Prince George

Rob Newell
Research Associate, Canadian Research Chair in Sustainable Community Development Program, Royal Roads University

Dr. Leslie King
Professor, Director, Centre for Environmental Education, Royal Roads University

Published November 29th, 2012

Case Summary

Prince George is a city of approximately 72,000 residents (BC Statistics, 2011) located at the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako rivers. Prince George is the largest municipality in Northern BC and is often referred to as the ‘BC’s Northern capital’ (City of Prince George, n.d.). Prince George’s population base historically has grown due to active forestry and pulp and paper industries; however, the community began to attract a diversity of people and interests in the late 1990’s partly due to the establishment of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).

Beginning in 2007, Prince George undertook a suite of initiatives designed to address environmental issues, with a particular focus on energy efficiency and climate change. The City has developed both corporate and community climate change action plans, in accordance with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program. These plans identify specific actions that, among many others, address energy efficiency in buildings, encourage smart growth principles to guide land use planning, engage the business community in energy management, deliver biodiesel to the municipal fleet, and manage vehicle idling in the community.

More recently, Prince George has also initiated climate change adaptation strategies. As part of the British Columbia Regional Adaptation Collaborative, the City partnered with UNBC and the Fraser Basin Council (FBC) to complete a climate change assessment that identifies key vulnerabilities and identifies adaptation options. Adaptation priorities and strategies were incorporated into the Prince George’s Integrated Sustainability Plan (ISCP), which was later adopted by the City.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

A driver of the ISCP, the “myPG” development process was community driven and included an open invitation for community groups to become partners of the planning process. Such an approach allowed the formulation of Prince George’s sustainable development pathway to be inclusive, empowering and equitable, which is critical to sustainable development (Eames and Adebowale, 2002). In addition, myPG approached sustainability as a process that is comprehensive of environmental, social and economic development (City of Prince George, n.d.), rather than compartmentalizing environmental quality and separating it from social well-being and economic strength. For example, safety and appeal of the city core would allow for greater walkability, higher living density and fewer cars on the road. Capturing the interconnectedness between the social, environmental and economic allows for the complexities of sustainable development to be addressed in a community planning process (Burch, 2012).

Critical Success Factors

Prince George’s geography provided a major driver for addressing climate change. The city’s northern interior location has made it vulnerable to the climate related issues of mountain pine beetle forest infestation, flooding, and road damage due to freeze/thaw cycles (Picketts, Dyer & Curry, 2009). Such issues have direct effects on the local economy (i.e., forestry industry, flooding damage) and personal safety (i.e., wildfires, floods, poor road conditions), and thus are difficult to ignore. The severity of climate change issues in Prince George prompted the in-depth planning process for adaptation that has been captured in myPG, and also integrated into the most recent draft of the Official Community Plan.

A major factor leading to the success of the ISCP planning process was Prince George’s use of pre-existing frameworks and programs when developing climate change action plans. The PCP program was developed by FCM through the use of professional consultants, and engaging in this program allowed Prince George to develop a sophisticated and comprehensive climate strategy without ‘reinventing the wheel’ (personal communication, September 5, 2012). In addition, Prince George’s involvement with the SPC program provided the City with aid and direction from the Fraser Basin Council to develop its ISCP (i.e., myPG), giving the City both a consulting partner and initial framework for plan development. Furthermore, Prince George became involved in UBC’s Smart Growth on the Ground (SGOG) program, and this positioned it as a candidate for the pilot version of the Spatial Community Energy, Carbon and Cost Characterization Model (SCEC3) developed through Natural Resources Canada. Thus, the City received a very sophisticated community energy usage modeling process due to its pre-existing involvement in the pilot.

In addition to use of pre-existing frameworks, the planning process also greatly benefited from the involvement of many different organizations and parties in the creation of myPG. The City worked closely with UNBC and the Fraser Basin Council, and thus myPG was created through expert insight and work performed through academic, non-profit and government sectors. In addition, myPG incorporated community feedback and openly invited community groups to become a partner of the planning process, which allowed for the planning process to be comprehensive and inclusive.

