Tag Archives: Toronto

Toronto closer to launching Ontario’s first PACE pilot program this fall

retrofitLast November I reported that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who at the time was minister of municipal affairs and housing, approved changes to the province’s Municipal Act and City of Toronto Act, basically empowering all municipalities in Ontario to use a financing tool called a local improvement charge (LIC) to help property owners finance energy- and water-efficiency projects for their homes. This has enabled the creation of what some call Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, or alternatively Property Assessed Payments for Energy Retrofits (PAPER). I recently wrote a large feature on such programs called “The PACE Makers” in the latest issue of Corporate Knights magazine.

Shortly after the legislative amendments took effect, a group of 22 municipalities formed the Collaboration on Home Energy Efficiency Retrofits in Ontario, or CHEERIO for short. These municipalities have pooled resources as part of a unified examination of PACE/PAPER program design, legal issues and communications challenges. The group is also doing market research to find out what homeowners across the province think about the new funding mechanism, and what lessons can be learned from early efforts in the United States. Bottom line: they don’t want to re-invent the wheel, but they want it to offer a much smoother ride.

All of that is context for what I really want to highlight in this post. Earlier this week a report from Toronto’s City Manager (as well as Deputy City Manager and Chief Financial Officer) recommended that city council create a by-law that authorizes the use of LICs to fund energy-efficiency and water conservation measure on private properties as part of a new Residential Energy Retrofit Pilot Program, which aims to be up and running this fall on a voluntary basis. It would be the first of its kind in Ontario.

Single-family homes and multi-unit residential buildings can participate — specifically, up to 1,000 houses and up to 10 multi-unit buildings. The city is making $20 million available to fund energy assessments and installation costs, which will be repaid through LICs. Owners of single-family houses will have between five and 15 years to pay back the loans through a charge on their property tax bills, while multi-unit residential building owners will get five to 20 years. “The repayment term would be geared to generally reflect the anticipated operating cost reductions (i.e. energy or water savings) and useful life of the retrofit measure(s),” according to the report. This time around, the city won’t be issuing bonds to raise money for the program. They will tap into a Working Capital Reserve, monies from which will be transferred to a Local Improvement Charge Energy Works Reserve Fund that will give out the loans and be replenished through LIC payments.

“The program is projected to stimulate job creation, increase housing affordability through operating cost savings and annually avoid 5,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the report. “The primary focus of the pilot program is to test the market receptivity to this new financing mechanism, its ability to accelerate the uptake for investment in energy efficiency and evaluate how it aligns with the city’s economic development, housing quality and affordability and environmental sustainability objectives.” The idea is to also demonstrate that such a program can be revenue-neutral for the city.

This is terrific to see, and kudos to councillor Mike Layton for leading the push within council. The program will be considered by Executive Committee on July 3, and, depending on what it decides, the full city council will consider it on July 16. Let’s hope all councillors see the huge potential and importance of such a proposal. If Toronto can get this pilot right, it can set the stage for much broader deployment across the city, with the potential to snowball across the province. It would also lend momentum to efforts at getting other Canadian provinces to create enabling legislation, as well as efforts to expand the program to commercial buildings.

District energy still a big, but dwindling, opportunity for fast-growing Toronto

When Toronto City Council made the decision three years ago to let boutique hotelier Henry Kallan develop a hotel on the grounds of Exhibition Place, the idea was to make the Allstream Centre and Direct Energy Centre more attractive convention venues.

With Exhibition Place now representing the heart of the 2015 Pan American Games, having a hotel on site is even more crucial.

But the hotel represents more to the grounds than just convenient accommodations. For Exhibition Place, it offers an opportunity to expand its reach as an energy service provider.

Years ago, it installed what’s called a tri-generation system. Basically, the system is a natural gas-fired generator that supplies electricity to the Direct Energy Centre. What’s unique, however, is that waste heat recovered from the generator is used to warm the building and run a chiller that’s driven by hot water.

On top of that high-efficiency system, Exhibition Place gets some of its energy needs from wind, geothermal and solar power systems, and it has plenty of room to add more — as well as energy storage — as growth demands.

That’s where the hotel comes into play. Staff from the city’s energy efficiency office realized there was no need for the new building to install its own boilers and chillers. Instead, Exhibition Place could simply pipe surplus heat from the Direct Energy Centre to the hotel.

Kallan was sold. It meant no noisy equipment on the hotel roof, no hassles, and fewer hurdles for a project working under a tight schedule.

But the implications were much broader. It demonstrated that the city-owned grounds had huge potential of becoming the core of an expansive district energy system, one that could supply efficient heating and cooling services to all sorts of new buildings expected to be developed in the surrounding area over the coming years.

“All of that is fair game. We have big plans for that area,” says Fernando Carou, a senior engineer from the city’s energy-efficiency office who specializes in district-energy development. “It’s the approach we should have taken 50 years ago in this city, which is to integrate energy into the way the city grows and develops itself.”

Jose Etcheverry, an associate professor of environmental studies at York University, echoes that observation. “We have a situation here where municipalities expand without any thought whatsoever about energy.”

This contrasts with northern Europe, where district energy systems make a major contribution to national power and heat production. In Denmark, about 60 per cent of buildings are supplied by district energy. Narrow that to Copenhagen and it rises to 98 per cent.

There are some visible exceptions in Ontario. Toronto has Enwave, which supplies heating and cooling to 140 buildings in the downtown core. North of the city, Markham District Energy began supplying energy services to the surrounding community in 2000. It now has three combined heat and power plants serving the area’s buildings, with a fourth plant under construction.

“Markham has shown the great advantage that a little bit of energy planning can put on the table,” says Etcheverry, adding that Guelph and Hamilton are also showing leadership. “Enwave, in many ways, opened people’s minds about the potential.”

Carou says Toronto has missed a big opportunity by not embracing district energy earlier. He points, for example, to the Humber Bay Shores cluster of high-rise condominium buildings that sprung up along the lake west of the downtown core, or development around the intersection of Leslie St. and Shepherd Ave.

These areas could have been perfect for building district energy into planning. “But they have nothing,” he says.

Still, missed opportunity doesn’t mean zero opportunity. The city has about 200 new high-rise buildings planned for construction over the next several years, part of the megatrend of diversification and urbanization.

“There’s incredibly explosive growth happening,” says Carou. “We just have to act quickly.”

To help focus the city’s efforts, his office commissioned a report that prioritizes energy “action zones” or “nodes” where district energy (including renewables and targeted energy storage) would make most sense — low-hanging fruit ready for the taking.

He presented a map of 27 action zones while speaking at a seminar last week organized by York’s Sustainable Energy Initiative. Exhibition Place was on the map. So was York University, which is rich in surplus land that private developers are drooling over.

Carou says going the district energy route appears a “win-win” for York. The university can make money leasing the land, earn additional revenues selling energy services from their own bulked up systems, and improve their own energy security in the process. A covenant on land leases could make it a condition of development.

For a university traditionally strong in environmental science and engineering curriculum, the facility could also potentially be a valuable training ground for students.

“We don’t have definitive plans yet,” said Brad Cochrane, director of energy management at York, who also spoke at last week’s seminar.

The option is currently being studied, he said, while also acknowledging that time is of the essence. “We have to make a decision soon if we’re going to go that way or not, otherwise it’s going to be more difficult to do later.”

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

Toronto needs to take a serious look at turning its hard-to-recycle trash into energy

My Clean Break column today in the Toronto Star talks about why the city, which under previous Mayor David Miller practically banned discussion of energy-from-waste, should open its mind and have an honest dialogue about options for turning the city’s hard-to-recycle solid waste into useful products, such as electricity, ethanol or green chemicals.

They’re doing it in Edmonton with Enerkem, which is turning sorted municipal solid waste into ethanol. They’re doing it in Ottawa with Plasco Energy, which is turning residual municipal waste into syngas that’s used for generating electricity. Trash giant Waste Management, an investor in Enerkem, has been investing heavily in technologies that can cleanly convert waste into useful chemicals and fuels in a safe way that releases virtually no emissions into the atmosphere — at least not, obviously, until any end fuel product is burned. But this fuel product would be displacing a fossil fuel using materials that might otherwise degrade in a landfill and release methane or contaminate groundwater.

This is an area where I part with many of my friends in the environmental community, and believe me, I’ve had my share of debates over a beer. But the landfill option is not better, in my view, and while I fully support waste diversion programs I don’t believe we can ever get to 100 per cent diversion. There’s a lot of wood waste, clothing, unrecyclable plastics, and even certain paper and plastic products can only be recycled so many times. What happens with this garbage? Advanced energy-from-waste technologies, like those being built by Enerkem and Plasco, can help municipalities manage their waste in their own back yard and get a source of energy in return.

