Calgary’s wind-powered LRT
Calgary’s C-Train light-rail system is overwhelmingly popular with residents, boasting an average weekday ridership of 325,000. It has kick-started smarter, denser development around its stations. And best of all, it is 100 per cent powered by renewable energy.
Now, the LRT does not run on electrons delivered straight from wind turbines — instead, it’s connected to the standard electricity grid, which is still dominated by coal and natural gas power. In 2001, Calgary city council voted to purchase 21,000 megawatt-hours of wind power a year for 10 years. That’s how much electricity the LRT uses in a year. Twelve wind turbines were erected to fulfill Calgary’s investment. By purchasing wind power, Calgary Transit reports it is avoiding the emission of 56,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
In 2012, Calgary went all-in on renewable energy, purchasing enough renewable power for all of the city’s operations. Because of this, two wind farms were built, totaling 144 megawatts of installed wind capacity.
While the C-Train is completely wind powered, the City’s other operations use a mix of renewables: wind, hydro, biomass and solar power. The power purchase agreement totals 450,000 megawatt-hours a year, or the equivalent power demand of over 65,000 Calgary homes.
Cities like Calgary are playing a leadership role without breaking the bank. While the City of Calgary wouldn’t disclose the terms of their power purchase agreement with ENMAX, wind is the cheapest source of electricity in Alberta. The first round of the Renewable Energy Program announced in December 2017 yielded the cheapest wind price in Canada at 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour while the average price for electricity from coal was 7.7 cents per-kilowatt hour.
Doubly cool is the phenomenal ridership rate Calgary has achieved for its LRT, logging 102 million trips in 2017. That is reducing congestion, bringing down emissions and building the clean energy economy of the future.
A full three-car C-Train carries 600 people. Not only does the C-Train take a lot of cars off the road, it also helps the city grow in a smarter, denser way.
“Our next step is a big shift, and that’s transit-oriented development. That means making sure more people are living at the transit nodes outside of the downtown core. That’s not something we’ve done a lot of in the past in Calgary, but it has to happen now,” says Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi.
With 46 stations and 118 km of track, that thinking makes sense. When you start talking about location efficient housing, more people living closer to an LRT station means less money spent on transportation by residents, less pollution and less congestion on the roads.