Spruce Grove: Steady progress one step at a time
This is part of a series of seven case studies that highlight members of ICLEI Canada's and FCM's Partners for Climate Protection program that have reached Milestone 5.
Spruce Grove's consistent and progressive approach to sustainability keeps long-term priorities top-of-mind
|Population||PCP member since||GHG reduction target|
|34,881 (2017 Census)||2003||
Corporate: 20% below 1996 levels by 2003
"We believe it's important to support and implement programs and initiatives that help ensure the long-term environmental sustainability of our community. Whether it's something we can look at doing from an operational perspective, to educating our residents to help change habits and behaviours in their own households, we have made a commitment to incorporating eco-friendly practices into the city's plans and projects that support and align with our Environmental Sustainability Action Plan."
When a city's population increases, so the story goes, the demand for resources increases, and therefore emissions increase, right? Wrong. In less than 20 years, the population of Spruce Grove, AB, more than doubled, increasing by 124 per cent between 1996 and 2015 – but over the same period its per capita corporate and community emissions dropped by 40 and 21 per cent, respectively. That's even more impressive when you consider that, until only recently, Alberta has generated more than half of its electricity from coal.*
"Since the early 2000s, the city's approach has been broad-based, consistent and integrated into the organization," says Patrick Inglis, Manager of Environmental Science and Transit. "We may not have the big showcase projects but it's been progressive. When you're trying to manage a small but growing city, you don't want something shiny derailing your long-term plans and priorities."
Tracking resource use and emissions, and reporting and celebrating successes, are among the best ways to ensure that those priorities remain embedded in all the city's plans. Inglis and his team give regular reports to council, and the city updates most of its plans on a five-year rotational basis. It also publishes an annual report to measure progress on goals identified in its first Environmental Sustainability Action Plan (2011), and keeps the community up-to-date with articles in CityPulse, its tri-annual magazine.
"More people are coming to us for advice and to share information, and aspects of our work are becoming integrated into the daily operations of other departments," says Caitlin Van Gaal, Environmental Advisor. She notes that one of the main ways they stay in touch is by attending the meetings of other key departments – public works, engineering, and facilities and fleet management – to get a first-hand account of the department's activities and challenges, and to offer more efficient or sustainable solutions.
* Alberta Electric System Operator, www.aeso.ca/aeso/electricity-in-alberta/
Key projects and results
LEEDing the way
Buildings produce almost half of Spruce Grove's corporate emissions and the cost to heat and power them continues to increase. To manage energy costs and reduce emissions, the city created its Green Building Policy. Spruce Grove requires Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for all new, existing and leased buildings. Since 2005, the city has upgraded many of its facilities, including renovating city hall to LEED standards.
One of the city's most recent buildings, a new 7,172 square metre public works facility, was constructed in 2016. It features a geothermal heating system, a solar wall, solar water heating, rainwater recovery, and wash bay water recycling.
- Between 2011 and 2016, the city reduced emissions from its entire building portfolio by 992 tonnes (20 per cent).
- The public works facility uses about 40 per cent less energy than a conventional building of the same size. With full commissioning of the building now underway, the city can determine the actual energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions.
- The city's 2015 corporate energy costs were $1.03 million. Correcting all figures for 2015 dollars, the cost of one gigajoule of energy in 1996 was $21, in 2003, $31.89, and in 2015, $13.51 – the lowest recorded per-unit cost in the city's history. If prices in 2015 were equal to those in 2003, and if the city had taken no conservation efforts, its energy bill would have been $2.5 million, more than double its current expenditure.
- Some of the city's new and existing buildings may have the potential to achieve net-zero energy in the future (where buildings produce enough renewable energy to meet their own annual consumption).
- The original water plan for the public works facility was to recycle the wash water used for vehicle cleaning, but this created some mold and odour issues. A healthier, more efficient (and less smelly!) rainwater catchment system is used for the wash bay instead. Water surpluses are used for landscape watering.
- New and renovated buildings have better air quality and lighting, and more natural light. "Public works employees are proud of the building, it means something to them and it's created a more positive work atmosphere," says Inglis.
Red light, yellow light, green light...LED!
To meet one of the goals outlined in its energy management plan, the city replaced about 60 per cent of its traffic signal lights with LEDs by 2016, and another 20 per cent by the end of 2017. The colours in LED lights are brighter and more accurate, which improves road definition and contrast, making it safer for all road users. One unexpected challenge for Spruce Grove was the lack of heat from the bulbs. LEDs give off very little heat, so snow and ice can build up on them and affect visibility. "It's one of those things that happen infrequently, but may require some manual methods to remove. If there was that much heat loss [from the old lights], that was an enormous waste," says Inglis.