Community Contact Information

Kristiina Watt
Supervisor, Long Range Planning
Community Planning
City of Prince George

Dan Adamson
Community Forest Manager
City of Prince George

What Worked?

Prince George has been particularly successful in implementing energy initiatives. Partially subsidized though funding granted by BC Hydro, Prince George has employed an Energy Initiatives Supervisor tasked with researching and identifying viable energy initiatives. Many of the energy initiatives in Prince George have been calculated as ‘win-win’ scenarios, meaning they provide economic savings and reduce consumption of fossil fuels (personal communication, August 28, 2012). For example, the creation of the District Energy System has allowed some buildings in Prince George to rely on renewables for energy and provided a framework for expanding this system and thereby increasing localization of energy production.

In addition to implementing successful energy initiatives, Prince George has also excelled in the ISCP development process. The ISCP, myPG, was created through a collaborative and inclusive process, and it contributed to Prince George’s success in reaching milestone 4 and 5 of the PCP program. Of particular significance to Prince George’s development pathway is that myPG have been adopted by the City and incorporated into the OCP (City of Prince George, n.d.). This action allows the items from an ISCP to become part of fundamental planning guides in a municipality (Babicki, 2000, noted in CRC e-Dialogue).

What Didn’t work?

The primary issue facing Prince George’s sustainable development pathway is maintaining momentum from the development of myPG after the current restructuring and change in government. A new mayor was elected in Prince George in November 2011, and the new municipal government’s mandate is to address the budgetary concerns resulting from increase tax costs (personal communication, August 28, 2012). To address these concerns, the City restructured its staff and discontinued 28 positions, and this restructuring included removal of Prince George’s Environmental Department (personal communication, August 28, 2012). The Manager of the Environmental Department was repositioned as Manager of Forests and many of the responsibilities of the Environmental Department have been distributed across the city staff; however, concern exists that the sustainability objectives will not be addressed without City champions and leaders specifically focused on them (personal communication, August 27, 2012; personal communication, September 6, 2012). In addition, the disassembly of the Environmental Department occurred shortly after the completion of myPG and the action publically has been interpreted as an “attack on the environment” (personal communication, August 28, 2012), which has had a deflating effect on the groups and parties that worked on and promoted myPG.

Prince George also faced issues with public buy-in for implementing specific adaptation and mitigation strategies. Although myPG received a large amount of support on its adaptation priorities, one of the highest priorities for adaptation is listed as flooding, yet over 9,000 signatures we collected in opposition to the building of a dike on River Road intended as a flood control (personal communication, August 27, 2012). The primary proponent and advocate for the petition, Eric Allen, stated that flood control should be a “provincial responsibility” and the city should not spend money on “mega projects” (Pilon, 2012). Similarly, in terms of mitigation, the City experienced difficulties getting buy-in with their retrofit rebate program funded by BC Hydro. It took 18 months to have someone from the community request an upgrade, and this was attributed to the low cost of natural gas, i.e., it was not worth the time and effort when energy is already affordable (personal communication, August 28, 2012). The dike and retrofit program issues are symptomatic of a larger issue: people will buy-in to sustainability only if it makes immediate economic sense.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

The largest and most costly energy initiative in Prince George is the downtown district energy system. Funding the construction of this system was possible through leveraging grants from Infrastructure Canada, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (through their Community Works Fund), and Federation of Community Municipalities (through their Green Municipal Fund). The following table displays a breakdown of funding for the system; this table was adapted from a background report on the district energy system prepared by the City of Prince George (nd).

Many of the other energy initiatives employed in Prince George were made possible through the research and leadership of an Energy Initiatives Supervisor, a position partly (50%) subsidized through BC Hydro’s Energy Manager Program. The initiatives proposed by the Energy Initiatives Supervisor are researched and designed to be cost saving measures and are expected to deliver a long-term return.; thus, the City funds these initiatives due to their economic viability (personal communication, August 28, 2012). Over the last two years, the city has completed approximately 30 lighting and heating upgrade projects in public spaces including T8, T5, LED, induction lighting, intelligent parking lot controllers for heating blocks, and high occupancy sensors. Cumulative savings for these projects are 966,000 kWh per year, which currently places these projects at a net investment of approximately $254,000 (personal communication, November 8, 2012). The heating initiatives applied to the Prince George Aquatic Centre were installed in late 2010 (City of Prince George, 2010) and include solar heating in the Centre and water-to-water heat pumps to heat the pool. Respectively, they save 360 GJ and 1760 GJ annually, and their current net costs are approximately $30,000 (however, BC Hydro rebates helped with this cost) and $40,000 (personal communication, November 8, 2012).

