Gas stoves, water heaters and furnaces will all be tossed in the city's drive to get carbon emissions to net zero by 2040. But who pays? - Toronto Star

Toronto Star

By Francine Kopun

Toronto has a massively ambitious plan to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2040. One city councillor has already done just that.

On May 25, Toronto city councillor Mike Layton and his wife realized a long-held dream — Enbridge Gas cut them off, and now they’re running their house, summer and winter, without fossil fuels.

“It fills me with a sense of hope,” says Layton. “We’re practising what we preach; we are committed to this. And I hope that, as people realize it can be done, more people will do it.”

Their move puts them 18 years ahead of the game when it comes to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto by 2040 — an ambitious target, set by city council as part of TransformTO late last year, at a time when our full attention was focused on COVID-19.

The work to get to net zero by 2040 is staggering. Based on the number of dwellings in the city, more than 24,000 single family homes — each year — will have to be retrofitted in order to meet net-zero targets; 70 highrises; 1,800 low-rises and 342 multi-unit residential buildings, like condos.

It will require homeowners who can afford it to step up and invest in new appliances and home water and heating systems, and require massive funding from all three levels of government to motivate them and help those who cannot afford to make the investment themselves. It will require a veritable army of construction trades to be schooled in new technologies

As part of the plan, Toronto intends to set carbon emissions performance targets for buildings. Meeting them will be voluntary at first, but the goal is to develop mandatory targets by 2030. Electrifying buildings — including your home — will be key.

TransformTO will also require investments in electrifying transit and subsidizing transit to encourage ridership

As impossible as the plan may seem, the cost of doing nothing is not zero.

The city’s own research, and environmentalists who have been studying the problem for decades, say there is no time left to lose.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road and only doing what’s easy. We have to start digging in and doing the hard stuff immediately,” says Sarah Buchanan, campaigns director for the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

“Thirty, 40, 50 years on, we’re going to see parts of Toronto that are uninhabitable due to flooding. Most of the summer is projected to just be one long heat wave above 30 degrees C.”

If we don’t shift into high gear now, we will not meet the guidelines set by the Paris Agreement of 2016 and the promises made since then, including Toronto city council’s ballyhooed declaration of a climate emergency in 2019.

“The window to make significant and lasting change is disappearing,” according to the city.

TransformTO is a hopeful plan. If implemented, transit will be free by 2040, more of us will work from home, all buses and most cars will be electric. Gas stoves will be phased out. Heat pumps will replace gas furnaces and gas-powered water heaters.

More power will be distributed locally, using solar panels on roofs, and in some neighbourhoods, wind turbines. The energy generated will be stored in batteries in your home, or in larger batteries at schools or community centres, to be drawn on during peak use, or in the event of a blackout.

There are health benefits. Electric vehicles will mean cleaner air and less noise pollution. Switching from gas appliances — which can leak methane into the air — will improve indoor air quality.

Eventually, there will be financial benefits for those who wean their homes off fossil fuels.

Layton’s gas bill is now zero and his electric bill for July was a credit of $5, although his expenses are slightly higher overall because he is paying off the money he borrowed to make his home energy efficient.

To green their home, Layton and his family switched to air-source heat pumps for hot water, air conditioning and home heating, installed solar panels on the roof and blew insulation into the basement, attic and exterior wall.

They had a Tesla Powerwall installed in their basement, a rechargeable lithium battery that stores excess electricity from the solar panels for later use. It can also supply their home with electricity in the event of a power outage.

At times the energy produced by the solar panels on the roof is used to feed the grid, and Layton gets a credit on his Toronto Hydro bill.

Batteries like it have already started saving Toronto Hydro money — instead of having to build new infrastructure to supply homes with power, residential homes are becoming mini-generating stations.

For the Laytons, swapping out their gas stove for an induction model was the last piece of the puzzle, accomplished this summer.

Layton says they spent about $48,000, and received approximately $6,000 in rebates from various funding programs for green initiatives.

For he and his wife, it was money well-spent, but cost is one of the biggest obstacles to getting to net zero by 2040.

Retrofitting a house to bring it to net zero emissions can run as high as $70,000 to $100,000, if you include things like new exterior cladding, according to the city. This is in line with what some homeowners we interviewed have spent or intend to spend.

Building green features into a new home is expected to cost much less — about $10,000.

Toronto Hydro is also predicting substantial rate increases for homeowners between 2025 and 2034, and smaller increases for several years after that, as it gears up to provide three times as much electricity in 2040 as it does now. The rate increases will have to be subsidized for low-income households, according to the utility.

A wide range of subsidies, some of them substantial, from all three levels of government are already available to homeowners who want to start today.

Buchanan says she is gratified that Toronto city council has finally moved toward acting quickly on greenhouse gases, the result, she believes, of mounting public pressure.

Now the plans must be funded.

Municipalities like Toronto have few revenue tools at their disposal to raise the money needed to make the changes required to bring down greenhouse gases by 2040.

Buchanan says the city has to review every possible option to raise the money: reconsider high-carbon projects, such as rebuilding the Gardiner; a special levy like the one for the Scarborough subway, or a property tax increase above the rate of inflation.

