March 10, 2021

Onsite Renewable Energy Policy


Saving Money, Building Markets – Implementing an Onsite Renewable Energy Policy

The availability and use of onsite renewable energy technology for buildings in BC has grown significantly. While renewable energy may come from an increasing variety of sources, not all of these sources are suitable for onsite production. On-site renewable energy, such as solar or wind power, is a way to power your building while reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. These technologies have an important role in meeting household energy needs throughout the community.

Micro-renewable energy can generally be broken into two classes:

Space conditioning (heating and cooling) and hot water systems. Such technologies include solar thermal and geo exchange systems. Many of these systems are very cost competitive, and superior to conventional systems from a life cycle cost perspective.
Renewable electricity systems. Examples include solar photovoltaic cells, wind turbines, and biomass combustion. Not always, but generally these systems have longer paybacks because of BC’s low cost of electricity, and technology maturity.

Onsite Renewable Policy in Community Buildings

Onsite renewable generation policies community wide can complement similar policies for civic buildings. Various European [1], and now US, jurisdictions have policies mandating the incorporation of renewable energy systems into new construction and renovation. These policies have been very successful, as they have led to strong growth in renewable industries, and decreased costs due to economies of scale and installation experience. National governments, such as Britain, Germany and Spain, are following suit.

Example Communities

Solar Colwood: a demonstration of a whole community moving towards energy conservation and renewable clean energy
Burns Lake: installed a biomass heating system at the Tom Forsythe arena
Nanaimo: replacing its old water reservoir with one that incorporates energy recovery equipment

[1] European Renewable Energy Council. (2007) Key Issues – Regulations.

Developing an Onsite Renewable Policy

An onsite renewable energy policy for the community can be encouraged through a resolution at board/council. It could serve as part of a wider green building policy, embedded in an Official Community Plan or a Regional Growth Strategy.

Creating and Implementing Effective Policy

Onsite renewable energy may be promoted through a variety of policy tools. Local Governments may create policies requiring that a certain percentage of all new or renovated buildings’ energy use be supplied by onsite renewable energy. Requiring a small minimum percentage, perhaps 5-10%, will allow buildings in less favourable conditions to meet the standard. Designers of buildings on renewable rich sites will be more cognizant of their resources, and may substantially exceed this minimum cost-effectively.

The most commonly cited example of this type of policy is the Merton Rule from the United Kingdom, which requires landowners of new developments 1000 square metres or more to generate 10 percent of energy used onsite from renewable sources. Initiated in the London Borough of Merton in 2003, the City of London created an identical requirement in 2004. (Pembina Institute. 2010A: p16). This type of policy may encourage that buildings meet Credit 2 of the LEED Canada Rating System for New Construction and Major Renovations.

Local governments may also encourage onsite renewable energy, rather than require it, through the use of policy tools such as fast tracking. As part of their Sustainability Initiative the City of Port Coquitlam offers developers the opportunity to be fast tracked through the rezoning process and building permit applications if they incorporate green technology into their designs.

Policies encouraging onsite renewable energy can be prescriptive or performance based, and may vary according to building type, size, and climate zone. Policies that are based on performance can be advantageous when they encourage architects, engineers, and builders to choose innovative yet cost effective measures appropriate for a particular building and its location.

The T’Souke First Nation west of Victoria, three photovoltaic systems, with a total capacity of 75 kW, comprise the largest solar PV project to date in British Columbia. The energy generated supplies both community members and band buildings.

Using DPAs to Promote Renewable Energy Community-Wide

A growing number of Local Governments in BC are using Development Permit Area (DPA) to mandate onsite renewable energy use in the wider community. DPAs are regulations on development in particular neighbourhoods specified in Official Community Plans. The BC Local Government Act (Section 919.1) enables Local Governments to mandate GHG reduction measures in DPA guidelines, as well as the character of built form.

This legislative basis provides an excellent opportunity to include an onsite renewable energy policy in the guidelines. For instance, in Richmond, BC the Broadmoor Neighbourhood Service Centre used development permit guidelines to promote onsite renewable energy in the Broadmoor Neighbourhood Service Area. For more information see the Service Centre’s Master Plan and the Broadmoor Neighbourhood Service Centre Guidelines.

Removing Local Barriers to Renewable Energy

As more and more citizens seek to adopt green technologies in their own homes, Local Governments may want to review existing bylaws and policies to determine if they create barriers to renewable energy initiatives. For instance, height restrictions may preclude the building of wind turbines; noise restrictions may prevent heat pumps and wind turbines; character and form restrictions (such as bylaws that prevent aesthetically unpleasing rooftop instalments) may preclude solar generators. For example, the District of North Vancouver has exempted building energy conservation design elements from height restrictions in its Zoning Bylaw. Additionally, the Canadian Wind Association has developed a model bylaw for Local Governments to use that allows for small wind turbine generation.

More commonly, Local Governments are adopting regulations that ensure buildings not designed with onsite renewable energy are built so as to allow for future renewable energy retrofits. For instance, many Local Governments are taking action to ensure that all new construction is built so that Solar Hot Water may be easily installed. Over 26 Local Governments around BC have adopted the Provincial Solar Hot Water Ready Regulation, administered through SolarBC, which ensures buildings are constructed with the ability to accommodate future solar hot water retrofits.

Finally, Local Governments may work to ensure that local building inspectors are up-to-date with onsite renewable technology, and inform them of Council’s support for such initiatives. If inspectors are not familiar with the technology, they may be hesitant to ratify onsite renewable energy initiatives throughout the community.

Policy Examples

Port Coquitlam – The Sustainability Initiative outlines policies used to promote green technologies community wide.
Richmond –The Broadmoor Neighbourhood Service Guidelines (Bylaw 8579), which promotes onsite renewable energy in the area. A more concise version of the bylaw exists as the Broadmoor Neighbourhood Service Centre Master Plan.
District of North Vancouver – The Section 407 of the Zoning Bylaw outlines building structures or portions that are exempt from height restrictions, including energy conservation design elements.

Further Information and Examples

Merton Rule: Official UK website outlining information pertaining to the Merton Rule.
Small Wind Siting and Zoning Study: Development of Siting Guidelines and a Model Zoning By-law for Small Wind Turbines (Under 300 KW) (2006): A model bylaw developed by the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
Jurisdiction Options for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in Buildings (2010): A policy resource for Local Governments prepared by the Pembina Institute.
Economic Instruments for On-site Renewable Energy Applications in the Residential/Farm Sector (2007): A sector-specific policy resource for Local Governments prepared by the Pembina Institute
Powering Our Communities (2007): A module of the Renewable Energy Guide for Local Governments in British Columbia.
Heating Our Communities (2007): A module of the Renewable Energy Guide for Local Governments in British Columbia.
Policy and Governance Tools (2007): A module of the Renewable Energy Guide for Local Governments in British Columbia September


  • Energy
  • Land use and Transportation