Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation faces drastic cuts

Saskatchewan Conference has long been a member of the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation. SCIC helps Saskatchewan people act on their desire to make the world a better place by educating us about global issues like poverty, health, and human rights, and encouraging individuals to take meaningful action. All of these are in keeping with the United Church’s understanding of the social gospel.  Our faith commitments to social justice don’t stop at our borders; they include all God’s people and all creation.

But now we need to take action for SCIC.

The June 1 provincial budget hit many Saskatchewan programs hard, including education and people living in poverty.  Buried in the details of the budget was an almost $500,000 cut which effectively removed the government’s support for SCIC.  Projects funded through government matching dollars “range from maternal health and food security, to co-operative business development, teacher training, children’s rights, emergency response, and more.”

What can we do?

  • Contact your MLA and let them know you do not support these cuts to Saskatchewan’s international development program
  • Not in the province? Contact Premier Brad Wall
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper
  • Share the news release and your reaction to the cuts via social media and email
  • Share your thoughts on the impact of these cuts on SCIC members’ work. Send them to

For more information, see SCIC’s press release:

Sharron Bodnaryk is the Conference connection to SCIC and Julie Graham is the staff connection.

Plugging in Vehicles

Plugging in your vehicle, it’s as much a Saskatchewan winter tradition as getting out your snow boots, or thinking about moving somewhere warm.  But it’s something that many of us over-do.

There are three good reasons to plug in your vehicle:

  1. To be sure the vehicle will start even when it’s extremely cold out.
  2. To reduce wear and tear on the engine.
  3. To be sure the vehicle runs cleanly and efficiently.

However, plugging in warms the engine with an electric heater, and I don’t know if you’ve heard, but three quarters of Saskatchewan’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels.  Almost half by burning coal.  So we need to reduce our electricity use as much as we can.

So, how do we balance the benefits of plugging in our vehicles with the benefits of reducing electricity use?  I looked at a wide variety of sources for this.  Natural Resources Canada, CAA Saskatchewan and Manitoba, a co

uple of vehicle manufacturers, auto service centers and vehicle magazines.  Basically, they all tell the same story.

What does plugging in do?

When our vehicle gets really cold, the oil in the engine gets thick, and doesn’t do a good job of protecting the moving parts from each other.  A block heater warms the coolant in the engine, which then warms the engine and the oil.   When the engine is warm, it starts easily; the oil is liquid and properly lubricates the engine; the engine runs more efficiently and, as a bonus; the warmer engine warms the air blowing through the vents, so the vehicle’s interior warms up faster.

At what temperature should I plug in?

A well maintained vehicle should start at ‑30oC, but it’s hard on the vehicle, and the vehicle doesn’t run as efficiently.  Using a block heater when it’s ‑20oC improves the efficiency of your vehicle for a standard urban trip by 10%.  Using a block heater when it’s ‑25oC increases your efficiency for that trip by 25%[i]

All of the sources I saw suggested plugging in when the outside temperature is below ‑15oC or ‑20oC.

I looked at what the weather has been like this winter.  In Saskatoon, there are 25 days this winter that the temperature has gone below ‑15oC.  and only 10 days that it has gone below ‑20oC. (I’m writing January 11).

How long do I need to plug in for?

Most sources suggested plugging in for a maximum of 2 hours.  Only CAA and SaskPower suggested longer, and they said 4 hours.  Honda said 30-50 minutes![ii]

What will I save?

That of course depends on what you have been doing.  If you have been plugging in the vehicle when you get home from work, and leaving it plugged in until you leave for work the next day, from November through March, you could be spending $125/year on the electricity for your block heater.  If you change to plugging in for 2 hours, on the nights that the temperature goes below ‑15oC, you would spend only $8.  And the savings in greenhouse gas emissions would be 740kgCO2e.

At our house, we don’t use our vehicle every day, and we park it in an (unheated) garage, so we rarely plug it in.  When we do, we use a timer, that is set to come on one or two hours before departure, depending on the outdoor temperature.

[i] Natural Resources Canada.  Vehicle Warm-Up. Accessed on-line 11 Jan 2016.

[ii] Honda West A New Direction in Driving.  Ask the Expert – How Long Should I Leave My Vehicle Plugged In?  Accessed on-line 11 Jan 2016.

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Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Our Solar Powered Home

Just over a year ago, I wrote a column telling you about the solar panels that were being installed at our home.  I told you that we hoped to produce as much electricity as we consume over a year, and I promised graphs.  Yes we did, and here is a graph.

