Dawson Creek

Freya Kristensen
PhD Candidate, Simon Fraser University

Published November 14th, 2012

Case Summary

Dawson Creek is a city with a population of approximately 11,000 located in BC’s Peace Region. It is known for its oil and gas industry and this is a major contributor to the city’s economy. In the midst of this industry however, the City has developed some of the most innovative climate change and sustainability-related initiatives in BC. Years before the Carbon Tax was instituted, Dawson Creek had already begun the process of reducing its corporate and community GHG emissions. In 2003 the City hired Emanuel Machado as the Director of Corporate Planning and Sustainability and he became one of the key drivers of sustainability work in Dawson Creek. Machado worked alongside consultants from the Pembina Institute and this partnership resulted in innovative policies such as the Carbon Fund and the solar-ready bylaw, as well as enabling the City to reduce its energy and GHG emissions.

In the last three years, Dawson Creek has experienced two serious droughts that have spurred the community to institute water conservation measures. Water meters have been installed in all homes and businesses and the price of water was increased in 2011. Because oil and gas companies were using up to one-fifth of the City’s potable water for use in the fracking process, Dawson Creek initiated a partnership with Shell to build a plant to treat sewage effluent for this purpose.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Dawson Creek has implemented several successful and innovative policies and initiatives related to climate change mitigation and adaptation:

Bear Mountain Wind Park: This is one of the most significant developments in Dawson Creek. The Bear Mountain project came about due to the work of two Dawson Creek residents with an interest in renewable energy and energy conservation. In 2003 the two residents established the Peace Energy Cooperative (Peace Energy), a for-profit cooperative, with about 80 members. Using data collected by BC Hydro, who monitored high potential wind sites throughout the province between 2000-2004, Peace Energy learned that Bear Mountain, located just outside of Dawson Creek, showed enormous promise as a site for a wind farm development. Not long after securing the rights to this site in 2004, Peace Energy found a partner with whom to develop the site into a wind farm. This partner was the tiny Aeolis Wind Power Corp, based out of Sidney, BC.1 For financial backing, Altagas was brought on board as a third partner, taking over full ownership of the site. In July 2006, Bear Mountain was one of three projects granted a BC Hydro energy purchase agreement, which guaranteed a market for any power produced by the project. Construction of wind turbines on Bear Mountain began in 2007 with the project becoming operational in 2009. Today Bear Mountain produces 102 MW of power.2

GHG Emissions Reductions: Energy planning began in Dawson Creek in 2004, when the City carried out its Corporate Baseline Inventory. This study looked at how energy is used in corporate operations; how much it is spending on energy; and how much GHGs are associated with energy usage. Since then, Dawson Creek has adopted the following targets in reducing community-wide emissions: 14% below 2006 levels by 2012; 35% below 2006 levels by 2020; and 85% below 2006 levels by 2050.3

Dawson Creek Carbon Fund: In 2011, Dawson Creek announced the creation of its carbon fund, designed to propel the city’s goals for carbon neutrality. For every tonne of GHG pollution emitted from the city’s buildings, vehicles, and other operations, $100 will be put into the carbon fund to improve energy efficiency in city operations. This was the first such fund developed in BC and the city worked with the Pembina Institute in its design. Currently the Carbon Fund holds just over $300,000.4

Solar City: In June, 2012, Dawson Creek became the first Solar City in Canada. The initiative is part of the Canadian Solar Cities Project and requires a number of criteria need to be met in order to achieve this title, including having a community energy plan in place, adopting targets for meeting energy demand with renewable energy policies, and implementing incentives for solar electricity in residential homes. To date, Dawson Creek has installed solar hot water systems on all of its municipal buildings, a photovoltaic system on City Hall, and it has updated its OCP to include support for renewable energy. In addition, the City has introduced a “new solar hot water readiness regulation” that requires all new homes to have the capability to connect to solar domestic hot water systems.5

Critical Success Factors

In terms of environmental sustainability, the City prioritizes projects that meet its goal of carbon neutrality. Staff look particularly for projects that will save money or pay for itself; “those are the low-hanging fruit that don't have to be portrayed as being done for the good of the planet or even the good of the local community, environmentally. They can be portrayed as just good business sense. You have much more buy-in when you have a project like that”.6

