City of Toronto doubles down on net-zero strategy
January 6th, 2022 4:36 pm     A+ | a-

By Paul De Berardis/RESCON

At the Dec. 15, 2021, Toronto city council meeting, the TransformTO - Critical Steps for Net Zero by 2040 agenda item was heard.
The TransformTO initiative encompasses a broad spectrum of climate change-fighting policies across multiple sectors, including energy, transportation, waste, and of particular importance to RESCON members, homes and buildings. 

The existing TransformTO strategy already in place and approved by council was aligned with broader government climate change commitments, principally the Paris Agreement whereby Canada and 194 other countries are ultimately targeting to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050. The latest TransformTO motion now approved by city council will fast track the 2050 target to now be net zero by 2040. Meanwhile, Canada and the provincial governments, including Ontario, are still working towards the 2050 goal.

While we applaud council for showing leadership in the fight against climate change through implementation of the Toronto Green Standard (TGS) dating back to 2010 and the more recent TransformTO climate action strategy in 2017, acting independently and more hastily ahead of higher-tier governments can sometimes come with unintended consequences. For example, from 2010 to 2018, under Version 1 and 2 of the TGS, it was not until more recently that a growing amount of data emerged that demonstrated that this approach was not lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in new buildings.

Despite the best intentions, the former versions of the TGS proved futile in lowering GHG emissions and improving energy efficiency.
Unfortunately, homeowners ultimately paid the price, as the TGS requirements increased the cost and complexity of construction passed on to new home buyers yet delivered lackluster performance in return.

This is why RESCON supports the provincial and national building code development process over municipal programs, as the built-in checks and balances vet code change proposals and institute accountability to the process before any changes can be made. 
Accelerating the TransformTO, and particularly the TGS milestones, will propel our industry down a path that is not yet proven in a practical sense to deliver the anticipated GHG reductions. With the current TransformTO existing 2030 target of a 65-per-cent reduction already being “among the most ambitious interim targets in North America,” the newly approved motion to further accelerate targets presents itself as little more than virtue signaling.

The fight against climate change should not be a competition as to which jurisdiction can set the most rigorous targets first, it’s about affecting meaningful change in reducing GHG emissions. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the city council proceedings, many councilors are using the now accelerated TransformTO timelines as an opportunity to solidify their positions through political pandering, reciting their rehearsed election monologues under the guise of climate change. 

An area of concern with respect to accelerating the TransformTO strategy and the TGS timelines relate to the overarching theme shifting away from natural gas for space and water heating in buildings in favour of electrification as well as also promoting electric vehicles. While these shifts are inevitable in the next 10 to 20 years, hastily mandating such policies sooner can actually trigger increased GHG emissions. In Ontario, where the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) cites Ontario’s current installed energy capacity is chiefly comprised of nuclear (34 per cent), followed closely by natural gas/oil (28 per cent), does it really make sense to pre-emptively push towards electrification of buildings and vehicles before we have a carbon-free grid?

With policies that push building and vehicle electrification, if they are not properly timed and co-ordinated with the capacity of Ontario’s electricity system, Toronto may in fact be electrifying buildings and cars that will be powered by electricity generated from natural gas peaker plants.

Implementing policies towards electrifying both buildings and vehicles concurrently can basically double to triple demand on the grid.
The city must work not only with Toronto Hydro, but also with provincial agencies responsible for power generation to properly time their electrification policies with the ability to deliver a carbon-free grid. 

Then there is the elephant in the room of where all this money will come from to pay for all the ambitious TransformTO policies.
Toronto Hydro has estimated it will require more than $10 billion in infrastructure upgrades to the electrical distribution system, upsizing transformers and feeders as well as investments to address the aging electrical grid, while also assuming that 50 per cent of future electricity demand will miraculously be met by new local clean generation.

In addition, IESO has identified an estimated investment of $27 billion is required, along with increasing residential electricity bills by 60 per cent to decarbonize Ontario’s power generation.

The City of Toronto is developing climate change policies that it ultimately can’t afford to fund and, at the same time, not being truthful about how these decisions will raise costs for ratepayers.

In 2019, council voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency and adopt a strong emissions reduction target of net zero by 2050.
Yet, council has also acknowledged the worsening housing affordability crisis in Toronto. The existing timelines for TransformTO and the TGS already represented challenges for the development industry, so this policy acceleration will push the limits of what is technically feasible for builders, hindering the ability of the industry to deliver much-needed housing.

As stated in previous communications to staff within city planning, there are significant TGS-related costs that are of concern to the building industry as the tiers progress, notwithstanding the latest decision to further hasten timelines.

While homebuyers generally value the notion of sustainability, broader affordability concerns have hampered the ability of consumers from increasingly valuing green buildings.

Only time will tell what implications the accelerated TransformTO timeline will bring, but it will certainly not make it any easier or cheaper to build much-needed housing supply.

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