School District Five pledges carbon offsets

$80,000 will go into a reserve fund to pay for measures that reduce Southeast Kootenay school district’s carbon footprint

  • May. 21, 2013 12:00 p.m.

Townsman Staff

School District 5 has taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that its operations produce.

On Tuesday, May 14, the board of trustees decided to set aside nearly $80,000 into a reserve fund to comply with the government’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act.

This is similar to the amount paid by the board last year.

Under the Act, school districts are required to offset carbon footprints – most of which are a result of greenhouse gas emissions from old and inefficient school buildings — by purchasing carbon offsets from the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) at a fixed price of $25 per tonne. This rate is often much higher than fluctuating market rates.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, the board instead directed staff to research the development of a reserve fund equivalent to the annual carbon credit offset purchase they are expected to pay to the PCT.

“We understand that there are a number of municipalities that will be doing this type of thing as well, and we think it makes sense,” said board chair Frank Lento.

According to Lento, these funds would be held in reserve to be used towards carbon footprint reducing measures within SD5 operations, as approved by the board, in order to be considered carbon neutral under provincial legislation.

Lento is optimistic that government will view the board’s Carbon Offsets Reserve Fund as complying with legislation given that the fund’s sole purpose is to address carbon emissions. Lento also points out that school buildings represent one of the single largest opportunities for reducing public sector greenhouse gas emissions.

“If our district had been able to invest the $80,000 paid to the PCT last year in a solar wall upgrade in one of our schools, we would’ve achieved a reduction in our carbon footprint while realizing an annual $9,000 in energy savings.”

Lento described the lost opportunity to save $9,000 as a direct reduction in funding available for regular operating expenses.

“These operating expenses ultimately mean less dollars spent in the classroom and that’s bad for kids.”

Cranbrook trustee Chris Johns agreed and pointed out that the pending Mount Baker Secondary School replacement offers government a golden opportunity to reduce carbon emissions while saving the district long term operating costs.

“Mount Baker is the largest school in the district. It’s old. It’s got an inefficient HVAC system. We’re just feeding dollar bills into the heat system. And that means we’re going to have to keep feeding money to the Pacific Carbon Trust when our school kids and teachers are being asked to do more with less. It’s ludicrous.”

This isn’t the first time the board has tried to encourage government to make changes to the way they deal with carbon offsets. The board sent a letter to previous Minister of Education, George Abbott, in November 2011 and again in February 2012 requesting government to – among other recommendations – ensure that carbon offsets paid out by school districts are set aside for the sole purpose of upgrading school district facilities to reduce carbon footprints.

“So far we haven’t seen any concrete changes from government although we’ve been told that there would be changes. Our kids simply can’t wait any longer. That’s why the board has decided to create this reserve fund. We’re not ignoring legislation; we’re simply interpreting it in a way that’s more beneficial for our kids.”

A copy of the correspondence between the district and Minister Abbott, and the complete motion carried by the board at its May 2013 meeting, is available to the public on the SD5 website, www.sd5.bc.ca.