There has been an effort on the part of the city manager to ‘embed’ sustainability into the operation of the City. When a more progressive council was elected, including mayor Calvin Kruk, sustainability became a priority for the City. However, the existing department heads, despite having many years’ experience, were lacking the proper skill set and the buy-in for sustainability. As a result, there were some changes made in the organization of city staff, with younger, more educated department heads taking over as the older cohort began to retire. The CAO looked for capacity within the organization but hired from outside; this is how key people like Emanuel Machado came to work at the city. This move has helped to ‘embed’ sustainability in city operations because small cities like Dawson Creek often find it challenging to retain good staff; according to the CAO, “no council will willingly jettison young, motivated people in the first half of their career, because they are impossible to replace”.7 If these staff were unable to continue their sustainability work, they would likely move to a city where they would be better appreciated. Staff recruitment has been a key way to embed sustainability in City operations.8

There is not always a great deal of support from the community for some sustainability and climate change-related initiatives. However, staff and council have pushed through, making what they felt were the right decisions for the city. As one councillor said, "There is lots of push-back on densification. [...] But we do it anyways. We are the bravest council ever. We just do it anyways. And they re-elected us. The only ones who didn't get re-elected were those that retired. […] Our water conservation: they fight it and they're mad at us! They hate our guts! But you just do it. I just say to people, 'Somebody has to be brave. Somebody has to do this. Somebody has to be thinking about the future not three years down the road to the next municipal election”.9

Another important success factor has been the adoption of a management framework in city hall. Prior to instituting this framework, the process of operating the City involved the mayor giving a directive to city administrators who carried out the mayor’s wishes. Motions made by council were either acted upon or not, depending on what staff felt the city’s priorities were. After one councillor was introduced to a program of excellence run by Excellence Canada during an FCM conference, the City moved to adopt this framework, in order to redesign and improve management processes around certain ‘principles of excellence’, including cooperation and teamwork, a primary focus on citizens and stakeholders, respect for the individual and encouragement for people to develop their potential, and factual approaches to decision-making, to name a few.10 Excellence Canada runs a Progressive Excellence Program (PEP), a 4-level implementation program, and Dawson Creek began to embark on this process. Five key goals were identified, accompanied by objectives to meet within each goal, along with strategies, programs and initiatives to reach them. Measurements and targets were also adopted for each goal. This new framework served to break down the problem of silos within city hall: no longer were department heads accountable only to the mayor. After each council meeting, department heads sat together to figure out how to incorporate motions passed by council into their own department’s work. Department heads became accountable to meeting directives from council. Sustainability started to become the job of everyone, as staff became aligned around meeting the City’s overarching goal of sustainability.

What Didn’t work?

Despite having adopted an OCP that integrates sustainability as a key feature of many of the City’s goals, these policies are not always followed closely. There is evidence that the City is not following its own policies in the area of land use planning, where despite a clear goal of moving towards compact, mixed-use developments, much sprawl-like development is being approved at City Hall.11 It seems that without several outspoken champions in staff and council constantly holding the City to its commitments, sustainability faces the risk of moving to the periphery.

The City also lacks capacity to carry out proper monitoring of its ten sets of indicators. There has been little reporting done and the indicators adopted are in some cases vague and inadequate.12

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

The current energy manager position is being funded by BC Hydro. FCM has also been a crucial funding source for planning sustainability: FCM funding has paid for Pembina Institute and HB Lanarc’s work as well as work done on the OCP. It is critical for staff to be able to propose a project to council knowing that there is some funding available from a source like FCM. Live Smart BC and Solar BC were funders of the City’s original solar hot water heater on City Hall.13 The City’s Water Reclamation Plant was funded almost entirely by Shell Canada in a partnership with the City.

Dawson Creek is a signatory to the Climate Action Charter and so has access to the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program (CARIP), through which it receives some money back on its energy expenditures. The Carbon Fund, Dawson Creek’s internal carbon offset fund, has been set up as a bank account to pay for future sustainability initiatives and he CARIP rebate is used to partially offset Dawson Creek’s contribution into the fund.14

Another way that Dawson Creek has been able to fund these initiatives is through winning numerous awards for already existing sustainability initiatives. This has given the City recognition and momentum, as well as the financial means to continue doing this work.

