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Bridgewater wins $5-million Smart Cities energy efficiency challenge


Bridgewater officials celebrate the town’s Smart Cities Challenge win in Ottawa: From left, CAO Tammy Wilson, planning director Jessica McDonald, Bernadette Jordan, MP for South Shore-St. Margarets, Mayor David Mitchell and sustainability planner Leon de Vreede.
Officials celebrate Bridgewater's Smart Cities Challenge win in Ottawa: From left, CAO Tammy Wilson, planning director Jessica McDonald, Bernadette Jordan, MP for South Shore-St. Margarets, Mayor David Mitchell and sustainability planner Leon de Vreede.

For months, staff at the Town of Bridgewater worked to craft a plan to lift their residents out of energy poverty.

On Tuesday, at a presentation in Ottawa, they found out they will realize that vision sooner than expected: Bridgewater is one of Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge winners.

Mayor David Mitchell said the town’s energy reduction program — and encompassing $5 million in prize money — will transform the lives of residents.

“I’m almost speechless about what this means for my community,” he said following the announcement.

The town won the category for communities with a population under 30,000 people.

Mitchell said the prize money would be put to immediate use, although the town had planned to implement their program regardless of the outcome.

“The first thing (winning) changes is the timeline,” he explained, adding the project is projected to lift residents out of energy poverty by 2050 — or over the course of multiple generations.

“With the prize money, we can have the resources that we need to do it in this first generation.”

As per the town’s final application, the goal is to reduce energy poverty by 20 per cent by 2025; currently, nearly 40 percent of the town’s residents are in need.

Energy poverty encompasses households spending more than 10 per cent of their after-tax income on heat and power.
 

“I’ve talked to people who can’t buy groceries because they just paid their power bill."

     - Mayor David Mitchell

     


 

And although the prize money will help, it is only a portion of the projected $90 million needed over the next decade to help the community’s residents.

The program is diverse, with initiatives ranging from energy monitoring equipment in low income homes, a retrofit financing program and community-owned solar photovoltaics.

Mitchell added one of the key components of the project is scalability, something which Smart Cities Challenge judge Kourosh Rad noted as a big factor in the town’s win.

Rad said Bridgewater’s energy plan could help both people in Nova Scotia and across Canada.

“The energy challenges are very similar across Nova Scotia,” said Rad, who lives in Halifax.

“Given our rural context, from the South Shore all the way to Cape Breton, I think there are a lot of communities that can leverage the learning that comes from Bridgewater.”

Rad noted many of the competition’s 130 applicants addressed energy poverty as an issue in their community.

However, he said, Bridgewater’s energy plan did a good job of combining technology and the community’s needs over the long-term.

“If I could draw attention to one thing, it would be for them to look at Bridgewater’s method in public consultation and public partnership for co-creation in their community,” he said.

And for his part, Mitchell said he’s excited to implement the town’s vision given his community’s needs.

“I’ve talked to people who can’t buy groceries because they just paid their power bill,” he said.

“To know that this (program) will change their lives . . . it’s a validation for us that we’re truly representing everybody in our community.”

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