‘By and For Local People’: Assessing How Canadian Local Energy Plans Contribute to the Ideals of Community Energy
In contrast with large, centralized low-carbon energy projects—which are often associated with challenges such as the destruction of local environments, substantial cost overruns and negative social impacts on local people—community energy (CE) is argued to be an opportunity for communities to transition to low-carbon energy systems while benefiting the communities in which CE projects operate, rather than harming them. CE, however, is noted to be a somewhat ambiguous concept; the term is notoriously difficult to define and may be perceived differently by the various actors involved. Based on a review of international CE literature, CE is herein defined as energy initiatives—including initiatives with a variety of functions such as generation, retail, distribution and demand (Hoicka and MacArthur, 2018)—that that place a high degree of emphasis on community participation, ownership and control, and through doing so, create benefits for the community. This paper considers Canadian CE and a trend for individual communities to create their own Local Energy Plans (LEPs), as these plans are frequently placed within the umbrella of CE initiatives—both in practice and in academic literature. Through doing so, the research contributes to a gap in international literature related to assessing CE in practice, as well as Canadian literature due to Canada being an understudied country with a unique context for research in this area. This research draws its findings from a unique dataset that maps local energy plans across Canadian provinces and territories. 244 plans have been identified and 77 of those obtained in order to assess how the plans enable/contribute to the conditions for CE, as CE is herein defined. The research finds that while Canadian LEPs are locally-centred and likely entail energy-savings and environmental benefits, social benefits are not guaranteed and many plans fail to meaningfully contribute to “community energy” as it is portrayed in literature.