Research Analysis

Dawson Creek is an unusual case because of its geographic and economic context, in the heart of BC’s oil and gas industry. It is fairly remarkable that a traditionally conservative town has been able to carry out such innovative work. The combination of the Peace Energy Co-op garnering community support for alternative energy, coupled with a more general community culture of self-sufficiency set the stage for the City’s sustainability work. However it is key individuals who can be given the majority of credit for Dawson Creek’s success. The rise of community support for alternative energy ended up manifesting in the election of more progressive councillors like Marilyn Belak and eventually the election of a key sustainability champion in Mayor Calvin Kruk. The decision to bring Emanuel Machado on as the Director of Corporate Planning and Sustainability was critical as it was Machado along with consultants from the Pembina Institute who were the masterminds for some of the more prominent sustainability initiatives in Dawson Creek (the Carbon Fund and the solar-ready bylaw). Since these key champions have left their positions, sustainability has continued on but without as much gusto. The current mayor has been supportive of sustainability but will be leaving the City to pursue a seat as an MLA. There is fear among sustainability advocates that sustainability will no longer be a priority in the City as there are fewer and fewer people in power to be champions. City operations however seem to have been imbued with a culture of sustainability, with responsibility for reducing GHG emissions being spread throughout city departments. With a new cohort of younger staff members recently being hired to city staff, there is hope that new champions will emerge to continue the work started a decade ago.

Detailed Background Case Description

Dawson Creek’s move towards sustainability was driven by a desire for self-sufficiency, embodied in the late 90s and early 2000s by a group of citizens wanting to explore alternative energy options in Dawson Creek. Sustainability started to become an issue of increasing prominence with the election of a new council in 2002 (which included future mayor, Calvin Kruk) that began to hire new staff members to help reform governance structures in the city and “to help transform how the city did business. These strategic hires eventually proved vital to proposing new approaches and initiatives and to finding funds to enact further study.”15 In 2003 a visioning process was carried out to help develop a strategic plan for the city and through this process the City began to incorporate a four-pillar approach to planning that included environmental, social, economic, and cultural sustainability.16 In 2005, the City hired Pembina Institute to carry out a community energy planning process to develop a baseline and options for the municipal operations. “The baseline report, completed in August 2005, made seven recommendations including undertaking a retrofit study of municipal buildings, installing solar hot-water units on city hall, and right-sizing the municipal fleet to minimize energy use in transportation. The Director of Corporate Planning and Sustainable Development estimated that the recommendations in the report were all acted on within eighteen months of the report being tabled. As a result of these actions the city enacted infrastructural changes, such as installation of solar hot-water heaters and LED traffic lights, and realized financial savings of reducing energy expenditures.”17

Also in 2005, Calvin Kruk was elected mayor of Dawson Creek. This was a significant event for the City as Kruk became an enthusiastic champion for climate change mitigation and sustainability work. “With his election as mayor, the then emerging vision for Sustainable Dawson Creek quickly gained momentum and in a few short years, the city became well-known provincially as a leader in sustainable development. For instance, for its early efforts to increase the solar capacity in the community, Dawson Creek was asked to co-chair the “10,000 Solar Roofs” initiative, a province-wide campaign to promote the installation of solar thermal units in the province. In addition to promoting the city within the province, Kruk also sought to enroll other local actors including members of council that had not yet been convinced of the necessity of municipal sustainability planning.”18 In 2007 the City embarked on a major revision of its vision and mission to include a focus on sustainability, which were then used to update the city’s Official Community Plan.19

When Dawson Creek signed onto the Climate Action Chater it had already done much of the work necessary to measure its carbon footprint and design a carbon neutral strategy. Its corporate climate plan was released in March 2009, with the goal to reduce GHG emissions by 54% from 2007 levels by 2012. The plan included three main actions, energy efficiency upgrades, the development of biomass district heating systems, and wind power supplies for municipal buildings. “The plan also proposed a carbon fund whereby the city pays into its own fund based on its carbon emissions. Meant to mimic and minimize the cost of carbon offsets, the accumulated funds would be used to further reduce emissions. In 2011, Dawson Creek became the first municipality in the province to create a climate change mitigation fund of this sort.”20

Water is currently a major issue in Dawson Creek as the area is experiencing its second drought in three years. The City’s water source, the Kiskatinaw River, has all but dried up and extreme water conservation measures are in place. The City is working on adaptation measures, such as water storage, to deal with future droughts.

