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Taber Wind Farm's 37 turbines generate enough electricity to power more than 32,000 homes. Calgary, Alberta, has agreed to buy 100% of the electricity generated by this wind farm for the next 20 years. Photo: ENMAX Corp.

Calgary, Alberta, is already known as an oil town. Now the second-fastest growing city in Canada is striving for a new title: largest consumer of green electricity in North America.

“We're keenly aware of the irony, and of the responsibility this creates for us as a city government,” said Ward 9 Alderman Joe Ceci during a late-2005 Municipal Leaders Summit in Montreal, shortly after the city announced an initiative to reduce the government's greenhouse gas emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2012.

“It is the abundance of fossil fuels that has fueled Calgary's success. And, it is our overuse of those same resources that threatens the very sustainability of our city.” At the time, Calgary had the largest per-capita ecological footprint in Canada.

Calgary's quest for green energy began with a 2001 partnership between city-owned electric utility ENMAX Corp. and Vision Quest Windelectric Inc. to use wind-generated electricity to power the city's light-rail transit network. It was a first-of-its-kind project for public transit in North America. For a minimal additional cost of less than half a cent per passenger, the “Ride the Wind” program is reducing CO2 emissions by 26,000 tons annually.

The success of the zero-emissions trains led officials to consider more wind-power opportunities.

In early 2005 the city brokered a 20-year supply agreement with ENMAX to power 75% of municipal operations with green energy. By October 2007, ENMEX opened Taber Wind Farm, Alberta's largest wind-energy operation. The $140 million facility generates 80 MW of electricity, enough to power 32,000 Calgary homes while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 280,000 tons annually. The city plans to increase its wind-generated electricity usage to 90% by 2012.

In Calgary, green power doesn't stop with the wind.

In May, ENMAX opened a Solar Demonstration Centre that will evaluate seven different solar-thermal and photovoltaic solar panels. And in the works is a natural-gas-fired 1,000 MW facility that will provide enough electricity — and emit half the CO2 as Alberta's existing coal plants — to satisfy two-thirds of Calgary's electricity requirements. The plant is scheduled to begin operating by late 2011.

The city also established the following initiatives to reduce its ecological footprint and carbon emissions:

  • Require all new civic buildings to be LEED-certified.
  • Improve energy efficiency in existing civic buildings.
  • Retrofit residential streetlights with energy-efficient fixtures.
  • Retrofit traffic signals with LED technology.
  • Add gasoline-electric hybrid and bio-diesel vehicles to city fleets.
  • Capture methane from its waste-water treatment operations to power the plant.
  • Use landfill gases as a power source.
  • Launch a curbside recycling program in 2009.

So far, Calgary's government has been leading by example. The next step is to engage its 1 million energy-guzzling residents in thinking green. The city addressed this daunting task with an 18-month survey of more than 18,000 Calgarians. The result is a citizen-driven, 100-year sustainability plan that emphasizes green living.

Putting the plan in action is still a work in progress. So far, 45 civic and private organizations have become Imagine Calgary “partners” by signing an agreement to implement chosen plan targets and goals within their organizations. And by mid-2009, the city plans to have a long-term strategy for transportation networks, based upon sustainability principles crafted in the 100-year plan.

Ecological footprint: Compares human demand with the planet's capacity to regenerate itself; expressed in terms of global hectares.

Carbon footprint: The amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activities; expressed in terms of tons or kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent.