Tag Archives: ontario

Ontario falling short in climate strategy goals

After reading it, it’s no surprise that Ontario’s environment ministry drew zero attention to its latest annual greenhouse-gas report, which was made available on the ministry’s website on Nov. 13.

To put is generously, the report is uninspiring. It says nothing new. It shows little progress over the past 12 to 24 months, which you can bet Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller will highlight when he releases his own assessment of the province’s climate strategy on Dec. 4.

The report does describe climate change as “the defining issue of our times,” and goes into great detail to show how rising average temperature, shorter winters, and increased frequency of extreme weather will negatively affect our health, water supply, agriculture, electricity system, infrastructure, personal property, and ecosystems.

It’s a message, by the way, being repeated around the world. Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent called climate change a “real and present” danger just this week. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said after Hurricane Sandy that the risks of climate change should “compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

A report this week from the World Bank said the anticipated impacts of climate change “will pose unprecedented challenges to humanity” and “must not be allowed to occur.” Surely, we’ll be hearing similar high-level warnings as we approach the start of the Doha Climate Change Conference in Qatar on Nov. 26.

Despite all this talk, not enough is being done to adequately address the problem. Not Kent. Not President Obama, the man who Bloomberg endorsed in the recent U.S. election. Not the World Bank, which continues to finance the construction of coal-fired power plants in the developing world.

Closer to home, the McGuinty government’s climate strategy continues to disappoint, and there are too few initiatives in the pipeline to meet stated targets.

The province’s commitment is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2014, and to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

The report estimates – quite optimistically, many would say – that we’re likely to meet 91 per cent of our 2014 target and only 60 per cent of our 2020 target, and that’s based on the assumption that initiatives in place today will meet their mark.

Most of the heavy lifting so far has come from the electricity sector, explained by the transition from coal-fired power generation to natural gas, renewables and increased nuclear output. Since 1990, emissions here have dropped 21 per cent, with most of the reductions happening since 2007.

Industry, representing roughly a quarter of the province’s emissions – more than twice as much as the electricity sector – saw a 30 per cent drop in emissions as Ontario continued its transition from energy-intensive manufacturing to a service-based economy and absorbed the impact of an economic downturn.

Unfortunately, emissions from the transportation sector – representing a whopping 35 per cent of the provincial total – grew by 31 per cent since 1990, and there’s little evidence that planned transit projects are going to make the dent required. The strategy here seems to be hope, wait and see.

Emissions from buildings, including residential homes, commercial office towers, and institutional buildings, also grew by 11 per cent. It’s a clear sign the province has dropped the ball on energy conservation, and paid too little attention to the amount of emissions resulting from natural gas heating.

Natural gas, it should be noted, will also emerge as an issue in the electricity sector. Burning less coal and more natural gas makes sense right now, but after 2014 and as the province’s nuclear fleet goes through a cycle of refurbishments and decommissioning, rising dependence on (and emissions from) natural gas will be a reminder that the coal phase-out alone isn’t enough.

The government’s apparent lack of commitment to the feed-in tariff program is also concerning. It has been on hold for more than a year, without explanation – an embarrassing situation that is going to drive away foreign investment, threaten recently created and future jobs, and leave the promises of renewable energy unfulfilled.

To be fair, Ontario’s emissions have fallen substantially on a per-capita and GDP basis. An average Ontarian contributes 24 per cent fewer emissions today than in 1990. For every dollar of GDP, emissions have dropped by 38 per cent. Quebec is the only province with a lower emissions intensity.

But there’s so much more we can and should be doing, and in a way that will strengthen – not weaken – our economy.

I asked Gord Miller what he planned to say when releasing his own report on Dec. 4, but understandably the environmental commissioner didn’t want to scoop himself.

He did say, however, that he will continue to push for a price on carbon and that the time to reconsider it might be right. California, for example, just completed a cap-and-trade auction as part of its membership in the Western Climate Initiative.

“There is a tremendous global shift in attitude about pricing carbon that we must re-align with,” he said by e-mail. “A carbon tax seems to be the more workable and successful system, but I won’t object to a well-constructed cap-and-trade system. Anything would be nice.”

Cap-and-trade used to be in play in Ontario, but the political will to implement it has weakened.

Hopefully that will soon change, as a price on carbon could certainly fill many holes in the Liberal government’s current plan, assuming it believes actions must match up with words.

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.

Ontario municipalities now empowered to offer PAPER, PACE programs to boost energy, water conservation

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or maybe it’s clever politicking, but Kathleen Wynne made a smart move last month.

