FortisBC will likely fund a new District of Squamish climate change staffer | Squamish Chief

FortisBC will likely fund a new District of Squamish climate change staffer

Some on council note there might be a perception of bias within community

The District will be enlisting the help of the province's most recognized natural gas company to help come up with the money to hire an additional climate change staffer.

The municipality will be seeking a grant from FortisBC to pay for an energy specialist, who would work to help reduce the town's carbon footprint, said Ian Picketts, the municipality's climate change manager, on June 23.

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Should the District succeed in getting the money, Fortis will shell out $100,000 to pay for the staffer.

If everything is going smoothly, the company will then pay out $80,000 the second year, and, possibly, another $80,000 the third year.

A report to council said that the probability of getting the grant from Fortis is quite high, as the company has already identified Squamish as a potential partner.

Council did not vote on the matter, Picketts was only appearing before elected officials to give them an update on the situation.

Elected officials were open to the idea, but several were aware of the optics of having Fortis as a primary funder for a position that's intended to cut down on fossil fuel use in town.

"This does raise concerns with me, and it's not that it's Fortis, who I regard as a good corporate citizen," said Coun. Doug Race.

First, Race noted this is not the first case in which the public may question the sources of funding.

"I understand we already do that with developers funding a planner for dealing with their development," he said.

However, Race said the municipality is a regulatory authority.

"There's a question about whether this will affect our decision on any other activities that Fortis has, as it continues on within the District, and I'm not suggesting it would, but we have to deal with this thing called reasonable apprehension of bias," he said.

"And so I question whether or not the public might have a reasonable apprehension of bias in future decisions regarding Fortis separate from this that might come before us."

Without mentioning the project's name, Coun. Armand Hurford appeared to express concern about Fortis' role in fossil fuel projects such as Woodfibre LNG.

"I'm concerned about pulling away from our other areas of concern that may not be Fortis' concern, and how those things interplay — and I'm sure you can see what I'm talking about there," said Hurford.

Picketts said this has been considered by staff, and noted this would not be the only staff member working on the climate change file.

"Things related to retrofit and energy conservation would be where we put our energy for this person," he said.

"If there were other areas that did not have that symbiosis, then other people like myself and other staff members would pursue them. It is something we'll have to manage carefully."

The District will be creating a work plan for the staffer that will be finalized with Fortis. It would focus on step codes, home retrofits, energy conservation and management, electric vehicle infrastructure and renewable natural gas.

A staff report says that one possible weakness of hiring the staffer is the fact that Fortis operates the only two LNG facilities in B.C., while Squamish has recently made decisions that may hamper the development of local LNG projects.

Council recently asked the province to ensure Woodfibre LNG meet greenhouse gas reduction targets set out by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

On the other hand, the report says the District would "largely control" the direction of the staffer. Fortis has also made commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, rejecting the funding has no greenhouse gas implication, the report says.

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