A handful of communities in northeastern Ontario are looking to cut their energy use, reduce greenhouse gas emissions — and save a few bucks. 

Green Economy North, a business support program for environmental sustainability, will help the communities to create an energy plan.

Manager Richard Eberhardt said Blind River, Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, Gore Bay, Sables-Spanish Rivers and Billings Township have enrolled in the program. 

Each municipality will start by figuring out the energy it uses, how they're using it and what it costs. Then, each will set energy reduction goals, or targets to work towards. The plans also include engaging local residents to do their part towards improving sustainability.

"We'll really be working with them to identify ways that they can reduce their community's energy demand, and how much resources are going out from that local community to basically pay for energy, to keep the lights on, and to do the things that people do in those towns," Eberhardt said.

Success will mean benefits for taxpayers

The plans could be as simple as making a change to the local recreation centre or arena.

"[There is] lots of cost to run an arena, so if they're not looking strategically at what they can do to reduce those costs, then taxes are higher in order to maintain a level of service."

Eberhardt said helping the planet is the focus of the program, but as energy gets more expensive, cutting costs for taxpayers is an added benefit.

"[A successful energy plan] will make it less expensive to live and work and do business in that community, because they've made those conscious choices to cut back on their energy needs," Eberhardt said.

Energy plans to be modelled after Wawa

Green Economy North is using the energy plan created by Wawa as a model of success.

"Wawa, as a small town in northeastern Ontario, has many of the challenges that these other communities that we are working with do," said Eberhardt.  "[The town] saw the value early on for getting a community energy plan done."

Created last year, the Wawa plan set firm goals to reduce the total amount of electricity and the total amount of water the community was using.

"Wawa ... went forward with engagement opportunities to make those targets happen and achievable," Eberhardt says.

The only other municipality in northeastern Ontario with an energy plan is Temiskaming Shores.

Eberhardt estimates it will take several months to get each of the five communities started on their energy plans.

"The thing with community energy planning is you're not going to see the results until you've had a couple of years worth of work go by."