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Canadian Geographic

One Family’s Road to Net Zero: Alberta Take Notes!

We all wanna save the world - this Airdrie family is going above and beyond to do it

In the face of her nine-year-old son’s questions about climate change, Samantha Shannon from Airdrie found herself seeking answers.

She wanted to tell her son that their family was doing all they could to mitigate climate impacts.

Samantha Shannon and her three kids | Canadian Geographic

“Beyond the rhetoric that we learned as kids in the ’90s of reduce, reuse, recycle, I didn’t have much of an answer for him,” Shannon told CBC News.

So she decided to go all out in her efforts to change that.

She’s now part of a competition between eight Canadian households aiming to reduce their carbon emissions.

As part of the Live Net Zero Challenge by Canadian Geographic, she’s been doing the absolute most to make her household “Net-Zero.”

For those unfamiliar, “Net-Zero” is a goal to achieve a balance between the amount of carbon emitted into and removed from the atmosphere each year.

As you can imagine, it’s no easy task.

Not only this, but Shannon has been documenting the whole process! She’s producing a short documentary film on how to retrofit a home to Net Zero without any demolition!

Upgrades and Retrofits

The family has upgraded their home with triple-pane windows, added extra insulation, reduced car use, and even ripped up the lawn to install a geothermal heat pump. 

“It’s exhilarating to be able to show off this amazing team and my community with this documentary,” she told Discover Airdrie.

Her family’s efforts are already paying off. She says the best part has been getting a final bill from her natural gas provider.

Think about that – no more heating bills from now on! 

While the upfront costs don’t come cheap, by “future-proofing” her home, she feels that “this is us buying ourselves resiliency.”

“We’ve calculated our interest payments into all of our calculations,” she said. “Given the raise in natural gas fees, we actually work[ed] out [that we’re] paying less for our geothermal unit, than if we were to hook up to a natural gas contract today.”

Shannon is up for a shot at a $50,000 potential prize in the Canadian Geographic contest, which would help to pay off some of the initial investment she’s put into her home. 

As you can guess, though, the upfront costs aren’t something everyone can pay out of pocket. 

Shannon also had to take measures to make it work. The family utilized a Greener Homes Loan and refinanced their mortgage to pay the upfront costs.

“We’re borrowing against our mortgage because we’re not Rockefellers.” 

A geothermal heating system being installed in the Shannons’ house | Memories2memories

A Solution for All Albertans?

Individual actions are essential and can help the climate crisis. Shannon is doing her best to help.

But in terms of financial feasibility, experts say Alberta needs to think big.

As Shannon said, utilizing renewable energy does pay off financially in the long run, even on an individual level.

However, if the provincial government supported renewable energy projects, it would save all Albertans money – without them having to front the initial costs through loans.

Jason Wang, senior electricity analyst with the Pembina Institute, said decarbonizing Alberta’s energy grid by 2035 would save the average family $600 a year.

The institute looked at six scenarios and technology rollouts, some more “doable” than others, but they found that investment in a renewable energy plan would significantly save Albertans money.

“I’d say that was quite shocking to us. We looked at this many times,” he told CBC.

Alberta’s Response? 

Well, let’s say the provincial government hasn’t been enthusiastic. 

Recently, in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener, Premier Danielle Smith said a net-zero grid by 2035 is doable for other provinces but not Alberta. 

We should note that Smith is the former Oil and Gas lobbyist who recently instituted a renewables moratorium,

She also just approved an $8-million “Tell the Feds” marketing campaign, which warns of power outages and skyrocketing bills if Alberta adopts the federal plan for a net-zero grid by 2035.

Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault told CBC that Smith’s claims were ridiculous.

“This idea that there’s a cliff somehow in 2035 and that the lights will go off across the country is simply a fabrication. It’s fear-mongering. It has nothing to do with reality.” 

Until there’s a provincial plan for a “Net-Zero” Alberta, though, individuals like Shannon will be forced to go it alone.

Shannon’s documentation of the entire process can be found on the family’s YouTube channel.

They’re not the only Airdrie residents taking the Net Zero leap either! 

You can find other community members who’ve installed similar set-ups to stop relying on gas providers. 

From geothermal to solar panels, there are a lot of locals who want to be self-sufficient, and it’s pretty cool to see!

Albertans are not waiting for their government to lead us to net zero. 

We have a long history of get ‘er done, and the Shannons’ are showing us how!

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