Provincial utility company FortisAlberta owns the city's street lights and, as part of a province-wide initiative, will replace all 2,717 high-pressure sodium street lights with LEDs in 2018. The Alberta Utilities Board approved Spruce Grove's request to embed the city's portion of the upgrade costs into its electricity rates under its agreement with FortisAlberta, effectively allowing the city to pay for the upgrades with the energy savings.
- Annual electricity reductions from the new traffic signal lights are about 1.43 MWh – enough energy to power 134 homes for one year.
- GHG emissions have been reduced by 25 tonnes per year.
- The city has reported lower maintenance costs associated with the decorative and other outdoor lighting that was replaced with LEDs.
- The city is working with its police and fire officials to ensure that new LED street lighting meets safety and security guidelines.
Mixed-used community spurs green building practices
In 2015, Spruce Grove approved a flexible development standard that allows for, among other things, different lot sizes and densities. It's meant to steer and encourage mixed-use development, which has been found to be more socially and economically inclusive, and to support many of the city's other sustainability goals.
Greenbury, a 500+ unit development approved under the new standard, fits the bill. The neighbourhood features a mix of energy-efficient townhomes, duplexes and single-family homes, a wellness centre, a wind-powered outdoor lighting system, native plants, access to pedestrian and bike trails, and proximity to schools, daycares and parks.
- All builders are required to install high-efficiency appliances, energy, water and lighting systems, build in high levels of insulation, and meet minimum targets for environmentally responsible construction materials.
- Homeowners have the option of adding features that lower their carbon footprint even further, such as active or passive renewable energy systems.
- The new development helped the city pilot new techniques for drainage and test complete neighbourhood concepts.
- On average, energy-efficient homes can save homeowners up to 20 per cent on energy costs. Energy Efficiency Alberta, a new agency of the Province of Alberta, reports that a typical Alberta household uses 7200 kWh of electricity per year and 120 GJ of natural gas.
- Mike Holmes, celebrity contractor and energy-efficiency advocate, entered the Alberta residential development industry a few years ago. Holmes and other high-profile builders have helped to spur the demand for more energy-efficient houses, energy systems and products. A number of Edmonton-area builders and developers also support Built Green Alberta, an industry association that advances energy efficiency and sustainable building practices.
- Spruce Grove is reaching the point where available land for new housing is limited. Along with its municipal partners at the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, the city is studying other models, such as building up instead of out, and the complete neighbourhood concept.
- To revitalize its core, the city is working on a downtown area restructuring plan to densify the core and make it more transit-oriented. Planning challenges will include the addition of new transit nodes and ensuring that transit runs along the highest-density corridors.
- Seek out and take advantage of funding opportunities that can move your municipality's action plans forward. As provinces begin to roll out their climate change plans, and as part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, new funding opportunities will arise.
- Obtain support from council and senior management, to help your municipality incorporate sustainability at all levels.
- Don't try to do everything at once! The best forward momentum comes from getting in some quick wins and celebrating them.
Milestone 1 – 2004 (Corporate, Community)
Milestone 2 – 2004 (Corporate, Community)
Milestone 3 – 2005 (Corporate, Community)
Milestone 4 – 2005 (Corporate, Community)
Milestone 5 – 2017 (Corporate, Community)
Green Municipal Fund: The City of Spruce Grove received support from FCM's Green Municipal Fund to develop an eco-industrial plan, and for energy-efficiency upgrades and renovations to its Shenfield Civic Centre.
The following resources can help on your journey to achieving Milestone 5:
Environmental Sustainability Action Plan, 2011 and the 2016 mid-process review
Energy Management Plan and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy, 2016
Alberta Climate Leadership Plan
GreenTRIP (Alberta's Green Transit Incentives Program)
Community Water Conservation Program, 2016
Greenbury Sustainable Community
Partners and collaborators
Province of Alberta
Area municipalities (primarily Edmonton) and regional transit authorities
Tri-Municipal Region (Parkland County, Stony Plain and Spruce Grove)
Manager, Environmental Science and Transit
City of Spruce Grove, AB
T. 780-962-7634, ext. 183
Caitlin Van Gaal
City of Spruce Grove, AB
T. 780-962-7634, ext. 191
City of Spruce Grove, AB
T. 780-962-7634, ext. 604 (Executive Assistant)