Skip to content

Three Sisters development pushes towards net-zero growth

Many residents have been adamant the proposed Three Sisters Mountain Village development is too large and expressed other concerns, but representatives for the developer say their plan will align with Canmore’s climate action plan and be a positive in the Town’s ongoing efforts to progress green energy technologies in the community.

CANMORE – Debate around the proposed development for Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) has included a focus on how at build-out the new subdivions will contribute to, or mitigate, greenhouse gas emissions in the community and climate change. 

Many residents have been adamant the development is too large and expressed other concerns, including that it will increase the community's overall greenhouse gas emissions despite the fact Canmore council declared a climate emergency in 2019. But representatives for the developer say their plan will align with Canmore’s climate action plan and be a positive in the Town’s ongoing efforts to progress green energy technologies in the community.

If approved by Canmore council, the Area Structure Plans (ASPs) for Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek would only permit builders to maximize the units per hectare if they use energy efficient methods, said Chris Ollenberger, the managing principal of QuantumPlace Developments, said.

Known as the bonusing toolkit, it pushes developers to spend extra money on renewable energy to allow for more density in residential builds.

Under the Canada National Energy Code for Buildings, a targeted date of 2030 was established to have all new builds reach net-zero energy consumption.

The building code is federally enforced, with municipalities having no say. Additionally, municipalities are not able to force builders to reach a standard above what the code currently requires, which means an incentive program is needed if a higher level of energy efficiency is desired.  

“This is to accelerate it,” he said. “We’re trying to bring it forward by 10 years. We think it’ll be a positive.”

The plan essentially caps the amount allowed to be built, unless a developer is willing to use energy methods more closely aligned with Canmore’s climate action plan.

Ollenberger said in community engagement, they heard from residents the importance of aligning any development with Canmore’s climate action plan.

The Town’s land use bylaw allows 30 to 67 units per hectare for new developments.

Ollenberger said their plan uses the floor of 30 units per hectare, with the maximum available if a developer uses higher efficiency and green energy methods to attain net-zero.

By building more units, Ollenberger said it allows a developer to spread out the extra associated costs that come with using greener energy methods.

He noted if other land was developed in Canmore, a builder wouldn’t have to follow the same guidelines since the national building code doesn’t mandate for almost another decade.

“In the relatively near term if the ASPs get approved, it will really accelerate Canmore’s initiatives … If you focus on implementing climate action plan through existing building stock, it will be a very slow process. But as you implement it with new building stock and incentivizing it, Canmore would be further ahead.”

In February, the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices released a 132-page report emphasizing the need to use net-zero energy to achieve the country’s goal of having net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The study, Canada’s Net Zero Future, analyzed more than 60 modelling scenarios for the country to achieve its goals. Among them was the importance of switching from traditional energy methods in buildings to relying on energy efficient technologies.

“Reducing Canada’s emissions to net zero by 2050 is no small feat – but it’s doable. For Canada to prosper on the path to net zero, governments and private sector leaders need to navigate complex changes to our policy and energy landscapes, while acting decisively on the solutions and insight available today,” Kathy Bardswick, the institute’s president, said.

While the plan incentivizes climate initiatives, many residents have remained unimpressed with the proposed development.

At the public hearing, John Pomeroy, the director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Coldwater Laboratory and a Canmore resident, said the TSMV proposal wasn’t overly innovative in its use of alternative energy sources.

He warned modelling had shown rising temperatures in the Bow Valley region could be four to seven degrees higher by the end of the century, noting precipitation would be “more intense” with a four-fold increase of intensity for “extreme precipitation events.”

“There’s no way with the current application of technologies to grow a community without increasing its climate footprint. One can have more efficient homes, but transport is still a massive emitter of greenhouse gases.”

The Bow Valley Climate Action (BVCA) group offered conditional support - where a recommendation or recommendations are asked to be followed before gaining a person's or group's full support - for the development, if more was done to ensure all construction be as energy efficient as possible.

The group recommended a minimum of 80 per cent of the homes be net-zero or near net-zero by 2030 and each home have an energy label to show the energy usage. A “thorough analysis” of district heating options would also be needed.

Additionally, BVCA called for all buildings to have 30 per cent of their energy come from renewable sources and all buildings be able to support electric vehicle charging.

The group's submission also expressed concerns on climate change impacts from undermining mitigation and asked the Town to develop extra regulations, incentives and policies to achieve better energy efficiency.

“Biggest test to date for Town of Canmore’s Climate Action Plan and its declaration of a climate emergency,” Rick Daniel, representing BVCA, said.

“When it comes to climate change, the world is our backyard.”

The area proposed for development constitutes about 80 per cent of developable land in Canmore. It comprises 169 hectares (418 acres), with the ASPs establishing the development plan for roughly the next three decades.

Previous planning approvals allow for 3,000 residential units in the Village, but a density bonusing toolkit that would place an emphasis on the use of green energy could bring it to 5,000 residential, tourist home and visitor accommodation units.

The majority of what would be built is medium to high density projects, while 20 per cent of housing is proposed to be set aside for various community needs.

A retail and commercial space of 56,000 square metres (602,000 square feet) is also proposed. If approved, it could result in an estimated permanent and visitor population of 5,500 to 10,000, which is based on the maximum occupancy of every unit.

While some people may hope that no development will happen, the Natural Resource Conservation Board decision in 1992 sealed the fate for the lands to eventually be developed.

What is still being decided is how that will look.

“The question on whether the development is going ahead or not has already been answered. It will go ahead,” Ollenberger said. “The NRCB said this project will proceed, but it’s only about how. That’s what we’re really discussing. We’re shaping how development will occur.”