Improving Community Engagement on Energy
January 14, 2019
Communities are at the forefront of the changes being made in our energy system, and not just as consumers of energy.
The public will be called upon to re-think how things work, and what their energy priorities are. As a result, people will be faced with new kinds of infrastructure developments in their backyard that they have not encountered before and likely don’t understand.
If we don’t want future energy infrastructure to face the problems and delays that we have had in the recent past – delays in everything from pipelines to renewables to electricity transmission – it is crucial that we engage with the public now, to make them part of the discussion early.
Effective community engagement means giving the public both the capacity and the opportunity to participate in energy decision-making in their communities. To help improve engagement, in 2017 Energy Exchange launched its Energy Ambassadors program, a community capacity-building initiative that builds off our energy literacy work and our Primer on Energy Systems in Canada.
- In May, we were in Wawa, Ontario, to help the community understand a modern wood heating program
- In June, we were in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to discuss a proposed utility-scale solar project in the city
- In October, we were in Digby, Nova Scotia, to talk to the community about a proposed energy storage project
- In November, we went to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, to discuss a wind power project.
In all the communities we held two sessions. The first was a small symposium aimed at local stakeholders, including business, municipal, civil society and utilities. The second session was directed at the general public.
The information we present is not only about the proposed projects, but is also about how the energy system works as a system. We also help the community members think about their own priorities for their energy systems, and the trade-offs they would be willing to make.
We had great turnout for all the events. The vast majority of attendees, around 80-90%, said they found the session valuable and it provided them with the information they needed.
But we are not done with the Energy Ambassadors project. From our initial pilots we learned a lot, including:
- The need for interactive games and activities to help people consider the trade-offs in energy systems, and what trade-offs they are willing to accept
- While we have had great turnout, we need to engage more of those who have felt left out of the discussions to date
- While environment was a key consideration when considering their energy futures, costs and economic opportunity can’t be ignored and are seen as critically important for communities
- While there are good examples of community engagement, everyone can improve
- We need to better provide practical next-steps to community members so they can more effectively engage with their own energy systems.
JOIN THE PILOT!
We will also be continuing to run pilots of the Energy Ambassadors program across Canada. If you know of a community facing an energy infrastructure project and feel it could benefit from Energy Ambassadors, please let us know. Please go here for more information on what we are looking for, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.