range of employment-related programming, from assisting people to find jobs to helping employers fill job vacancies and grow their businesses. They offer programming for youth and older workers, and support self-employment programming, and community economic development initiatives. With the regional focus in mind, KES took over the WorkBC contract in Invermere, Cranbrook, and Fernie this past April. KES has always had a broad, Kootenay-based focus to their work, Mr. Yesh explains.

“Employment and community development go hand in hand,” he says. “We’re not a reactive employment centre. We’re out there helping create new businesses, helping partner with local governments and economic development organizations, [and] creating innovative initiatives that will drive new job growth.”

For example, in Creston, where KES has been operating for nearly 30 years, they started a mobile juice press to give farmers the opportunity to turn fruits and vegetables they couldn’t get to market into juice, a value-added product distributed through several grocers in the Kootenays.

Over the past six years, KES led the research, development and incorporation of three Community Investment Co-ops, which allow members to pool their money to support local ventures, while getting a return on their investments. The three co-ops encompass all 44 communities in the Kootenay region and consist of more than 300 investors.

As these new Investment Co-ops get their legs under them, Mr. Yesh is focusing his energy on another sizeable project. At KES, explains Mr. Yesh, they are always trying to look at global trends and the system changes necessary to implement them locally. Where is the world moving? Where is B.C. moving? How can we make our communities more sustainable, resilient and aligned with these trends?

“Climate Change is a real and present threat,” says Mr. Yesh. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a collaboration of governments and scientists around the world, has been sounding the alarm for 20 years. Now the alarm bell is starting to get louder and louder.”

“Soon, our economies and lifestyles are going to revolve around how much greenhouse gas emissions we are putting into the atmosphere,” Mr. Yesh speculates. “Efforts to mitigate it are percolating at every level. Individual, foundation, businesses, governments – global, provincial, and regional … Yest, we’re not reducing our emissions at the rates recommended by scientists.”

KES, in partnership with the Community Energy Association, is seeking funding now to launch a new program called the Kootenay Clean Energy Transition.

“We’re trying to drive down the biggest greenhouse gas emissions in the Kootenays which is our built environment – heating and cooling our buildings – and our transportation systems,” says Mr. Yesh.

The project partners want to address the barriers stopping people from making the change to cleaner options for transportation or building heating / cooling. Barriers identified include knowledge, cost, and local access.

“The overarching purpose of the Kootenay Clean Energy Transition Pilot is to expedite the adoption of greenhouse gas emission reduction actions by Kootenay residents, organizations, governments and First Nations, while supporting broad market transformation,” reads their pilot project support letter.

Mr. Yesh would like to set up a series of bulk buy programs to help bring down the cost for more people to adopt clean energy choices such as solar panels, air source heat pumps, energy efficiency upgrades, electric vehicles and even electric bikes. With contractor education and training built into the Kootenay Clean Energy Transition project, it will ideally help drive the number of individuals signing up. Mr. Yesh is even exploring possible financial partners who can help homeowners finance some of these options.

“We know there are significant changes needed to mitigate Climate Change, but they can be complex. This project will support the Kootenays to take large strides. A bulk buy program builds momentum and a community of like-minded individuals to drive costs down,” he says. “You’re creating a culture around lowering greenhouse gas emissions, making significant reductions to your personal carbon footprint, together with other people.”

Mr. Yesh, who also sits as chair on the BC Community Impact Investment Coalition, has a positive attitude towards the future and the changes he sees coming at all levels of government, as well as citizen voices in promoting transitioning to a Clean Energy future.

“We have global policies – the Paris Climate Agreement, we have Clean BC’s new plan, we have federal policies, and we have local governments committing to 100% renewables – it’s percolating everywhere,” he says. “We’re on this precipice of an incredible tipping point into a low carbon future, and opportunities are gaining traction globally. I think what’s really going to drive it is the effects we feel from climate change locally. It can’t be ignored.”

More information will be available as the Kootenay Clean Energy Transition pilot project gets closer to its proposed launch date of January 2020. If you are interested in being part of this venture as a funder, contractor or consumer, email Sarah Broadfoot at sb@kes.bc.ca.

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