Edmonton

Edmonton International signs climate pledge

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Facility becomes the first airport in the world to sign commitment to use net zero carbon by 2040

The control tower and office building at Edmonton International was built to environmentally-friendly LEED gold standards (Facebook/EIA).

Edmonton International Airport is the first airport in the world to join a global Climate Pledge. It’s an Amazon-led initiative leading companies to report their emissions, commit to reducing them, and offset emissions that can’t be eliminated.

“It’s really about staking a claim publicly,” said Myron Keehn, the Vice President of Air Service and Business Development at Edmonton International in an interview. “Helping the general public understand all the work that’s happening within the aviation sector and to reach carbon neutrality goals and help with climate change. So, this approach is unique to Edmonton. It’s an entire ecosystem that we call our airport city sustainability campus. And all of our partners within it are working to drive and change impacts to the environment, but also public perception around it.”

About 70% of the airport’s carbon production are related to electricity, said Keehn.

More than 100 companies have signed the pledge, only five of them in aviation. Vancouver-based Harbour Air, which is pioneering battery-powered commercial flight, and Alaska Airlines are the two other aviation signatories with significant Canadian connections.

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A carbon problem

The airport has taking a leading role in allowing other companies to establish climate-friendly initiatives. Last year, the airport announced a massive, 2.5 km2 solar farm. That’s enough to power 27,000 homes, and will be the largest facility of its kind at an airport when construction begins in 2022. The airport has an option to buy power from the array, but would use a small fraction of the total output.

“We have a company that does plastics replacements from plant fibre called Plant Plus from Taiwan,” said Keehn. The company makes straws from compostable fibres. “We’ve got partnerships with our taxi companies who talked to operators at the airport and provided an incentive a reduction for them to go and purchase hybrid electric vehicles to reduce the carbon footprint. We have partners like Air Canada puts sustainable aviation fuel in for the flight to San Francisco, and the list goes on and on and on.”

There are no two ways around it, aviation has a carbon problem. There is simply no fuel that delivers as much performance pound-for-pound, as a fossil fuel. It’s cheap, abundant, and safe.

In 2018, the most recent year for which data are available, a federal report shows airline fuel consumption increased 4.4% on average per year over the previous decade. That is largely a factor of people flying much more. When compared to the number of kilometres flown, fuel consumption, and therefore emissions, dropped almost two per cent a year. That is largely to do with newer, more efficient aircraft.

“If I look at Flair, our hometown carrier based here in Edmonton, their fleet is all brand new aircraft,” said Keehn. Flair announced plans this year to add 13 Boeing 737 Max planes to the fleet. Boeing advertises the Max are 14% more fuel efficient than the aircraft they replace. As part of a federal aid package, Air Canada had to promise to continue a fleet renewal with modern Max and Airbus A220 aircraft. “It’s not just one party. It’s the whole industry is responding to consumer demand in this regard.”

Actions large and small

“We are pleased to welcome the Edmonton International Airport as the first airport to sign The Climate Pledge,” said Sumegha Kumar, Director of Canadian Customer Fulfillment Operations at Amazon. “The Edmonton International Airport is showing important leadership in committing to the ambitious goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, and we look forward to working alongside them.”

The airport says it has taken measures as small as replacing lights with efficient LEDs. But larger steps include a control tower certified to meet high environmental standards. Then, there are the things you can’t see.

“We put in cogeneration units that produce power,” said Keehn. “They also produce heat. And that heat goes in a heat exchanger for either heat or cooling in the terminal building. That allows us to retire all of our boilers. That’s a huge environmental and social cost when you’re not burning double natural gas to heat or for your to cooling.”

All that equipment requires money, which is in short supply thanks to the pandemic. But Keeh insists passengers will not be asked to pick up the tab.

“Sometimes it costs a little bit more money,” he said. “Lots of times, however, there are actually operating cost savings. Like our solar farm generates revenue from it — power that’s cheaper than we get up get today. And that power is cleaning green. So, it’s just a whole different approach to how we look at business.”

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