Strategic Questions


  • Has the oil and gas industry actively opposed the energy reduction efforts in Dawson Creek?
  • How critical have community groups like the Peace Energy Co-op been in driving sustainability initiatives in Dawson Creek? How have these groups managed to prevail over the more traditional, conservative portion of the community?

Resources and References

Bains, M. (2012, June 21). Dawson Creek to be named Canada’s first Solar City. Dawson Creek Daily News. Available: http://www.dawsoncreekdailynews.ca/article/20120621/DAWSONCREEK0101/306…

City of Dawson Creek. (2011). Dawson Creek Sustainability Framework. Available: https://dawsoncreek.civicweb.net/FileStorage/91CA4DF7D1234388BEEC97B6B4…

City of Dawson Creek. (2010, August). Agreement Reached on Reclaimed Water Plant. Press Release. Available: http://www.planningforpeople.ca/documents/PRESSRELEASE-ReclaimedWaterPl…

City of Dawson Creek. (2007 July). UBCM Community Excellence Aware Application 2006 Annual Report. Available: http://www.civicinfo.bc.ca/practices_innovations/dawson_creek_annual_re…

City of Dawson Creek. (nd). "Planning for People." Available: http://www.planningforpeople.ca/is/sustainability_planning/index.asp.

Dusyk, N. (Unpublished manuscript). Creating Sustainable Dawson Creek.

Hamilton, G. (2012, Sept. 7). Shell uses recycled water for Dawson Creek fracking. Vancouver Sun. Available: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/resources/Shell+uses+recycled+wate…

Horne, M. (2008, May). Dawson Creek’s Climate Action Plan. Available: http://www.planningforpeople.ca/is/sustainability_planning/energy/commu…

Peace Energy Cooperative. (2012). About Us. Peace Energy Cooperative. Available: http://www.peaceenergy.ca/about-us

Stodalka, W. (2012, Oct. 4). Price set for plant’s reclaimed water. Dawson Creek Daily News. Available: http://www.dawsoncreekdailynews.ca/article/20121004/DAWSONCREEK0101/310…

Shah, T. & Beckstead, C. (2012, Sept.). Dawson Creek: Solar Hot Water System Project at City Hall. Pembina Institute Case Study. Available: http://pubs.pembina.org/reports/-ctax-casestudy-dawsoncreek.pdf


1Peace Energy Cooperative. (2012). About Us. Peace Energy Cooperative. Available: http://www.peaceenergy.ca/about-us, return to text

2Altagas. (2012). Bear Mountain Wind Park Information Sheet. Available: http://www.altagas.ca/sites/mc-3/files/Bear%20Mtn%20Wind_%20Summer12.v1…, return to text

3Horne, M. (2008, May). Dawson Creek’s Climate Action Plan. Available: http://www.planningforpeople.ca/is/sustainability_planning/energy/commu…, return to text

4Personal correspondence. September 25, 2012(a), return to text

5Bains, M. (2012, June 21). Dawson Creek to be named Canada’s first Solar City. Dawson Creek Daily News. Available: http://www.dawsoncreekdailynews.ca/article/20120621/DAWSONCREEK0101/306…, return to text

6Personal correspondence. September 25, 2012(b), return to text

7ibid, return to text

8ibid, return to text

9Personal communication. September 25, 2012(a), return to text

10City of Dawson Creek. (2007 July). UBCM Community Excellence Aware Application 2006 Annual Report. Available: http://www.civicinfo.bc.ca/practices_innovations/dawson_creek_annual_re…, return to text

11Personal correspondence. October 11, 2012(a), return to text

12Personal correspondence. October 11, 2012(b), return to text

13Shah, T. & Beckstead, C. (2012, Sept.). Dawson Creek: Solar Hot Water System Project at City Hall. Pembina Institute Case Study. Available: http://pubs.pembina.org/reports/-ctax-casestudy-dawsoncreek.pdf, return to text

14ibid, return to text

15Dusyk, N. (Unpublished manuscript). Creating Sustainable Dawson Creek., return to text

16ibid, return to text

17ibid, return to text

18ibid, return to text

19ibid, return to text

20ibid, return to text