Other energy initiatives include the energy upgrade rebate program and the community energy model (SCEC3). The rebate program was supported through a Community Action on Energy and Emissions (CAEE) grant of $50,000, administered by BC Hydro. The energy model was supported through the Smart Growth on the Ground (SGOG) program, the myPG process, and substantial in-kind resources and expertise from NRCan, and the cost for this process was estimated to be over $400,000 (2011).

Total costs of the myPG planning process are difficult to calculate because the process used frameworks already put into place (see What Worked) and a large amount of in-kind support was involved. The primary organizations involved in the plan creation process were the City, UNBC, and the Fraser Basin Council (the FBC’s involvement was supported by their Smart Planning for Communities program). The City’s major sources of funding were the Federal General Strategy Priorities Fund and Community Works Funds (Federal Gas Tax Agreement), and their budget for the ISCP and OCP planning process was estimated to be approximately $480,000 (City of Prince George, 2009). UNBC focused on the adaptation aspect of the plan, and the primary student researcher was supported by a PICS fellowship (personal communications, November 9, 2012). The City provided approximately $34,000 to the UNBC research on climate trends in Prince George and identifying adaptation priorities (Canadian Institute of Planners, 2012), and the total cost of this work was $45,000 (Fraser Basin Council, 2012). The collaboration between the City, UNBC, and Fraser Basin Council to incorporate adaptation into City plans and operations was $250,000, half of which was funded through Natural Resources Canada, through the Regional Adaptation Collaborative (RAC) program (Fraser Basin Council, 2012).

Detailed Background Case Description

Due to the northern interior BC environment, Prince George is vulnerable position to the effects of climate change. Changes in climate ininterior BC have been conducive to flourishing mountain pine beetle populations (Kurz, Dymond, Stinson, Rampley, Neilson, Carroll, Ebata & Safranyik, 2008) causing massive losses in healthy pine trees, which negatively affects the forest industry and increases risk of forest fires. In addition, changes in the freeze/thaw cycles have inflicted heavy damages to the roads within Prince George, creating an unsafe driving environment (personal communication, August 28, 2012). Furthermore, climate change has contributed to increase flooding in Prince George, in particular, ice-related flooding in 2007 and 2008 that caused extensive damage to residences along the Nechako River (Picketts, Dyer & Curry, 2009). Prince George residents also historically have had high exposure to the negative health effects that occur from industrial emissions, due to poor air quality (BC Ministry of Environment, 2009).

In 2007, Prince George began engaging in a suite of initiatives, driven by its Environmental Department, designed to address environmental issues, with a particular focus on energy efficiency and climate change. The City has developed community climate change action plans, in accordance with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program. The City of Prince George has been recognized by FCM and International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) – Local Governments for Sustainability for being the fifth community in Canada to reach milestone 4 and 5 of the PCP program (City of Prince George, n.d.). This achievement means the community has inventoried the GHG emissions (milestone 1), set an emissions reduction target (milestone 2), developed the action plan (myPG) (milestone 3), implemented plan (milestone 4), and engaged in monitoring (milestone 4) (from the Partners for Climate Protection milestone framework, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, n.d.).

