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2001 Energy — Co-winner 1

City of Calgary, Alberta

Powering an emissions-free urban transportation system

Population: 860,749

The Ride the Wind! project has transformed the City of Calgary's C-Train into the first wind-powered public transit system since the days of sail. Operational September 1, 2001, the new system will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 26,000 tonnes a year — the amount that would have been produced by generating electricity for the light-rail system through coal and natural gas. The city is purchasing wind power from ENMAX Energy Corporation and Vision Quest Windelectric Inc. Planners hope that the project's success will convince other cities to explore cleaner energy options.


Recognizing global climate change as a serious concern, Calgary signed the Canadian Declaration on Climate Change and the Urban Environment in 1994. The declaration calls for the stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. To support this initial step, the city joined the Partners for Climate Protection program, a joint initiative of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. It also became a participant in the Voluntary Challenge and Registry, which is a non-profit partnership between industry and governments across Canada that promotes a voluntary approach to addressing climate change.

In February 1996, Calgary city council approved stabilizing its carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels. Between 1996 and 2000, it undertook a two-phase study, which culminated in the Carbon Dioxide Emissions Abatement Action Plan. Phase one of the study, completed in 1998, included a detailed audit of the corporation's emissions and evaluated how those emissions could be curtailed. Phase two produced the abatement plan, which was approved by city council in June 2000.

In the plan, the corporation pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. That translates into a carbon dioxide emissions reduction of 160,000 tonnes per year from 1997 levels, the year the city conducted its baseline inventory. The reduction would decrease the total yearly carbon dioxide emissions to 740,000 tonnes per year.

In order to meet this new objective, the city set specific annual reduction targets for all of its major greenhouse gas producers, including sewers, streetlights, waterworks and transit. Calgary Transit's reduction target was set at 10,800 tonnes per year.

When this target was set, the light-rail system was powered by electricity generated from fossil fuels — a process that produces significant greenhouse gas emissions. For example, as of summer 2001, the C-Train consumed approximately 21,000 megawatt hours of electricity annually, representing about 50 per cent of Calgary Transit's total electricity consumption. The generation of that power produced about 21,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from coal-fired and natural gas electricity production — much more than Transit's emissions reduction target. Furthermore, Calgary Transit estimated that planned expansions would increase its annual electricity consumption to 26,000-megawatt hours.


  • By powering C-Train operations with wind-generated electricity, carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced by 260,000 tonnes over the 10-year term of the contract. That is equivalent to eliminating approximately 7.5-million auto trips annually in Calgary and is almost twice the reduction target that the C-Train project set out to achieve. The extra reduction will help Calgary meet its overall target of a six per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Ride the Wind! will also contribute to a decrease in sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.
  • Calgary Transit anticipates that ridership will increase by marketing the train service as an emissions-free alternative to private auto travel.
  • Ride the Wind! will provide greater budget stability for Calgary Transit by establishing a 10-year price structure for C-Train electrical power. Calgary Transit has forecast that the project's early years will see substantial savings due to projected high power pool prices. In later years, the city expects pool prices to decline, which could expose it to approximately $2.5 million in additional power costs over the 10-year period, based on energy price forecasts. However, planners emphasize that this is a worst-case scenario.
  • With a projected C-Train ridership of 460 million over the next 10 years, the premium for wind power would be approximately one half cent per ride under the above worst-case scenario.
  • The city expects this project to expand the market for zero-emissions wind power. As residents become informed about the project, ENMAX will have more success promoting wind-generated electricity for use in residential houses. ENMAX's Greenmax program offers Calgary residents the option of paying a $5, $10 or $15 per month premium to use wind-generated electricity. This program will, in turn, provide exposure for Ride the Wind!
  • The project has increased the capacity of wind-generated electricity in Alberta and has engaged a local supplier, Vision Quest, to produce that power. The project will create temporary jobs as it unfolds and may create long-term jobs to fulfill ongoing operational requirements, such as turbine maintenance.

Lessons Learned

  • Public transit authorities have the ability to improve the environment, reduce traffic congestion and increase mobility — all at the same time.
  • The project was approved by a 13-to-2 margin in a February 2000 city council vote, despite the fact that Ride the Wind! may result in higher costs over 10 years compared to using electricity from conventional sources. This strong political support indicates that municipal politicians are ready to develop specific goals and action plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The project could be replicated in other Canadian municipalities by including renewable energy sources such as wind power as a component of municipal energy supply requirements. The master supply agreement between ENMAX and Calgary provides for one per cent of municipal power requirements to be sourced from wind power. This excludes the commitment that Calgary has made under the Ride the Wind! agreement.
  • The biggest challenge for planners was trying to get a feel for energy price forecasts. Planners spent a great deal of time trying to come to grips with the different projections in the market.
  • City planners did a very detailed analysis of the environmental benefits of the project and a thorough, realistic evaluation of the potential costs relative to other carbon dioxide abatement options, such as using hydrogen fuel cell buses and natural gas as a fuel source. This detailed planning was critical to gaining council's support. "We were asked some very hard questions about energy forecasting," said Colquhoun. "One of the things that helped sell the program is that we costed out the other options and showed that this was the superior one."
Page Updated: 21/12/2015