Earth Hour: City encourages unplugging as pandemic boosts residential power use

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The annual Earth Hour returns Saturday in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has amplified energy use in Calgarians’ homes.

The city has taken part in Earth Hour, an annual initiative started in Australia that aims to get citizens to shut off their lights and electronics, since 2008.

The message is perhaps more salient this year than ever, as COVID-19 keeps Calgarians at home, running up electricity bills in the process.

According to Enmax, residential electricity use climbed 6.7 per cent in 2020 from 2019, owing largely to the pandemic, which began last March. Despite the uptick on the residential side, power usage in Calgary saw a slight net decrease in 2020 of 2.8 per cent, as industrial usage dropped.

Some notable Calgary buildings will go dark for Earth Hour from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., including the Scotiabank Saddledome and the Calgary Tower.

The city is also taking part in the event, shutting off all non-essential or feature lighting at a number of its facilities for the hour. That includes the municipal building, all fire stations and transportation and water utility hubs.

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For a second-consecutive year, the city cancelled the annual Earth Hour family event Calgary Unplugged on St. Patrick’s Island due to COVID-19. The event usually draws about 500 attendees. It is expected to return next year.

Despite the cancellation, event organizer Gerald Wheatley said he hoped Calgarians would take the hour to disconnect from technology and spend time with loved ones.

“It’s about all of the digital as well as the electrical consumption,” Wheatley said. “It’s about how we’re connecting. The global slogan is Connect with Earth, and it’s about trying to reconnect with our families.

“Unplugged really seems to really resonate when people are isolated and started to get tired of this pandemic.”

In lieu of this year’s event, the group is running a sweepstake for $500 in credit for local businesses to those who post a climate pledge to social media using the #500ClimatePledge hashtag.

Calgary has a notably poor track record when it comes to energy reduction during Earth Hour.

In many previous years, power usage barely budged. In the inaugural 2008 hour, consumption actually increased 3.6 per cent over the hour, a spike blamed on a cold snap.

Enmax said Friday the utility “doesn’t really see any perceptible change” during Earth Hour.

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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