Prince George has done a large amount of work in climate change mitigation, specifically in terms of reducing energy consumption. This work involves specific actions that, among many others, addresses energy efficiency in buildings, models energy consumption throughout the community, encourages smart growth principles to guide land use planning, engages the business community in energy management, delivers biodiesel to the municipal fleet, and manages idling in the community. Specific energy reduction initiatives in Prince George include;

  • a District Energy System servicing Energy Centre, City Hall, Civic Centre, Coliseum, and the Four Seasons Pool uses biomass produced by Lakeland Mill, working with Canfor Pulp (City of Prince, n.d.; Peebles, 2012)
  • solar heating system servicing to the Prince George public pool,
  • a methane recapture system operating at and servicing the waste water treatment centre,
  • a fleet policy put into place for municipal vehicles,
  • marked ‘no idling’ zones around public buildings,
  • purchase and car-sharing of Nissan Leaf between the City, UNBC and the Fraser Basin Council,
  • an extensive community energy modeling process, Spatial Community Energy, Carbon and Cost Characterization Model (SCEC3), developed through the aid of Natural Resources Canada and the Smart Growth on the Ground program (Natural Resources Canada, n.d.),
  • a City run energy efficient home retrofit rebate program,
  • retrofitting arenas and public buildings with high occupancy light sensors and LED lighting,
  • and, free public transit on days of poor air quality, as indicated by the Ministry of Environment’s air quality monitoring program.

In addition to engaging in mitigation strategies, Prince George has done work on adaptation planning to address issues resulting from pine kill, road damage, and increased flooding. In 2008, a partnership of the City, UNBC and the Fraser Basin set-up a workshop at the Planning Institute of BC (PIBC) Conference designed to identify the greatest areas of need for climate change adaptation (Picketts, Dyer & Curry, 2009). The outcomes of the workshop helped guide the development of an adaptation strategy that identifies and addresses 11 priorities, displayed in the table below (adapted from a table created by the City of Prince George, nd).

myPG Adaptation Table

Once the priorities were identified adaptation strategies were developed for each of these priorities. As seen from the table above, highest priorities we identified as forest fire and flooding. The adaptation plan proposed a management of the wildfire interfaces using the BC “FireSmart” protocol (BC FireSmart program) to minimize fire risk to the community and fuel reduction was prioritized to reduce risk of wildfires (Prince George, n.d.). In terms of flood management, the adaptation plan proposed to continually keep flood risk information up to date and keep from developing further in flood plans.

Although many initiatives in the city focus on reducing energy consumption, Prince George recognizes that climate change strategies require looking at the social and economic aspects of the community and thus the City’s approach to addressing climate change is captured in the larger context of developing sustainably. In particular, Prince George’s city centre is socially and economically inactive, as most people live and shop outside of the city core. In addition, Prince George experiences relatively high levels of crime, and the city received the highest crime ranking by MacLeans in Canada in 2011 (MacLeans, 2011). A combination of inactive city centre and higher crime rates has greatly decreased the walkability within the city and thus contributed to the usage of personal vehicles for transport (personal communication, August 27, 2012). As a part of the Smart Planning for Communities (SPC) program, the Fraser Basin Council worked with Prince George to create an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP), which identified a list of environmental, social and economic objectives for sustainability (City of Prince George, n.d.). The adaptation planning noted above was incorporated into the ISCP.

The ISCP was entitled, MyPG, to personalize the sustainability plan and generate public support and input (personal communication, August 27, 2012). Public engagement was critical in the MyPG development, as the planning process called for public input and the inclusion of partner organizations to ensure Prince George’s development pathway was approached as an inclusive vision of what the community wishes to see the city become by 2040 (City of Prince George, n.d.). Outreach to the public included setting up information stands at booths and malls, public photo contests and use of social media (personal communication, August 27, 2012; personal communication, September 6, 2012).

Currently, the future of Prince George’s efforts in climate change adaptation and mitigation is uncertain. In November 2011, municipal government elections were held and the City of Prince George underwent changes in leadership. The City closed its Environmental Department and redistributed the tasks of the Department across all staff (personal communication, August 28, 2012). Prince George still engages in energy initiative strategies and has plans for innovative sustainability strategies, such as constructing the new RCMP building as LEED Gold Standard development (Green, personal communication, August 28, 2012). However, time and staff resources for enacting and ensuring implementation of the plans and monitoring strategies detailed in myPG have been reduced in the recent restructuring of municipal positions (personal communication, August 27, 2012; personal communication, September 6, 2012).


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