Two weeks before resigning her cabinet post and announcing her intentions to run for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, the MPP for Don Valley West signed amendments to two pieces of legislation that could potentially fill a gaping hole in the province’s troubled energy policy.

Exercising her authority as minister of municipal affairs and housing, Wynne approved changes to the Municipal Act and City of Toronto Act that empower all municipalities in Ontario to take the lead on energy and water conservation programs.

Specifically, municipalities such as Toronto can now use a financing tool called a local improvement charge (LIC) to help property owners finance changes to their homes that are aimed at reducing energy or water consumption.

This is important, as the McGuinty government has neglected to follow through on the conservation promises of its own Green Energy Act, despite the fact that improving energy efficiency is the lowest cost and fastest way to save energy and reduce the environmental impacts of electricity generation.

Previously, local improvement charges could only be used to finance neighbourhood infrastructure projects. If a town or city replaced a sewer pipe or repaved a road, it could spread part of the cost among those property owners that stand to benefit. This would be visible as a special charge added to property tax bills.

The amendments, first proposed back in May, now make it possible for municipalities to apply the LIC model to energy or water efficiency projects taken on by individual property owners.

So what’s the big deal? As I wrote back in June, the amendments mean that municipalities can leverage their ability to raise cheap capital through bond issues.

They can then turn around and offer low-interest financing to property owners looking to insulate their homes, add energy-efficient windows, install smart thermostats, and upgrade to high-efficiency furnaces, air conditioners and water heaters.

Property owners could then pay back the loan over 10 or more years through their property taxes, with the idea being that annual payments would be less than annual energy or water savings. Another bonus is that existing municipal billing systems can be leveraged.

There are many names for this kind of program. When focused on energy conservation, programs are often called Property Assessed Payments for Energy Retrofits, or PAPER. When designed to encourage installation of renewable energy, such as rooftop solar, it’s called Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE. The legislative changes in Ontario allow for both types of programs to be created.

“I would say that over 50 municipalities are so far interested in this model,” said Sonja Persram, president of Toronto-based Sustainable Alternatives Consulting Inc., who has been a major champion of the proposed legislative changes. “Of those, a fairly large number — both large and small — are keen to move forward.”

Ontario is now the third jurisdiction in Canada — behind Yukon and Nova Scotia — to embrace LICs as a method for stimulating efficiency investments by easing the upfront capital burden that often make such investments unpalatable for property owners.

Brian Kelly, manager of sustainability for the Region of Durham, said what amounts to a minor regulatory change on Wynne’s part opens the door for municipalities to stimulate major residential retrofit activity, create local jobs, and at the same time help consumers do what they need to do to lower energy and water costs.

There’s little, if any, political or financial risk to the province. But the impact is potentially huge, in terms of lowering emissions, reducing pressure on utility infrastructure, and spurring economic activity.

Toronto councillor Mike Layton, who is pushing the city to launch a pilot project as soon as possible, called the approved amendments an “exciting” development. “Staff will be bringing a pilot project in coming months and I hope we can find money to fund it,” said Layton. “It would be great if we can start getting some real pickup on this.”

The Toronto Real Estate Board, the Toronto Board of Trade, as well as several labour organizations, NGOs and business leaders, have so far backed Layton’s efforts.

As far as seeing the model expanded country-wide, Natural Resources Canada considers the approach a complement or alternative to incentive-based programs that overcomes two barriers: Upfront access to capital and a practical way to pay back loans — i.e. through municipal or local utility billing infrastructure.

“These mechanisms are key to market transformation, helping homeowners move away from reliance on government subsidies to a more market-based arrangement,” according to the ministry.

The federal EcoEnergy home retrofit program, underpinned by nearly $200 million in subsidies, only tapped into 6 per cent of Canada’s housing stock.

“This is potentially a huge spur for the Ontario economy,” said Persram, who expects to see plenty of municipal collaboration on program development. “This allows municipalities to take control of their own destiny.”

If the approach is successful, the Liberal government — perhaps one day Wynne — can take credit for the heavy lifting it has essentially offloaded.

All it took was a signature.

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.

Electricity system could use a woman’s touch…

There’s much talk these days about the sorry state of Canada’s aging electricity infrastructure, as well as the need to invest in the smart grid and add more renewable-energy sources to the power mix.

What’s less talked about is where the industry is going to find the skilled workers needed to carry out what the Conference Board of Canada calculates as $347 billion in required public and private investment between now and 2030.

Investment is expected to peak over the next few years, and this is creating thousands of new jobs at a time when the existing boomer workforce is retiring in record numbers and the oilsands are soaking up the skilled labour pool.

“We’re going to see a big turnover within the next five years,” said Michelle Branigan, executive director of the Electricity Sector Council, a government-funded organization that monitors human-resource trends in the sector.

