Whistler powers down for Earth Hour 

Resort placed 12th out of 68 B.C. communities last year, dropping electricity demand seven per cent

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Whistler will turn the lights off this Saturday, March 29 to mark the eighth annual Earth Hour, an international movement that sees more than 7,000 communities around the globe powering down for 60 minutes.

Leading the charge will be the Resort Municipality of Whistler, turning down all non-essential lights in municipal facilities and encouraging local residents, visitors and businesses to do the same.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said Earth Hour is an important opportunity to reinforce the resort's environmental priorities, outlined in the community's long-term vision for sustainability, Whistler 2020.

"Environmental concerns are of course very important to Whistler generally, and celebrating Earth Hour and Water Day remind us of our priorities and what our goals are," she said.

Energy consumption across all municipal operations in 2013 was 3,350 gigajoules lower than in 2008, the equivalent of the average annual energy consumption of 37 single-family homes in the community. Municipal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have also been trending downwards.

The largest municipal reductions in both energy consumption and GHG emissions continue to be achieved at the Meadow Park Sports Centre and the Waste Water Treatment Plant.

BC Hydro tracks electric demand during Earth Hour every year. Whistler's 12th place finish last year beat out neighbouring Pemberton, which saw a 5.9-per-cent reduction.

While the internationally celebrated event represents only a small decrease in global energy use overall, Whistler Centre for Sustainability executive director Cheeying Ho said it's an important way to get people thinking about their own energy consumption patterns.

"As a social marketing technique, (Earth Hour) can be really effective, but once it's over, if there aren't continued ways to encourage people to change behaviour it's not going to be that effective," she said. "If it makes people think about longer-term behaviour, than it's worth doing."

Ho added that Whistler still has some work to do when it comes to reducing energy use community-wide.

"We're plugging in everything constantly, and we're not doing very well in energy reduction at all," Ho said.

However, according to RMOW data, estimated energy use in the community has been declining every year since 2010, when total energy consumption jumped 7.8 per cent in Whistler's Olympic year. In 2011, consumption was down 4.2 per cent from the year prior. In 2012, the last year data was available, the community dropped energy use again by 1.5 per cent, although that total is still 10 per cent higher than 2000 levels.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler will once again mark Earth Hour in partnership with Salt Spring-based People Power Productions, giving participants the chance to ride a stationary bike in the hotel lobby, using muscle power to blend organic smoothies.

In 2013, participants pedalled to a 39 per cent reduction in electricity at the hotel, saving 536 kilowatts, and producing 400 mini-smoothies. As part of the Earth Hour festivities, hotel guests can also dine by candlelight, enjoy acoustic music, or sample green-themed cocktails and desserts.

Earth Hour is a global environmental initiative started by the World Wildlife Fund in 2007. Beginning in one city, it has since spread to 152 countries across every continent, and involves hundreds of millions of people, reportedly the world's largest campaign for the planet. Earth Hour starts Saturday at 8:30 p.m. local time.

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