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Green is back in city budget - Toronto Star

After a scare last fall, some green is back in this year's Toronto budget.

February 8, 2008
Peter Gorrie
Toronto Star

While it's not a fortune, the cash allocated for energy efficiency, cleaner air, climate change and other issues has earned grudging applause from the major local environmental watchdog.

"Is it enough? No." said Franz Hartmann, director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. But given the city's financial woes, "it's probably as much as the city can do."

The budget, "just barely begins to do what needs to be done here in Toronto" where the environment is concerned, Hartmann said.

His biggest disappointment is the lack of funding to meet Mayor David Miller's target of 25 per cent renewable power for city operations. Apart from that, "by and large ... they've done quite well."

If council approves the budget as written, millions of dollars would be available to put efficient lighting, boilers, insulation and other energy-saving systems in everything from city offices to arenas, plant trees, boost recycling and expand the system that cools buildings with water from Lake Ontario.

The spending plan restores cuts proposed last summer after council voted to defer proposed taxes on vehicles and land transfers. The axe had fallen mainly on new hires and contracts for outside consultants who were to work on parts of the mayor's climate-change plan.

Council approved the taxes in October, and "the consultants are back to having funding," said Eva Ligeti, who heads Toronto's Clean Air Partnership. "They're hiring staff and going ahead with projects they'd planned."

Some of the most important projects get relatively small amounts, mainly because the funding is to develop laws and programs that could eventually have a big impact.

They include measures to promote green roofs, retrofit aging highrise apartment buildings and meet Miller's promise of a mandatory green building standard.

Last April, Miller promised a mandatory standard for all new buildings in the city would be presented to council by the end of 2007. It was delayed by the work of an outside consultant and is now to be ready by May, said Joe D'Abramo, the city's acting director of zoning and environmental planning.

Whether it will be mandatory isn't clear. The province sets standards through its building code. If the city attempts to impose tougher measures for features such as better insulation and more efficient heating and cooling systems, builders could appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board – a process that's expensive, time-consuming and usually results in pro-developer rulings.

The city could either impose standards or opt to negotiate with developers. "It's not simple. It's an area we don't have a lot of authority in," D'Abramo said.

Under the City of Toronto Act, however, the city can set requirements for property owners who want to erect solar and wind generators – clearing bureaucratic obstacles to ensure safety.

The same goes for green roofs, which insulate buildings and reduce stormwater runoff into sewers. Technical standards and recommendations for what buildings they'd go on should be ready by the end of the year, D'Abramo said.

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