Building up local businesses is an excellent way to cut carbon footprints and build a greener economy, according to a business consultant who addressed the Pictou County Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
Andy Horsnell, from the Centre for Local Prosperity in Wolfville, said that Nova Scotia currently imports most of its energy, but using local contractors to build renewable power such as wind and solar will create jobs and revenue.
And he reminded people gathered at the Pictou County Wellness Centre that Pictou County is already halfway there.
“Rural power generation will be a really great starting point,” Horsnell told The News. “If you look on a map of all the wind farms in Nova Scotia, I would say probably a fifth to a quarter are all clustered around Pictou, so you clearly have a huge potential for wind energy here.”
Already, the Town of Bridgewater is showing a possible way forward for Pictou County communities seeking to build a greener local economy and stop money from leaving the region due to import costs.
The Energize Bridgewater initiative aims to make the community a net energy exporter by 2050 and is developing hydropower, wind and solar power.
By making a green shift, Energize Bridgewater predicts it will save the town more than $2 billion in energy costs between this decade and 2050 and local greenhouse gas emissions will be 80 per cent lower on 2011 levels.
In addition, the shift will add an average of 115 person-years of employment to the local economy per year, a total of 3,700 person-years by 2050.
Horsnell said that making such shifts allows local communities to “create and retain local businesses and jobs [and] enhance the tax base.”
He said that only a small shift is needed to start plugging Nova Scotia’s ‘leaky bucket’ economy that sees billions of dollars leave the province every year.
In 2012, the province made nearly $11 billion from exporting goods – but lost nearly $16 billion paying for imports, including energy.
Narrowed down to Pictou County, the net loss was more than $220 million in that same year.
However, shifting just 10 per cent of these costs back into the local community will have a major impact.
If that happened, Pictou County would gain 15,000 jobs, $67 million in business taxes and $100 million on the payroll, according to Horsnell.
“This is a very, very modest shift but, even then, it’s a significant change,” said Horsnell. “It’s just about shifting. Can you go from 90 per cent to 80 per cent?”
This approach has already been shown to work in Cleveland, Ohio, and Preston in the United Kingdom.
The key to this is identifying major local ‘anchor’ businesses, that can meet procurement needs.
Major local suppliers helped redesign and rebuild the Cleveland University Hospital, when contracts were offered to local businesses, many of whom were owned by minorities and women.
He said that Pictou County had the potential for such an approach and people in rural areas tend to be more entrepreneurial than their urban counterparts, but are held back by structural barriers.
“Attitude is not the problem,” said Horsnell.