Our system is a 4.16 kW grid-tied solar PV system.  PV means that it generates electricity, not heat; and grid-tied means that we use the grid as our battery.

In our first full year of production, we produced 3,872 kWh, and used 3,859 kWh.  So, we were net positive by 13 kWh, otherwise known as “the hair on our chinny chin chins”.  If we had run an electric heater for 10 hours, we would have used more electricity than we produced.

That is a very important point: Conservation is key when you are trying to generate your own electricity (and all the time).

The graph shows electricity production consumption bwproduced by our panels in light grey, and electricity we consumed in dark grey.  As you can see, we produced WAY more electricity in summer than in winter.  That is largely due to our short winter days, and partly due to the fact that we mounted the panels on our existing garage roof, which points east and west, not south.

We consume 50% more electricity in December than in July.  That is because of things like: longer lighting hours; furnace fan running; and we are home instead of being out canoeing somewhere.

So, what about maintenance?  We did remove snow regularly from the panels.  If it snowed overnight, Jim would usually scrape the snow off before leaving for work.  If it was promising to be sunny, he couldn’t bear to wait until the end of the day and possibly miss out on some production.  How big a job was this?  For me, basically zero – I only did it once.

We bought a roof rake, which is like a long handled shovel with the blade attached at a good angle for scraping the panels.  As you can see from the photo, it’s a bit awkward, but not too bad.  The snow slides off pretIMG_3097ty well when you pull it with the rake.  Once the snow is off the panels they don’t frost up at all, as long as it’s sunny.  The panels are dark, and warm up.   If you look at the graph, you’ll see that in the depths of winter, production is very low, so if we hadn’t scraped off the panels we wouldn’t have lost a lot of production – but we wouldn’t have been net positive.

Financially, the final cost of the panels, including a rebate from SaskPower came to $14,000.  What we saved on our power bill, plus what Saskatoon Light and Power has paid us adds up to $445, for a return on our investment in the first year of 3.2%.  In each province this number will be different, as utility rates and feed in tariffs etc vary by province.

Going forward, we’ll have to be careful not to let our electricity consumption increase.  It’s easy to say “oh, we’re producing clean electricity, it’s OK to use more”.  For now, it feels pretty good to have reduced the greenhouse gas emissions from our electricity consumption.

Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Angie manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church.  You can contact her at 

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

“Green” Renovations

My family are doing some renovations to our house right now. Since the best advice is to “write what you know”, this column is about our kitchen renovation.

The main point of the renovation we are doing is to add insulation to our 1930 house – moving the house from R10 to R24. We tear apart the walls from the inside to insulate – as opposed to what many people do, which is insulating from the outside. This is a project that has happened in stages, starting about 8 years ago. We do the bulk of the work ourselves.

We’ve progressed around the house room by room, and have nearly completed the house. Since we save the hardest for last, we are now working on the kitchen.

The “not so green” part is that there wasn’t really anything wrong with the kitchen (except uninsulated walls). The cupboards, countertops and flooring are about 30 years old. All were showing wear and not fashionable, but still functional.

I suppose the greenest thing we could have done was to take out the cupboards, insulate the walls, then put the cupboards back. However, we figured that we’d update while we had things ripped apart, and we hope to add a bit of functionality to the layout. Habitat for Humanity now has the old cupboards to sell at their ReStore. The flooring will go to landfill.

To do 2/3 of our main floor, we’ve had 3, 6-yard bins of demolition material hauled to landfill. Most of it is lathe (thin, splintery, wooden strips), plaster, and lumber. The wood is full of nails so it can’t go to the City’s compost depots. We might have been able to separate out the wood and take it to Loraas for recycling, but we didn’t figure out the logistics of that.

One concern with cupboards and flooring (and furniture) is Volatile Organic Compounds. VOCs are basically things that create odor – both good and bad. In flooring and cupboards, VOCs are chemicals in glues and paints that evaporate over time. Some VOCs are not healthy to breath over the long term. We asked the suppliers about VOCs in the cupboards and flooring, and were told that they were low in the materials we ordered. For a future renovation, maybe we would ask for more detail than that, and do some independent research.

We will be installing new lighting, which will of course be LED, ENERGY STAR® certified lighting. We felt we needed a bit more lighting in two areas of the kitchen. When we went to look for fixtures, the supplier tried to talk us into putting in much more lighting. We thought about it, but couldn’t see a reason for over-lighting the space. Instead, we are adding lighting just in the areas where we felt there was a need.

