Of all the conversations I’ve had about climate change, the most eye-opening are with farmers. They see the changes in growing seasons, wet years that are wetter, dry years that are drier, floods and fires and changes in weeds and wildlife. They know that we have to act to slow climate change and to adapt to new realities, using the best of crop science to prepare for the inevitable changes in production.
Many prairie farmers have also seen the value in participating in the transition to renewable energy. As I travel the province, people proudly share their experiments with wind and solar energy and energy efficient building. And I meet so many more who would like to make these changes, who see it as the right thing to do and a smart way to save money, but who just can’t cover the up-front cost.
That is why I’ve proposed a new program: Renew Saskatchewan. It’s a plan to tackle climate change, reduce our power bills, create new jobs and increase our supply of clean energy.
With Renew Saskatchewan, your home, farm, business or town hall could be assessed and you would get a recommendation of the best changes available. This could be new windows, a high-efficiency furnace or a solar array on the roof of the machine shop. Along with that assessment would be an estimate of the time it would take to pay off those improvements out of the savings they produce.
Then, and this is the key part, the feature that gets rid of the cost barrier and makes this an opportunity for everyone, you would get a loan to cover the cost of the work. This loan would cover the changes needed and you could repay it just by paying your power or gas bill — at a lower rate than you pay today. Once the loan is paid back, your bills would either be next to nothing, or you may even be making money depending on how much energy you’re producing.
There are examples in Saskatchewan’s history that show Renew Saskatchewan could be implemented effectively.
One of the most well-known examples is rural electrification, a signature development brought in under the first CCF government, and Tommy Douglas’ proudest achievement. This was a financing plan where farms paid back the cost of getting transmission lines over time through their power bill.
Another successful program was the Family Farm Improvement Branch, which helped modernize the home quarter, assisting farms to go from relying on outhouses and wells to indoor plumbing and safe drinking water. Both programs started with an assessment of that farm’s needs and included an opportunity to do some of the work themselves and pay less.
Renew Saskatchewan will create thousands of local jobs in manufacturing, installation, retrofitting and maintenance. It will reduce power bills immediately and lower them to next to nothing over time. It will create revenue opportunities for farmers, homeowners, small towns and reserves through a new approach to net metering that will allow producers to sell extra electricity back to the grid. Renew will increase Saskatchewan’s supply of clean electrical power and significantly reduce our use of energy and our carbon emissions. And it will create a revolving fund that can be used over and over to support more homes, farms and businesses and take advantage of new opportunities in the fast developing field of renewable energy.
Ryan Meili is the leader of the Saskatchewan NDP.