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FortisBC’s Climate Action Partners: Meet Jay Starnino

March 29, 2021

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Our Climate Action Partners program works with governments and organizations throughout BC to help them achieve their climate action goals using our suite of lower-carbon and renewable energy solutions.

We provide the funds for the Climate Action Partner to hire a senior energy specialist who will help their new employer reach their climate action goals, whether that’s reducing emissions, improving energy efficiency and/or fostering green energy solutions in their community.

We caught up with Jay Starnino, senior energy specialist with the City of Grand Forks, to learn more about his work and how it benefits the community.

Why did you get involved with the Climate Action Partners program at FortisBC?

Since I was a kid, I’ve had a deep connection to the natural environment. I grew up in Bragg Creek, Alberta, a small town nestled in the Rockies with a population of around 500 people, so I grew up surrounded by nature.

That childhood shaped me into who I am today. I’m an avid backcountry skier, hiker, camper and mountain biker. Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to preserve the natural environment for myself and future generations.

My education sparked my interest in climate action and the effects of homes and buildings on the environment. Working through my engineering degree I became enamored with sustainability and how it impacts the development of society and public health. I fell in love with buildings and architecture, and realized that well-designed urban and residential spaces correlate directly to people’s health and happiness.

Working in sustainability and with the Climate Action Partners program, I have an opportunity to have a lasting impact, and make things better for people. This is a chance to make a significant contribution to people’s quality of life, all while learning and working alongside a great team.

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Jay doing some backcountry skiing in Alberta.

Can you share more about the work you’re doing with the City of Grand Forks?

My focus is a two-year project to improve flood preparation and repurpose homes damaged from the last flood.

In 2018, a massive flood hit Grand Forks, destroying over 80 homes. Parts of town had over 15 feet of moving water; it was devastating. Instead of completely removing those homes, we’re hoping ourselves or others might re-build and repurpose some of them in different areas of Grand Forks, putting them back into the market for the community. FortisBC is helping with construction, retrofitting the buildings and helping make them more energy efficient.

What are the benefits of this work to the residents and community of Grand Forks?

The Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation team is focusing on preparing for future flooding, which Grand Forks expects with increasing frequency and severity. If successful, our efforts will save livelihoods and strengthen the local economy by mitigating the impacts of a natural disaster in the future.

Since we’re hoping these homes will be repurposed, there is an opportunity to perform deep energy retrofits for sustainability and energy efficiency, which is where FortisBC’s energy efficiency and rebate programs come in. Home upgrades provide us an opportunity to take a hard look at our carbon footprint in how we construct buildings, and how we consume energy within them.

There are amazing social opportunities as well. Rather than costly deconstruction and transportation of these homes to a landfill, the community saves money by repurposing them and putting some back into the market either for sale or for rent, which serves the residents for years to come.

The homes will be both affordable and highly energy efficient. The project has incredible social, economic, and climate-related opportunities for the community.

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One of the many homes Jay and his team plan to repurpose and restore.

What type of legacy do you hope to see out of the sustainability sector moving forward?

Projects offering collaboration between construction and energy industries tackle important challenges associated with homelessness, urban density, climate change and much more. I’d love to see more collaboration with non-profits in these areas as well, to better ensure we are satisfying their needs through our contributions.

Forging strong relationships with local builders creates new awareness surrounding energy efficiency that helps strengthen communities long term. If we make five to ten buildings more energy efficient, that is great! But if we can educate five to ten builders about modern energy efficient buildings, so that they continue to come up with their own solutions moving forward, then they’ll make a thousand buildings more energy efficient, give back to the industry and educate their own colleagues. Change must come from within the community. It’s our job to enable that within these communities. That’s how we catalyze real progress.

Our Climate Action Partners are part of a large community of like-minded organizations that are working to advance a lower-carbon future. We urge any local governments and organizations who share these values to connect with our Climate Action Partners team to discuss how we can tackle climate action together.

The Climate Action Partners program is important to helping FortisBC achieve its 30BY30 target, an ambitious goal to reduce our customers’ greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

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