We don’t plan to replace any of the appliances until they need replacing. That is an environmentally friendly action that is motivated more by finances than ethics. It means that our appliances won’t match the décor in the kitchen for a few years. When we do replace them, we will choose ENERGY STAR rated appliances. We’ll choose a smallish fridge which suits the needs of the 3 people who live in our house. And we’ll choose a self-cleaning oven, since they are better insulated so operate more efficiently than others. We may also choose an induction cooktop because they are more efficient than other electric cooktops.

I’m quite excited about the countertop we plan to buy. It is Eco by Cosentino, and made of recycled glass, porcelain, etc set in a corn based resin. It comes in various colors and patterns that look like stone. When cooking, I’ll likely spend time staring at the countertop trying to guess what each piece was in a previous life.

Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Outdoor Water Use in a Dry Year

It’s dry out there. Very dry. So how do we grow vegetables, and have beautiful flowers and lawns without wasting tonnes of water (and the energy it takes to pump and treat that water)?

  1. (Easy): Water early in the morning. If you water in the middle of a hot day, about half the water evaporates before it hits the ground! Even more if it’s windy out. If early morning doesn’t work for you, evening is also a good choice.
  2. (Easy): Don’t overwater. Your lawn really only wants 1” of water per week. Set a few dishes out around your lawn. Run your sprinkler and see how long it takes to get 1”. Helpful tip – a frizbee and a tuna can are each about 1” deep.
  3. (Easy): Leave your grass long. Set your mower about 3” above the ground. Long grass shades the root zone, reducing heating and evaporation. Also, long grass looks greener than short grass.
  4. (Easy): Use wood chips, grass clippings or dry leaves to cover the soil between plants. This holds in the moisture and helps keep weeds down.
  5. (Emotionally harder): Don’t water. If you let your lawn get really brown, yes it will die. But it can be a bit brown and be OK.
  6. (Emotionally easy, but a bit time consuming): Only water plants that need water. Instead of setting up a sprinkler to do your whole yard, use the hose to give a drink only to the plants that need it. And only the plants, not the dirt between them.
  7. (Planning ahead for other years): Instead of thirsty plants that need lots of water, choose plants that are suited to our climate. Xeriscape part or all of your yard. Sara Williams has a great book on this: Creating the Prairie Xeriscape. Xeriscaping won’t help you this year, because the plants need to be watered initially, until they are established.
  8. (A bit time consuming, but easy if it would rain a little): Use rain barrels to capture the rain we do get, and feed it to those thirsty plants. But we need rain to fill those barrels.
  9. (Takes a little more commitment): Capture water you are wasting indoors and take it out to your plants. We have a bucket in the bathroom and one in the kitchen. When we run the tap waiting for hot water, we run it into these buckets. We aren’t (yet) catching water from showers, washing vegetables or dishwashing. Our family of 3 is capturing about 18 litres a day, which is enough to water 5m2/week.
  10. (I’ve never understood this anyway): Don’t wash your sidewalk. What are you washing off? Could you sweep it instead? Unless all the water you are using for washing will run off into plants that need the water, washing your sidewalk is a big waste of water.

What is happening in my yard this summer? About ½ of my front yard is a Xeriscaped garden, and I haven’t watered it for 10 years. However, a few plants in it are starting to look sad, so I have started spot watering certain plants. The day lilies, hostas, bergenia, and anemone still look great. (Well, OK, the hostas are small this summer, but healthy looking). My sedums need a drink. The campanula look good, but there are fewer than usual.

I have a pretty big vegetable garden for a small, shady yard. Since it grows food, I’m watering it. I used the water from the rain barrels when I could – two full barrels watered 2/3 of the garden. However, they are dry now, so I’m using the sprinkler.

The grass is getting brownish. I plan to water it a bit. Maybe an inch every two weeks; maybe less. I plan to water it just enough to keep it from turning totally brown.

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Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Getting Kids Involved

I’m a big fan of getting kids involved in energy conservation. As parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends, aside from our role modelling, sometimes we need to actively show the children in our lives the reasons for our actions. Besides getting our kids outside to learn to love the world we are trying to protect, they need to be able to see the impact of what they can do.

For most of us – big kids as well as small – it can be hard to picture the impact of changes we make. So what if I leave the tap, the TV, the lights on? How big a deal is that? Well, it’s time for some visual impact.