“Let’s be realistic here, I think it would be like trying to put out a fire with a watering can to try to get at this problem at the scale we need with the dollars that are allotted to it,” she says.

She points to ingenious steps taken by other cities, including a special tax on overpaid CEOs in San Francisco.

“It’s going to need council to step up and actually support funding and doing all of the parts of the plan in order for it to actually transform TO and not just slightly tweak TO.”

In fact, all three levels of government have to focus on combating climate change, Buchanan says. Their co-operation during the pandemic has proven they can move quickly when the stakes are high and the stakes have never been higher.

“We know the governments, when the chips are down, can put their differences aside and work together to roll out unprecedented programs,” Buchanan says.

Politicians need to push for creative solutions, Layton says. One of his most satisfying achievements as a city councillor was bringing in Toronto’s Home Energy Loan Program, which is currently providing zero-interest loans, repayable over 20 years, to residents who are greening their homes.

There are stumbling blocks besides money to getting the city to net zero by 2040. Those who are trying to green their homes are already having trouble finding qualified contractors to do the work.

Nearly 25 per cent of the GTA’s current construction labour force, or 42,840 workers, is set to retire by 2030, according to the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON).

Their studies have shown that by 2030, Ontario will need to triple its workforce to 400,000 skilled tradespeople to meet the demand both for new construction and retrofitting current buildings.

That’s just one of many reasons why Paul De Berardis, RESCON director of building science and innovation, believes TransformTO is fatally flawed.

He says there is no plan for implementing, funding or incentivizing the strategy to get existing buildings to net zero.

“It’s good to see that they have these ambitions, but if you’re just kind of making goals that can’t be met — what’s the point of doing that?” he says.

De Berardis says a two-tiered approach is needed on the labour front, one that includes focused immigration, and extensive and aggressive campaigns to get younger generations already here into the skilled trades.

The cost of fighting the impacts of climate change is growing as the planet heats up, and the financial impact if nothing is done to prevent it is incalculable.

Recent examples of extreme weather events in Toronto include cleaning up after the rainstorm on July 8, 2013, which cost $65 million and the December 2013 ice storm, $101 million. Flooding in 2017 and the windstorm of 2018 cost $28 million, according to figures supplied by the city.

The National Centers for Environmental Information in the U.S. identified nine climate-related events costing more than $1 billion each, in the first six months of 2022.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that 20 million people a year are being forced from their homes by the increasing intensity and frequency of weather events, including droughts, desertification, rising sea levels and cyclones.

For environmentalists, the goal is zero fossil fuels.

But Enbridge, the natural gas supplier that is one of Canada’s largest companies, a cornerstone of the TSX and a steady source of dividends for investors, currently serves 2.5 million people and businesses in Toronto. It’s not about to slink away from the fossil fuel business and let Toronto Hydro become the sole provider of power.

“We really see ourselves as bridging the energy needs of our customers from now into the future,” says Malini Giridhar, vice-president of business development and regulatory, Enbridge Gas Inc.

Gas is more affordable for consumers and because the supply system is underground, more reliable in the event of a storm, says Giridhar.

She sees a role for Enbridge in developing hybrid technologies and points out that not all electricity is produced sustainably.

Enbridge is investing in renewable gas generation, for example, capturing methane from landfills and other sources, upgrading that gas to pipeline quality, and making it available to customers. This has the added benefit of reducing the amount of methane expelled into the air, she says.

Electrifying buildings is key to reaching net zero by 2040, but that won’t mean much if the electricity being consumed is produced using fossil fuels, say environmentalists. They see Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government as a stumbling block to a clean supply of electricity, as it moves towards using more natural gas to generate hydro.

Polls show that people support climate change action and are aware of what needs to be done, says Lana Goldberg, Ontario climate program manager for Environmental Defence.

In spite of this, the Ford government has cancelled renewable energy projects and ended cap-and-trade, seen as a key weapon in the fight against climate change, Goldberg points out

Cap-and-trade set pollution limits on industries but allowed credits to be bought and sold at auction, which could be used to offset those limits.

The money raised at auction was earmarked for provincial coffers, for projects to fight climate change.

Cancelling cap-and-trade without sufficient notice resulted in lawsuits against the province, and an estimated loss of revenue of $7.2 billion in cap-and-trade revenues, according to the province’s Financial Accountability Officer.

Critics also point out that after successive Liberal governments brought provincial greenhouse gases down, Ford’s government is poised to drive them back up, by firing up gas plants to meet the increased demand for electricity.

Ford also ended subsidies for electric car purchases, and dropped a requirement for new homes to include wiring for EV chargers.

“In its last term, the provincial government ripped up renewable energy projects, slashed efficiency and retrofit programs, scrapped electric vehicle buyer incentives, removed the requirement for buildings to install charging stations and ripped out EV charging stations. And all of these measures would have helped Toronto implement its plan,” says Goldberg.

“The government is going to have to start taking climate change seriously and do its part to help municipalities bring down their emissions.”

This article was reposted from the Toronto Star This article was originally posted on Saturday August 27 2022