A personal invitation to learn from the world’s best

Every conference promises exposure to “best practices.” The Community Energy Workshop in Prince George on June 6, delivered as a pre-conference component of the Canadian Bioeconomy Conference, will deliver something special.

The “something special” is an up-close-and-personal opportunity to connect with one of the world’s great examples of a city making the transition to life without fossil fuels. The city is Växjö (pronounced Vek-shyuh), in southern Sweden, and three City officials will be visiting Prince George in June:

·      Mayor Anna Tenje
·      Per Schöldberg, a member of the municipal council
·      Jan Johansson, the City’s energy manager

They’ll share the Växjö experience – as both elected officials and staff – to both inform and inspire workshop attendees who are interested in advancing their own local energy opportunities.

In fact, their experience is uniquely relevant for communities here. For starters, Växjö has almost exactly the same population as Prince George. It has a young university. It is located in resource-based region and is the centre of a thriving forest industry. Their forestry know-how, in fact, led to the utilization of wood waste for their district heating system… in 1980! What started as an experiment proved so successful that the city increased the share of biomass in the fuel supply and expanded the reach of its district energy system.

Now nearly 40 years later, Växjö has been called the Greenest City in Europe for the way it has gradually built up a community-wide bioenergy system that supplies half of the city’s power and 90% of its heating needs through a 350km piping network. A staggering 8500 buildings are now connected to district heating and the most recent upgrade to the heating equipment uses 100% wood waste and forest residuals. Even organic waste is collected within the community and used to produce biogas that fuels public transit and other municipal vehicles.

Just over twenty years ago, the City pledged to be free of fossil fuels; now the world’s premier network of cities addressing climate change – the C40 network – predicts Växjö will be first city in the world to achieve total fossil fuel freedom. They’re close: consider that the carbon footprint of an average person in Växjö is only 2-3 tonnes of CO2e annually (in Canada, the average is more than 15 tonnes per person).

How are they doing it? How have they maintained momentum through local political transitions? How have various partnerships involving government, industry, and citizens defined sustainability in Växjö? What are the lessons for us? The Community Energy Workshop will provide exposure to the Växjö story that, short of travelling to Sweden, would never otherwise be accessible to us.