“Right now we’re looking at about 45,000 people who are expected to be moving on by 2016. That’s almost half the workforce, which is absolutely huge.”

It’s not that the industry didn’t see it coming. Four years ago, Hydro One CEO Laura Formusa called it “one of the single greatest human resource challenges our industry has ever confronted.”

But the situation has become even more critical. This male-dominated industry realizes it has to cast a much wider net in search of new recruits, meaning tapping into under-represented groups such as women has become a high priority.

Branigan recalled a speech she recently gave at an event of 300 people who work in the electricity sector. Only five of them were women, a “completely skewed” situation.

Where women represent 48 per cent of the national workforce on average, that figure drops to just 25 per cent in the electricity sector. Even then, women tend to be in human resource, marketing and communications roles. The numbers drop when we zero in on “critical areas” that require electrical engineers, technologists and technicians.

Part of the problem is awareness, said Branigan.

“Young girls and women don’t have any idea of the careers that are out there. They don’t think they can use their IT skills, for example, to manage the flow of power on the grid. We need to do a better job of building excitement around the opportunities for women.”

That’s exactly what the council is trying to do. Late last month, it put out a call to industry stakeholders — employers, colleges and universities, government, and labour groups — asking them to champion the cause by becoming part of a Canada-wide initiative to better “attract, engage and recruit” women.

“The response so far has been overwhelming,” said Branigan.

Part of the plan is to improve messaging in high schools, colleges and universities, and raise general awareness of opportunities in the sector for women through media campaigns, particular social media. There will also be an effort to boost internships specifically geared to female students.

“We need to drill down to that younger level, even getting kids younger than high school interested,” said Branigan, adding that part of the attraction will be areas such as renewable power generation, such as wind and solar, and smart grid technologies. “That seems to resonate more with young people. They want to work in an environment of sustainability.”

Ultimately, it’s all about growing a labour pool from which talented women can be plucked. Not to suggest it’s going to solve all of the industry’s problems. Those retiring boomers are taking with them many years — decades — of built-up skills and institutional knowledge that can’t be learned overnight.

Power generators, transmission companies, regulatory agencies and others will lose crew leaders and senior managers who can’t be replaced with fresh recruits, male or female, just coming out of school. It will remain a huge challenge for the industry to find people who have enough experience, at least five to 10 years, to safely fill those roles.

“There’s a long lead time for developing competency within our occupation, so that’s something that has to be taken into account,” said Branigan.

Still, if you’re a young woman strong in math and science looking for a stable, well-paying career path, and in an industry looking to modernize with cleaner, greener technologies, this may be for you.

The electricity sector could use a woman’s touch.

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.

Clean energy, environment-related nuggets from Ontario-commissioned Drummond Report

I’ve been reading through the recently released report from Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, also called the “Drummond Report” after commission chair Don Drummond, former chief economist of TD Bank. Drummond was always a big fan of putting a price on carbon, so I was curious to see if he raised carbon pricing in his report.

He didn’t.

He did, however, make several commonsense suggestions and raise some interesting points in the areas of electricity infrastructure, transportation, green energy and the environment. I highlight some of them below:

First, I was pleased to see that Drummond took issue with the unfair distribution of federal support for (green) energy projects across the country. He made his opinion of the federal government’s approach clear on p. 469 of his report, pointing out the disproportionate flow of federal dollars to two unnamed provinces — read: Alberta and Saskatchewan — and the oil and gas sectors, which continue to rake in billions in direct and indirect subsidies.

The federal government has provided little support for Ontario’s move towards green energy. Yet it provides direct and indirect subsidies to Canada’s oil and gas sectors worth $1.4 billion annually, in addition to $2.0 billion in total spending for carbon capture and storage, the Clean Energy Fund and the ecoEnergy Technology program — all of which are primarily spent in two provinces. Even where the federal government has promised support for clean energy, most has been directed to fossil fuels and projects that do not build on Ontario’s strengths. Ontario needs fair and equitable support for its clean energy initiatives.

He makes the following recommendation to the Ontario government: “Advocate for federal greenhouse gas mitigation programs to provide fair and equitable support for Ontario’s clean energy initiatives.”

I’ll second that.

On renewal of infrastructure, with specific mention of water infrastructure (p. 45):

More should be done to keep infrastructure in good condition. The equivalent of about half of the $72 billion of municipally owned water and wastewater infrastructure needs renewal. Full-cost pricing would encourage both stable investment — which is more efficient and fairer on an intergenerational basis — and conservation.

