Some 30 years ago, I lived in the small city of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
Freiburg, Germany. Photo by CrazyD
At that time, Ontario Hydro wanted to build a nuclear plant in nearby Pickering, Ontario. Between sets at the annual summer concert in Peterborough’s Crary Park a man got up on the stage and made a short speech, the gist of which has stuck with me all these years.
“The power company wants to spend four billion dollars on a nuclear plant. If we spend that four billion dollars on conservation instead of nuclear, we won’t need the nuclear plant.” Well, we built the nuclear plant. And I have wondered all these years what would have happened had we gone for conservation instead of centralised nuclear power, high voltage transmission lines, and monthly payments to Ontario Hydro.
I finally found the answer in Freiburg, Germany. Around the same time that Ontario Hydro was ‘persuading’ the Ontario government to go nuclear, the citizens of Freiburg were protesting a nuclear plant in their neighbourhood with “widespread civil disobedience, and in 1975 the plans were defeated.” Instead, Frieburg decided to go another direction, and the results have been nothing short of remarkable.
Freiburg passed energy efficiency standards that result in new houses costing 3% more to build – and that use 30% less energy and CO2. There are solar photovoltaic panels everywhere, solar hot water heaters, and a solar module factory that produces zero net emissions. And the latest generation of houses uses only 15% of the energy used by the houses that were already 30% under the conventional building standards.
There are “over 500 km of bicycle paths, and a third of all journeys are by bicycle.” There are thousands of bike ‘parking spaces,’ including for ‘bike-and-ride’ commuters. The city still has a long way to go, but they are far ahead of most of us.
And, as I have wondered over these many years, the individual payoff for many homeowners has been great. People with highly efficient houses and solar panels are selling power to the grid – some making thousands of euros per year.
Meanwhile, the residents of Ontario are paying ever-higher electricity bills and still fear blackouts in the winter. Ontario Hydro was split into Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One. Their CEOs earn millions of dollars per year, and both were fired in recent years for, well, greed. The Hydro One CEO earned $1.5M in 2002, plus $174,000 for a car and $172,000 for vacation. She is suing the government for firing her.
For the full story on Freiburg’s solar conversion check out: http://www.solarregion.freiburg.de/solarregion/freiburg_solar_city.php.
Brian Gordon is a Canadian Green Party member and candidate trained by Al Gore to present An Inconvenient Truth.