"Building Retrofits" - Novae Res Urbis

Friday, July 5, 2019

NRU Publishing

Rachael Williams

Toronto city council will consider a two-year extension of the highly popular residential energy retrofit program, as well as an expanded scope of eligible measures that could include installing electric vehicle chargers, energy storage technology and energy efficient resilience measures on eligible properties. 

Launched in 2014, the residential energy retrofit program has provided funding for capital improvements to residential properties with energy efficiency and water conservation benefits. Almost $14.9-million has been invested in over 200 properties across the city, including individual houses through the Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) and multi-unit residential buildings through the High-rise Retrofit Improvement Support Program (Hi-RIS). 

“To date, the programs have had success in reducing over 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) emissions, improving housing conditions for an estimated 5,200 residents and fulfilling a market need for supporting property owners in undertaking deeper, more comprehensive building retrofits. As the city works to scale these programs, we’d see a scale up of the benefits realized through this type of work,” noted City of Toronto public energy initiatives manager Rae-Anne Miller in an emailed statement. 

If approved, the program would be extended until December 31, 2021 and would include covering the costs associated with the permanent installation of level 2 and 3 electric vehicle supply equipment. This recommendation is aligned with similar objectives identified in the city’s electric vehicle strategy. Staff is also recommending that energy storage technologies be included as an eligible expensive, including battery storage. 

The report also proposes that the program funding be used to cover the costs of pre and post energy assessments, which are key to identifying retrofit measures and ensuring energy savings and greenhouse gas emissions are being realized. Expanding the financing terms from 15 to 20 years for the home energy loan program for qualifying projects, such as solar photovoltaic / solar thermal, geothermal and air source heat pumps, will also be considered to allow residents to access the funding up-front as an incentive to making deeper retrofits on their homes. 

“This is a product that is scalable in every direction,” said Ward 11 University-Rosedale councillor Mike Layton. “We can scale it wide by including different building types—right now we’re residential properties and high-rise buildings. We will probably be seeing in the near future this extended to commercial buildings. We can extend it deeply—we went from sealing up windows and doors and sealing cracks in your foundation and upgrading your furnace to now very deep with geothermal, other heat exchange technologies, renewable energy and now energy storage.” 

With the provincial rollbacks of financial incentive programs for energy retrofits, including the GreenON fund and other conservation demand management programs, Toronto Environmental Alliance campaigns director Heather Marshall told NRU municipal programs are even more critical to ensuring the city’s building stock is not only livable, but resilient to the impacts of climate change. 

“Toronto is certainly further along in having a solid climate action plan that includes commitments like 100 per cent of all existing buildings being retrofitted by 2050. That’s a big vision and it’s necessary in order to meet our commitments for greenhouse gas reductions and to meet the Paris targets,” she said. 

Marshall credited the city with being the first municipality in Ontario to use a local improvement charge (LIC) mechanism to fund building retrofits up-front. Repayment is made through a levy on the property tax bill. The city secures the repayment by placing a lien on the participating property. 

“They’re clearly pilot testing something quite innovative. We of course will judge Toronto’s leadership on turning this from a pilot into a full-scale program,” she said. 

An LIC energy works reserve fund was established by the city with a $20-million contribution in 2013 for property owners to undertake retrofit investments. With nearly $15-milllion already committed, the city will need to explore opportunities to replenish the LIC fund to ensure it remains on target with its building retrofit goals outlined in TransformTO. 

Marshall said staff should look at the City of Portland’s clean energy initiative as a way to create a dedicated financing mechanism for its retrofit programs. Portland places a licensing surcharge on large retail businesses making over $1-billion in profits, with the funds going towards clean energy programs and related workforce training. 

“We really want to see willingness from city council to be brave and be bold and think about these kinds of financing mechanisms,” she said. 

Toronto Environmental Alliance is also requesting the city dedicate more of its building retrofit efforts in low-income neighbourhoods. Only 14 per cent of the city’s building retrofit efforts have taken place in neighbourhood improvement areas, where housing upgrades are desperately needed. 

According to a staff report, through the Hi-RIS program, the city has undertaken targeted outreach in neighbourhood improvement areas to spur uptake for retrofits. The city has also placed a restriction on above-guideline rent increases to offset the impacts of retrofitting costs on apartment tenants. 

“Undertaking deep energy retrofits can be complex and costly. That said, a comprehensive and well-thought out approach to energy retrofitting can deliver substantial energy and cost savings, with significant improvements in occupant comfort among other benefits,” said Miller. 

Toronto council will consider the program expansion at its July 16 meeting. 

Posted with permission of the publisher of NRU Publishing Inc. Original article first appeared in Novae Res Urbis – Toronto Edition, Vol. 23 No. 27, Friday, July 5, 2019.