I’m not saying we should drink the Kool-Aid, no questions asked. But at the same time, I’m a believer that the technology has changed over the years, the economics have improved, and some systems being piloted and built for commercial use today are dramatically different than the dirty incinerators built in the 1970s. Skepticism is fine, and encouraged, but not when it’s accompanied by outright dismissal or repeated attempts to compare today’s technology with what stirred up controversy 20 years ago.

It’s a conversation Toronto needs to have.

Toronto mayoral candidates talk about greening the city’s economy

The debate, hosted by Toronto Greenhouse and moderated by yours truly, took place this evening. Please come back after noon on Wednesday for access to a transcript of the event and to post any followup questions you may have. Candidates have been invited to visit this site and answer questions. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: After a sincere attempt to transcribe last evening’s Green Government debate, I have decided to not proceed because certain parts of the debate were inaudible on my digital recorder. It would be unfair to post a transcript in which the comments of certain candidates are not accurately recorded. My apologies. I will, however, soon have access to a link where people can watch the full video of the debate.

In the meantime, I will post here the four questions I asked and candidates have the opportunity, if they choose, to respond more clearly and concisely on this blog. Their responses can be sent to tyler@cleanbreak.ca and will be posted soon after they are received. (NOTE: Sarah Thomson has replied. Read below for her comments.)

Question #1: What are the top three environmental issues facing the city today and how do you plan to address them?

Question #2: Building on past efforts, how can a major municipality like Toronto do a better job of reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions?

Question #3: Can the green economy be a future economic engine for Toronto? If so, in which areas should Toronto focus its efforts and how would you, as mayor, support emerging green businesses?

Question #4: Where does each candidate stand on the use of energy-from-waste technologies, both as a way to manage municipal waste and generate electricity for the city?

Here are some links to coverage of last evening’s event — the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and the National Post (and here).

Also, check out Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter’s account of the evening on Twitter.

If you attended the debate, I welcome your comments. Who won? Which particular responses stood out?

To read candidate answers received so far click for more… Continue reading Toronto mayoral candidates talk about greening the city’s economy

The New Entrepreneurs vs. Canada’s natural resources economy

The G20 is set to get started in Toronto this weekend and it’s going to be a zoo. Canadians will end up spending $1 billion on security alone, and that’s just for a few days. The city’s downtown core will be in lockdown. Trees in the area have been removed for fear that protesters will use branches as weapons. Streets and businesses will be closed. Traffic around the city will be chaos. This, all so a bunch of leaders can get a bit of face time and likely accomplish very little.

Fun, eh?

So, after visiting Toronto, what will world leaders and foreign press walk away with? Probably the image they’ve always held of Canada — a large country with natural resources galore. Lumber, oil, natural gas, minerals, metals, fresh water. Will they walk away with the impression that Canada is an innovative nation that’s leading the world in creating a green economy? In a word, no. In fact, one of the key drivers of green economics — climate change — wasn’t even going to be part of the G20 agenda until leaders from the United Nations, the European Union and Mexico issued public protests. Canada’s current federal government is more than happy with the status quo.

Canada’s dependence on its natural resources will only continue to stifle innovation in this country, according to venture capitalist Andrew Heintzman in his new book The New Entrepreneurs (check out my Clean Break column for more info on this). But it’s not like this innovation doesn’t exist. In fact, many of them are designed to improve the productivity and efficiency of Canada’s natural resource-based sectors. Heintzman’s book goes into great detail profiling dozens of the entrepreneurs and clean technology companies that are the seeds of a green economy in Canada, and while some of these risk takers are world leaders in what they do, they’re based in a country that’s failing so far to see the opportunity they represent.

The issue is close to Heintzman’s heart. He is co-founder and CEO of Investeco Capital, a Toronto based venture capital firm that funds emerging clean technology companies. He’s also chair of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s climate change advisory panel. “Canada has virtually no national strategy on renewable energy; no plans for high-speed rail lines in development; no national smart-grid plans of any consequences; no greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals of any meaning; and no energy efficiency goals,” he writes. “In short, Canada is lacking a coherent national strategy on the most important economic questions of our time – questions that will define our future competiveness, productivity and prosperity.”

Questions that are unlikely to be raised this weekend.