Carbon neutrality for schools comes at a cost

By Laura Stovel

The Revelstoke School District has been justifiably proud of the new secondary and elementary schools that are currently being constructed. School officials stress that these schools will not only be wonderful learning environments, they also meet LEED Gold Certification standards that require a high level of energy efficiency.

Having a high environmental standard is not just an ethical choice; it is a long-term cost-saving measure, not just in terms of energy expenses, but also in the carbon offsets that school districts must pay.

As a result of the 2007 BC Greenhouse Gas Reductions Target Act, all public sector organizations in BC, including school districts, must be carbon neutral by 2010. This is our province’s effort to play a part in slowing the tide of global warming. True carbon neutrality is an extremely difficult target to meet so school districts, like other public sector institutions, pay offsets to compensate for the total carbon dioxide emissions that they use each calendar year.

The money goes to a BC Crown corporation called Pacific Carbon Trust which, in turn, invests the money in carbon-reducing projects.

In 2010, the Revelstoke School District created almost 463 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This included the CO2 impact of heating, electricity consumption, vehicle use and even the use of paper, for example for photocopying, said Earl Woodhurst, School District Principal of Operations and Technology.  School districts pay $25 a tonne to Pacific Carbon Trust for all emissions except school bus emissions. “School buses are excluded because they are considered to be part of the solution,” Woodhurst explained.

When emissions from school buses were deducted, Revelstoke School District paid $9,165.50 to buy “carbon offsets for 366.62” tonnes of CO2 used in 2010. This amount is low compared to some other districts. According to a Victoria Times Colonist article, one school district in the Cariboo has to pay $87,000 – an incredible amount for cash-starved school districts.

The commitment to carbon neutrality is having the positive impact of encouraging municipalities and public institutions to take serious steps to look at their Greenhouse Gas emissions. However, the law is not uncontroversial. Companies can receive money from Pacific Carbon Trust to subsidize their emissions-reductions initiatives but they do not have to pay into the Trust if they increase their emissions. They certainly don’t have to be carbon neutral. Thus public money – money from taxpayers – is subsidizing business.

While the school district pays into the Pacific Carbon Trust, it does not receive money for energy-saving measures from the Trust. It does receive rebates from BC Hydro’s Power Smart program, however, both for the new construction and for energy-saving measures in existing schools.