VICTORIA - Hospitals and post-secondary institutions in British Columbia can now access up to $9.5 million in government funding for projects that cut energy costs and carbon emissions.
Environment Minister Mary Polak said Tuesday that universities, colleges and hospitals can join public schools in the government's Carbon Neutral Capital Program, which is expanding to $14.5 million from $5 million.
She said the money can be used to plan and complete energy-saving and pollution-fighting projects.
The money comes from a seven-year-old program designed to make the government's operations carbon neutral. Public-sector institutions have been paying $25 per tonne for greenhouse-gas emissions in an effort to encourage energy savings and emission reductions.
"For public, post-secondary and health authorities, they have been paying into carbon offsets in order to be carbon neutral," Polak said. "To date, they have not received money in the same way the (kindergarten to Grade 12) sector has."
She said health and post-secondary institutions will now receive capital-project dollars that equal what they contribute annually to the carbon-neutral program.
"The amount that they contribute each and every year to be carbon neutral is the amount they will receive in capital projects," Polak said.
A spokesman for the Vancouver Island Health Authority said the organization contributes about $800,000 annually to the carbon-neutral fund.
"We've got tonnes of stuff we've got planned," said Taj Baidwan, the health authority's executive vice-president and chief medical officer. "It's all really dependent on funding. There is so much potential out there in this area. It's staggering."
Baidwan said the health authority took advantage of other recent government and energy-industry grant programs to make environmental upgrades at two Vancouver Island hospitals.
He said a $550,000 investment at Nanaimo's regional hospital to retrofit and upgrade the ventilation and heating system resulted in annual energy savings of $56,000 and cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 180 tonnes.
Baidwan said a similar project at Victoria General Hospital cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 220 tonnes a year and resulted in annual energy savings of $70,000.
Former auditor general John Doyle reported last year the government was not purchasing credible carbon offsets with the millions of dollars it was charging public institutions.
The lone Green party member in the legislature, Andrew Weaver, said he supports the government's move to expand the carbon-neutral program.