Next time you are doing a task that involves running water, put the plug in the sink before you start. Do your task then look at how much water is in the sink. I tested this out at home recently and did some math. If I was to leave the tap running when I brush my teeth (I don’t!), I would waste 11 litres of water each time I brush my teeth.   11 litres is one of those big ice cream pails that ice cream parlors have. Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. Other tasks that use water include washing dishes, rinsing vegetables, showering etc.   When the sink starts to fill up, it gives them a very solid impression of how much water they wasted.

How about garbage? A nice visual for that one is to hang a grocery bag from your belt for a day, and any garbage you generate in the day, you put into the bag. At the end of the day look at what is in your bag. Could it have been recycled or composted? Did you need to make that piece of garbage at all? This is a good starting point for talking to your children about the three Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Note that Reduce is first and the most valuable R.

Energy is harder to visualize. But I have two suggestions.

1. SES has a watt meter you can borrow. You plug it into the wall, then plug something into it. For example a lamp, TV, computer etc. First set it to read Watts (power) and look at how many watts are consumed when the item is turned on vs when it’s turned off.

Then set it to read kWh (energy). Leave it for a day or two and do things the way you normally do in your house, then read how many kWh you have used in that day or two. Then for the next day or two, be very vigilant about turning off the item when you aren’t using it. (Or maybe by changing behavior so you play games instead of watching TV.) Again read how many kWh you used in that time. Compare the two numbers and see how different they are.

For very young children, you may want to stack blocks or pour water or something to represent the value of those numbers.

If you are interested in borrowing this watt meter, contact the SES office.

2. Have a family “turn it off” jar. It’s like a “swear jar”. If someone forgets to turn off the light, TV, computer etc., they pay a fine into the jar. Periodically sit down as a family and decide what to do with the money. I suggest using it to improve the energy efficiency of your home – maybe buy LED lights. Or maybe donate it to an environmental charity. I know a worthy one if you need a suggestion. Wink wink.

When we can visualize the impact we as individuals can make, it’s easier to see the importance of changing our habits. Regardless how old or young we are.

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Solar Panels

My husband Jim and I decided to take it up a notch this summer. In mid-June, we ordered a 4.16 kW grid-tied solar PV system to be installed on our garage. By the time you read this article, the system should be producing enough electricity to offset all the electricity we use at our home.

Solar PV (photovoltaic) means solar panels that will generate electricity. The electricity generated will be used in our house, garage and yard, and any excess power will flow into the grid – maybe to be used in your house, garage or yard. We won’t have any batteries, and it won’t help us out in a power failure.

We will have meters measuring the electricity produced by the panels, and electricity flowing into and from the grid. For those of you who know Jim and me, you know that this data will be a great source of entertainment for us. Watch for future columns containing many wonderful graphs.

Because I work in the green building/ energy conservation field, I am familiar with a few of the solar suppliers. I chose two who I see regularly and feel comfortable with. I talked to both of them and had each of them provide quotes for us. Both were wonderful to work with and their quotes came out very similar. The hardest part of the project so far was deciding which quote to accept.

As regular readers know, our family works to minimize our electricity, gas, and water consumption. Before investing in solar panels, I certainly recommend energy conservation. Learning to turn off lights, computers, and TVs, and buying ENERGY STAR electronics and appliances every time you are replacing things is much cheaper than installing solar panels. The average Saskatchewan household would have to install over twice as large a system as we are installing to offset their consumption.

I’m sure there are more things we can do to reduce our electricity consumption, but we decided it was time to get solar panels.

Our yard is not ideal for solar. We live in an old neighborhood in Saskatoon (think small yards and large trees). Our house and garage roofs both face east and west, so we don’t have a nice south slope to install the panels on.

We are installing the system on our garage because:

  • Our electric service enters at the garage
  • Our garage is less shaded by trees than the house.

We will have 16 panels, which would fit on one side of our garage roof. We will be putting 8 on each side, to minimize shading from a couple large, beautiful trees.

A few people have asked me about maintenance. My understanding is that removing snow in the winter is all the maintenance we should need to do. A thin layer of snow should melt off.   We’ll get a snow rake, and rake the snow off the panels when there are heavier dumps of snow. A future column may talk about how that goes. The whole system is warrantied for 25 years.

The economics… well the economics are marginal. However, homeowners don’t normally use the same financial indicators that businesses use. As we buy cars, couches and new cupboards, we don’t normally calculate a Return on Investment.

You could say we’ve locked in our electricity price at 11¢/kWh for the next 25 years. When will the investment pay back? As soon as we’re producing our own electricity!

Our economic indicator is: “we have the opportunity to buy this system now, so let’s do it”.

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