Squamish could be to clean energy research what Silicon Valley is to high-tech innovation — leading the charge — especially with one of the top universities in the country ready to set up shop on its oceanfront.
From logging town to mill town to the Outdoor Recreational Capital of Canada, Squamish is now looking to the future as an innovation hub of clean energy, confirmation that its long-standing pioneering spirit is alive and well.
"It's an evolution," said Mayor Patricia Heintzman. "It's not good, bad, ugly. It's just that change is change and this is the evolution that is Squamish. It doesn't mean that the past wasn't interesting and good and the logging town, the pioneer town, wasn't a great thing too in its day. This is just Squamish of today."
On Friday, Feb. 26, the District of Squamish signed a Statement of Cooperation with four partners, including the University of British Columbia's Clean Energy Research Centre, paving the way for the creation of a Squamish-based educational campus focused on the energy economy.
Other partners at the table are Squamish Nation, Carbon Engineering and Newport Beach Developments.
The four Squamish-based partners have formed the Squamish Clean Technology Association (SCTA) to seek out leading-edge ventures with a goal to creating an innovation hub focused on clean energy.
This weekend the town was buzzing with the news and what it could mean for Squamish.
"I think people are really excited, really positive on a number of fronts," said the mayor.
This is the first major news about the future of the oceanfront lands, ever since the deal was signed earlier this year for the 100-plus acres of land on the northern tip of Howe Sound. The multi-million dollar vision is for an ocean-side community with an oceanfront park, commercial, retail and residential space, as well as an education campus, among other things.
"People are pretty excited and I think a little blown away that we're able to partner with an entity like UBC on such a creative vision," said the mayor.
The oceanfront development is a 20-year project. In the next two decades Heintzman said she expects to see a significant campus — "an innovation hub of entrepreneurs and scientists collaborating on solutions into the future."
She sees them using the 100 acres of oceanfront, a brown field site that has been home to logging and a pulp mill and a copper mine just down the road at Britannia Beach, as a "living lab."
Councillor Chris Lewis, spokesperson for Squamish Nation, said his people are witnessing firsthand the changes to the land and water due to climate change.
"We have chosen to become involved in the Hub to ensure we are taking a proactive and collaborative approach that embraces our teachings to be stewards of the land and water and create education and employment opportunities for current and future generations," he said in a release.
Another partner, Carbon Engineering, has been operating a pilot-scale plant in the area since May. The plant is using technology that captures CO2, taking the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
In a release, CEO Adrian Corless said: "We have received incredible support from Squamish District, Squamish First Nation, and the province ever since we started work on our air capture demonstration project on the oceanfront. We think there is great promise for B.C. and Canada to deploy clean energy technologies at home and to export them to the world, so we're excited to be a part of this initiative."
Squamish's announcement comes just days before the official launch of Smart Prosperity — a new cross-sectoral group with representatives from banks and insurance companies and investment companies and the World Wildlife Fund looking to build a greener future. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on hand at the launch on Tuesday, March 1. The key pillars for Smart Prosperity are: innovation, incentives, infrastructure and investment.
"The synergy is quite outstanding with regards to where the federal government, where the provincial government I hope is going, and certainly where the town is in terms of its demographics, its human talent, its vision for the future," said Heintzman. "It's very serendipitous right now... It's one of those moments where everything is just clicking."
As well, Vancouver is hosting the GLOBE 2016 Conference and Innovation Expo from March 2 to 4. The conference brings together leaders in the sustainable business industry.