Reflections on my internship at the Pembina Institute

Blog - Oct. 26, 2012 - By Tim Shah

This summer I had the fortune of working as the Climate Action Stories Intern at the Pembina Institute’s Vancouver office. Funded by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) and Service Canada internship programs, I spent five months working with passionate individuals determined to advance Canada's clean energy economy. It's never an easy task to summarize a great experience, but it's certainly worth a try.

I worked on two research projects during the internship. The first — with Pembina's Climate Change group led by Matt Horne — involved interviewing several local governments in B.C. to learn about their projects and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

A number of energy efficient and clean energy projects have sprung up around the province since 2007-2008 — the year the province became more aggressive on climate action as evidenced by its Climate Action Charter, passed in 2007, and carbon tax policy, passed in 2008. We wanted to know why local governments are implementing these projects and if provincial policies and programs are having an economic impact.

We interviewed twelve local governments from around B.C. of various locations and population sizes — from the Village of Burns Lake (population, 2,029) and Fort St. John (18,609) in the North to the larger jurisdictions like Surrey and the Capital Regional District in the South.

We found that projects are being implemented for a number of reasons including to demonstrate climate leadership and move away from using natural gas. We found that the carbon tax was also an important factor for seven of them because it provided an economic incentive to move away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy sources. You can read more about our research findings in our summary and case study reports. This research was very timely given B.C.'s carbon tax review and I was pleased to work with my colleagues to co-author Pembina's recommendations for its submission to the review.

Thanks to Pembina, I also presented my project at the Global Conference on Environmental Taxation in September 2012, and as a poster presentation at the BC Clean Energy Conference in October, which offered me several professional development opportunities.

Tim Shah interviewing EV owner Phil DaysonMoving from climate policy to transportation (my other passion), I worked with Pembina’s Communities Group in developing their electric vehicles (EV) portfolio. When I began my research on EVs at the start of the internship, I was ambivalent about their role in helping cities become more sustainable. But after reading dozens of journal articles, reports and news articles about their resurgence in different parts of the world (including the U.S.), I feel more optimistic about their potential. My main task was to learn about EV planning and charging station deployment in the Pacific Northwest U.S. I interviewed local governments, including two in Washington and three in Oregon, to hear about their successes and challenges.

The purpose of the research was to extract lessons learned from their experiences to help inform EV planning and charging station implementation in B.C., given the province's recent appetite for electric vehicles. Our research from the U.S. found that charging station deployment can be both highly strategic and very challenging. What resonated from the interviews is that providing public charging stations is critical for EV planning and adoption. We produced a research report summarizing some lessons learned on charging station planning. This work feeds directly into Pembina's ongoing EV portfolio.      

I also worked with Kevin Sauvé on a public engagement project that involved interviewing EV owners about their experiences. We spent one day travelling around Metro Vancouver to meet and videotape EV owners. Check out our video with one owner who believes EVs are a big part of B.C.'s sustainable future.

The combination of research, policy exposure, conference presentations and working with a group of dedicated and passionate individuals not only fostered my interest in Canada's clean energy future, but has given me more of an inclination toward a career in the environmental NGO world.

It's organizations like Pembina that maintain critical discussions about the state of our environment and energy sources, and how practical policy and behavioural changes can move our country along a path that is sustainable for future generations.

Tim Shah wishes to thank PICS for graciously funding this internship. Tim also wishes to thank all of the Pembina staff he worked closely with including Claire Beckstead, Matt Horne, Kevin Sauvé, Alison Bailie, Ellen Pond, Josha MacNab and Katie Laufenberg for their insights and guidance.


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