Bissell offers bright ideas for solving persistent problems

When we think of climate change, we often focus on seemingly intractable challenges. What we don’t tend to think about is the opportunities it presents for alleviating poverty.

The fair treatment of citizens and workers is intimately connected to how we treat our biological and ecological systems — and vice versa. As we learn to think more holistically, it’s becoming clear that we can’t solve one problem in isolation.

So when Bissell Centre partnered with Newo Global Energy to put 78 solar panels on its roof, the aim of the project was not only to supply 18 per cent of the Centre’s electricity needs, it was also to include a section that can be assembled and disassembled for training purposes, providing a pathway for workers from Bissell’s casual labour program to participate in the new green economy.

In March, a class of 12 students became the first to use the training array.

Bissell trainees
Bissell Centre trainees help install the training portion of the centre’s solar array March 12, 2020.

Participant Vincent Markiewicz has been accessing work through Bissell programs for about 10 years. He jumped at the chance to “get a foot on the ground” in a budding industry.

“Nowadays we have to be competitive in the job market,” he says. “I come from oil and gas. It was hard on my body and my mental health. Family life suffered. No one in oil and gas is going to hire a 54-year-old with back problems.”

That solar panel installation is not as labour intensive appeals to Markiewicz, as does the fact solar has benefits for the environment. He now plans to get additional electrical training, as having another “sparky” in the family will make his 95-year-old father proud.

“I am so impressed with Bissell and Newo for offering us guys this training,” he says. “Joe Blow living on the street would never have access to this kind of training, or even know that it exists. Bissell Centre is great, I love working with everyone.”

“Nowadays we have to be competitive in the job market. I come from oil and gas. It was hard on my body and my mental health. Family life suffered. No one in oil and gas is going to hire a 54-year-old with back problems.”

Vincent Markiewicz, trainee

Master electrician Adrian Mohammed installs panels with trainees Josh and Verna Jan. 20, 2020.

Of course, diverting 22.6 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere each year (equal to the C02 absorbed by 26.6 acres of forest, or annual emissions from five passenger cars) is cause for celebration unto itself.

The City of Edmonton has set ambitious climate targets in an attempt to keep the city’s emissions levels within a maximum 1.5 C temperature increase.

To accomplish this goal, Edmonton plans to ensure 85 per cent of new and existing buildings have solar installed on rooftops by 2040. Solar represents five per cent of the overall emissions reductions necessary to reach the city’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

However, a renewable revolution is just one part of the city’s plan; another pillar is a “just and equitable transition,” which must “bring all members of society along,” and “cannot be accessible only to the wealthy.”

In Bissell’s solar project, we see action toward reducing carbon emissions as well as the building of an equitable economy that includes members of Edmonton’s more marginalized communities. Moreover, savings on Bissell energy costs will be put directly into services that help people living in poverty or experiencing homelessness.

Incorporating renewable energy into our existing economy will require the participation of all Albertans, but it can also benefit everyone. As projects like this demonstrate, letting the sunshine in can mean a win for both people and planet.