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The next step in the environmental/conservation movement took place at the Whistler Conference Centre earlier this week. The national forum on Markets, Regulation and the Future for Canadian Energy Utilities, hosted by the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts, offered a glimpse of what direction the energy utilities are heading and what that may mean to the rest of us. Creating awareness of energy consumption, what it means now and what it could mean, is one of the most difficult tasks. In the early-70s, everyone became energy conscious because OPEC oil producers raised their prices. But as oil prices stabilized and we began to accept that energy would never be as cheap as it had been, any notions about conserving energy were forgotten. Now, if most people think of energy at all, it's in association with the giant utilities, or perhaps the oil companies. One of the points that has to be understood this time around is that every kilowatt of energy consumed or litre of fuel burned has an environmental cost. But because the environmental impact usually takes place far away from where the energy is used, it’s forgotten. Energy can also have a social cost. The challenge is to maintain secure access to energy at the lowest possible social, environmental and financial costs. But just getting people to think about it is difficult. Individuals have an impact on energy consumption, but the "rewards" of conserving energy consumption are not as tangible as, say, recycling. So it will likely be some time before individual practices have a significant impact on our overall energy consumption. Where progress can really be made is at the municipal and regional levels. Community infrastructures are tied to energy, from transportation systems to buildings to water works. Communities historically have looked at energy as a "flow through," it comes in and goes out. But energy is connected to other resource issues, too. That’s why integrated resource planning is one of the buzz words surrounding energy today. It’s used by people in the energy industry, but it should also become familiar to communities. Tim Wake, an energy XX, thinks Whistler, being a young community with a strong planning component, as well as being home to the new Council for Sustainability, can be a model for integrated resource planning. He also thinks the solutions will be marketable. That’s just another reason why we should all become more energy conscious.

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