On funding public transit and encouraging its use (p. 46):

The province should pursue a national transit strategy with the federal government, other provinces and municipalities. General tax revenues will surely be part of any revenue solution — whether federal or provincial — but there are alternatives such as congestion charges, comprehensive road tolls, high-occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes, regional gas taxes and parking surcharges.

On the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit, which gives people a 10 per cent rebate on their electricity bills (p. 47):

This program distorts the true cost of electricity and discourages conservation… because the Commission strongly believes the OCEB’s $1.1 billion could be used more effectively, the OCEB should be eliminated as quickly as possible.

On better managing the impact of rising electricity prices (p. 47):

The government should produce a detailed, 20-year blueprint for the energy sector. It should also consolidate Ontario’s 80 Local Distribution Companies (LDCs) along regional lines to create economies of scale; this would result in direct savings on the delivery portion of the electricity bill. Further, the government should mitigate the impact of the FIT program on electricity prices, first by reducing the initial prices offered in FIT contracts and reducing the tariff over time, and second by making better use of “off-ramps” built into existing contracts. Among other measures, the government should seek administrative efficiencies in various electricity sector agencies and restructure the wholesale electricity market so consumers located closer to generation stations can benefit from lower electricity prices.

On moving to full-cost recovery for environmental programs (p. 48):

Full cost recovery is not in effect for all of the government’s environmental programs, and existing fees do not keep pace with the rising costs of program delivery; where possible, the costs of those services should be shifted to the beneficiary. The Water Charges initiative should be expanded beyond high users to medium- and low-consumption industries and put on a full user-pay basis. The Renewable Energy Approval, which consolidates the range of approvals needed for renewable energy projects while recovering about 90 per cent of its direct operating costs, is a good example of a modern approval. The Drive Clean program fully recovers its costs.

On province-funded university campus expansion (p. 256):

Any campus expansions funded by the province should be viewed through a return-on investment lens. Factors such as the increase in productivity for the institution through a better learning experience for students, energy cost reductions through the use of renewable energy sources and energy-efficient building design should be considered. Currently, the principal driver for expansion may be increases in enrolment, and while energy conservation aspects may be part of the building design, they are not integral to the productivity outcomes expected from the expansion.

On new approaches to business support programs (p. 310):

A refocused mandate for business support programs would shift from an emphasis on job creation towards encouraging firms to enhance productivity through innovation; technology adoption and training; improved business practices; and energy conservation and efficiency.

On time-of-use pricing (p. 332):

Make regulated prices more reflective of wholesale prices by increasing the on-peak to off-peak price ratio of time-of-use pricing and by making critical peak pricing available on an opt-in basis.

These are all the nuggets I found interesting in the Drummond Report. There may be more, but the ones I’ve pasted above are commonsense and certainly worthy of serious discussion. Will be interesting to see which ones the province acts on…

Ontario, as expected, delays bulb ban — and its reason for doing so doesn’t stand up

On Dec. 16 I first hinted it would happen — and now it has.  Just days before Christmas, the Ontario government has backed away from plans to start phasing our inefficient light bulbs on Jan. 1, 2012. You can read in my earlier post why I think that is a mistake, and how the McGuinty government can no longer be believed when it says it cares about the impacts of climate change and recognizes the urgency of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Let me be clear: the Green Energy Act is great and full of potential, and the feed-in-tariff program is helping create green jobs, but it’s probably one of the most expensive ways to reduce emissions in Ontario. The government likes to point to the coal phaseout as if that’s all that needs to be done, but by neglecting the low-hanging fruit that is energy efficiency, it is showing that it’s still only interested in half-measures and sexy solutions that make for a great photo opp.

But what fires me up most is Energy Minister Chris Bentley’s reason for the delay to 2014.  He more or less blamed the federal government for being first to impose a delay, telling the Toronto Star it was essential to harmonize with the federal schedule. “To ensure a consistent approach and to make compliance easier for consumers, retailers and manufacturers, the province proposes to harmonize compliance dates for incandescent light bulbs with the federal government,” the Star quotes an energy ministry official in a statement.

This completely contradicts Ontario’s earlier motives. Remember, it was Ontario that made the first move, announcing in mid-April 2007 it planned a phaseout of inefficient bulbs. This made it the first jurisdiction in North America to make such a commitment. Apparently harmonization of policy wasn’t a concern back then, as the federal government didn’t announce its intentions to do the same until a week later. McGuinty at the time basked in the glow of showing leadership on this issue. Leadership and setting an example mattered. Now it apparently doesn’t. Following is more important now.

British Columbia, meanwhile, announced its own planned ban after Ontario and has already followed through. That’s leadership, the same kind of leadership it showed by introducing a carbon tax.