Earth Hour 2016: will the trend of lower participation continue in B.C.?

In 2015, British Columbians saved 15 megawatt hours of electricity for Earth Hour, the lowest savings in the past eight years.

Electricity savings in province hit an all-time low in 2015

In 2015, B.C. saved 15 megawatt hours of electricity during Earth Hour. That's well down from 2013 when the savings were 136 megawatt hours. There is no data available for 2016. (Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty)

Now in its 10th year worldwide, Earth Hour appears to have become a bust in B.C. as megawatt hours saved have been in a free fall since peak savings in 2013.

That's when a 1.95 per cent reduction was achieved by having residents, businesses and organizations turn lights and electronics off for one hour.

In 2015, British Columbians saved only 15 megawatt hours of electricity for this year's Earth Hour, the lowest savings in the past eight years, but still the equivalent of turning off 680,000 LED lights, said BC Hydro in a news release.

Earth Hour began as a one-city initiative in Sydney, Australia in 2007 and is now a global event hosted by the World Wildlife Fund.

Statistics from BC Hydro show a significant drop in the savings of megawatt hours of electricity during Earth Hour from 2008 ton 2015. (CBC)

What's worse is there will be no way to quantify whether that trend is continuing in B.C. in 2016, as BC Hydro says it won't be able to provide results from the 8:30 p.m. PT to the 9:30 p.m. PT shut down on Saturday.

"The reason is that the WWF moved Earth Hour up in the month (it's usually the last Saturday of March)," wrote BC Hydro spokesman Kevin Aquino in a news release.

"With [Daylight Saving Time] DST and Earth Hour only a week apart, we can't factor in the load change that happens naturally with DST because there are no Saturdays in between to use as a benchmark." 

"As a result, we can't provide accurate measurements for Earth Hour."

Instead, the utility is encouraging residents to monitor their own electricity use through online MyHydro accounts.

Customers can compare their electricity use during Earth Hour on Saturday to a previous day to see if turning off unnecessary lights and electronics makes a difference in their household electricity consumption.

Last year, Whistler had the most lights-out of any municipality in B.C. It reduced its electricity load by 7.2 per cent while Vancouver only managed 0.7 per cent.

"As a mountain-resort community, weather and nature are key to our existence and to our lifestyle and climate change is really on our radar," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

This year, the municipality is holding a low-light skate at the outdoor park at Olympic Plaza. Meanwhile, Wilhelm-Morden is issuing a challenge to others in B.C. to match Whistler's efforts in reducing power use.

"Everyone should get onboard and just really pay attention to the amount of power they're consuming not just during Earth Hour but generally speaking," she said.

The lowest reduction recorded by BC Hydro in 2015 was a tie between Courtenay, Comox and Fort Nelson at 0.1 per cent.

"People are more aware about this than they have been in recent years and maybe that explains the decline," said Larissa Stendie with Sierra Club B.C. "But there is something lovely about the collective action ... how these individual actions collectively make a big difference."

Stendie admits that maybe Earth Hour's impact has come and gone since the idea was new, but hopes it has spurred people into conserving energy as a regular habit.

She also hopes the event has taken some to a higher level of activism, such as demanding governments and industry adopt initiatives like mandatory climate tests for proposed projects.

"What is the climate impact of a project?" she asked. "Does it improve our climate situation or make it worse."

According to the Sierra Club, Washington State, New South Wales in Australia and the European Union have adopted the threshold.

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