One of the challenges of the NCL has been ensuring small and rural communities are being fairly represented. We have tried to select indicators that apply across many different contexts, but this is not always possible (public transit, for example, is an important urban climate solution that does not work as well in a rural community). There is also generally less data available for small communities. To address this issue, we have collected five case studies from small communities (<30,000) that demonstrate their unique approach to certain indicators. Look for these case studies to learn about the innovative climate and sustainability solutions being developed for a small and rural context!
Sree Vyah, or “Sun Snare,” is a 2160-panel solar installation in the community of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. It has been producing clean, renewable electricity since the spring of 2021. Like many other remote northern communities, Vuntut Gwitchin’s main source of power has been diesel fuel, which is flown into the community at great expense. For diesel-reliant communities especially, switching to renewables means increasing energy sovereignty and reducing energy costs as well as emissions. Sree Vyah has helped the community cut diesel use by 189,000 litres per year, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 680 tonnes CO2e per year. The First Nation was the first community to take advantage of Yukon’s Independent Power Production policy, a new territorial policy which allows communities wanting to generate their own renewable energy to negotiate power purchase agreements with ATCO Electric Yukon. ATCO’s technical knowledge as well as openness to collaboration was key to the project’s success. The community itself also played an important role. All along the way, decision-making was informed by community members. For example, during a community forum, some members raised concerns that the solar array was planned for an important berry picking area. As a result, it was decided not to erect a fence (as is usual practice), so that people can continue to harvest berries among the solar panels. Capacity is also a challenge. That’s why the First Nation has developed a community energy and implementation plan to identify and focus efforts on the renewable projects that will have the greatest impact. One possible next step is wind power, which could fill the gaps left in solar generation during the long northern winter.
Implementing composting programs can meet with challenges such as resident participation rates, designing efficient pick-up routes, purchasing the right technology, and more. But rural and small communities face an additional challenge in the form of wild animals. This was the case for the town of Canmore, Alberta, where backyard composting is illegal due to the risks of attracting bears and other unwanted scavengers. Residents, however, recognized the importance of cutting down on food waste if the town is to reach its climate goals, and called on the municipality to implement a composting program. The town responded by launching a pilot project in 2019, with five neighbourhood animal-proof bins (decorated by a local artist), where residents can bring their compost. The municipality faced an initial barrier in the need to upgrade their transfer station. However, they received help from the nearby town of Banff, which offered to transport Canmore’s food waste to a processing facility until Canmore’s transfer station was ready. The program has met with extreme enthusiasm from residents. Food and food-soiled paper represent about a third of Canmore’s residential waste, and the town was able to divert about a third of that in its first year alone. After starting with residential pick-up, the town started offering commercial composting pick-up. The program is funded by a $28 additional cost per year in recycling fees.
NICOLET, QC (POP. 8,620) PLESSISVILLE, QC (POP. 6,414) PRÉVOST, QC (POP. 13,692) VAL-DES-MONTS, QC (POP. 13,328) CARLETON-SUR-MER, QC (POP. 4,081) ÎLES-DE-LA-MADELEINE, QC (POP. 13,000) MANIWAKI, QC (POP. 3,757) MRC DE PONTIAC, QC (POP. 14,764) SAINT-CHARLES-SUR-RICHELIEU, QC (POP. 1735) SAINT-CONSTANT, QC (POP. 30,547) SAINT-FULGENCE, QC (POP. 2061) MERCIER, QC (POP. 14, 626) SAINT-SIMÉON, QC (POP. 1117) VARENNES, QC (POP. 21,198) DIEPPE, NB (POP. 28 114) BERESFORD, NB (POP. 4,294 ) SAINT-QUENTIN, NB (POP. 2,141) SHIPPAGAN, NB (POP. 2,672) TRACADIE, NB (POP 16, 048)
Public transportation is a key climate solution, but low population density makes public transit within and between rural and small communities challenging to operate. One innovative approach is the SAUVéR project (Système d’autopartage de véhicules électriques en région). SAUVéR is a tool created by the Société d’innovation en environnement and YHC Environnement in 2016, with funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. They then partnered with six municipalities in Quebec, who were given funding to purchase one or two electric vehicles each for their municipal fleet. On evenings, weekends, and holidays, the vehicles are made available for community use. The SAUVéR software supplies the car-sharing system that tracks who is using the car and how far it has been driven, among other data.The municipalities also used the funding to install charging stations to facilitate inter-community travel. The program has been so successful, many more Quebec municipalities and five New Brunswick municipalities have since joined. This decreases both corporate and community carbon emissions, generates revenue for the municipality, optimizes the use of the municipal fleet, and provides an affordable method of public transportation for people living in these communities. Find a map of all the municipalities offering the SAUVeR system at: https://sauver.yhcenvironnement.com/en/.
Communities with small populations may find that it is not hard to achieve a reasonable number of charging stations per capita–as evidenced by small communities’ performance in the charging indicator. However, analysis shows that urban centres can get away with a lower number of charging stations per capita compared to rural communities, because the chargers are used more efficiently. Since small and rural communities tend to be less densely populated, the main challenge may be more about ensuring there are enough stations per square kilometre, rather than per capita. For EVs to be viable in rural areas, people need to be able to make long daily commutes without worrying about getting stranded without a charger nearby. Private businesses, like gas stations, may not see the point in installing charging infrastructure until there is a higher rate of EV ownership–which creates a chicken and egg situation. There is therefore an important role for local governments to play.
Nova Scotia, a more rural province, is working on catching up to provinces like Quebec, Ontario, and BC when it comes to charging infrastructure. The Nova Scotian municipality of Colchester and Town of Truro installed six and one (respectively) Level 2 chargers at the end of October 2022. They received partial funding from the federal government’s Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program through the Nova Scotia Clean Foundation. The chargers (each one costing around $17,000-$20,000) are spread throughout Truro as well as key tourist points and smaller communities within Colchester County. The municipalities recognized that the chargers could help boost the local economy, since EV users might grab a bite at a local restaurant, or check out nearby businesses while waiting for their vehicle to charge. The charger installation follows climate policies and commitments from each government–Colchester has a plan for all vehicles to be zero-emission by 2040, while Truro became a member of the Partners for Climate Protection program in October 2021 and is undertaking an emissions inventory.
Some rural communities may lack active transportation infrastructure like sidewalks, making walking and cycling around the community more challenging. This was the case for the town of Clearwater, BC, which is bifurcated by a main highway, and split into three distinct regions separated from each other by 1-2 kilometres. To address this challenge, the town adopted a Complete Streets policy through a new road cross-section bylaw in 2013. Originating in the US, but now being adopted by communities across Canada, a Complete Streets approach ensures that streets are designed with all types of users in mind, including pedestrians, cyclists, and people of all ages and mobilities. Complete Streets policies can be included in transportation plans or bylaws and bylaw amendments. Since the adoption of this policy in Clearwater, one roadway, Murtle Crescent, has been updated with a paved sidewalk and multi-use path, crosswalk, street lighting and trees. Residents are now able to access shopping and services in different districts of the community by walking or biking. The policy also requires developers to share in the cost of implementation, which meant that these improvements cost the municipality only $58,000. While Complete Streets have been adopted by urban and rural, larger and small communities alike, they may be especially useful for small and rural municipalities.