Toronto calls for climate leadership and reaches into its budget for new initiatives

Mostly familiar with it through its reputation as one of the biggest consumers of electricity in North America, Toronto’s municipal government is attempting to increase its energy efficiency and clean energy sourcing – and push through a costly but necessary overhaul of the city’s aging infrastructure. Two days of executive sessions last week revealed the widening list of cuts and initiatives to make it happen, including a proposed grant program aimed at making zero-emission vehicles more appealing to the city’s drivers.

Underlying all this, the city’s plan to become a fully carbon neutral city by 2050 – something that neither the provincial government, which manages Toronto’s electricity supply, nor the Ontario legislature has actually committed to do, but which the province has been insisting cities such as Toronto take on – has been growing more urgent by the year. If Toronto and other cities can’t ramp up their efforts now, the government will be caught unprepared.

The proposals revealed in executive sessions include measures that staff had considered but were not yet moving on, such as freezing or increasing property taxes while committing the city to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and buying more renewable energy, working with communities to create more energy-efficient homes, and building “a house of Canada” with low energy requirements.

The carbon neutral city plan also looks at how to cut the city’s electricity and water usage while upgrading its infrastructure – many of which is still being built in the 19th century and has been shown to need a thorough updating. Staff had already proposed “paying for improvements through measures such as energy efficiency improvement,” but the plan is broadened to consider scrapping projected water rates increases for two years and paying for infrastructure upgrades through various financial tools, including increased property taxes. In the cost-cutting section, proposed further actions, including potential efficiency and consolidation of agencies and joint procurement of goods and services, are also factored in.

Members of the public had been invited to give feedback on any of the proposals in executive sessions last week, which will be discussed in public this Tuesday. Last Tuesday’s committee meeting did provide some skepticism, however.

“At the current rate, [a carbon neutral city] is not going to happen in my lifetime,” a man asked. “Can you please tell me what it will be like without energy saving measures?” He and another man said that they wanted city councillors to consult more with residents before making a decision.

“What you’re saying is a different way of thinking. People have been saying this since the beginning,” Councillor Mike Layton told them. “It’s not our job to make recommendations but our job to make decisions.”

In spite of the skepticism, the ability to complete much of the work required to reach the goal is not in doubt. The city’s chief administrative officer said last week that the city had already invested $67 million in energy-saving measures in a seven-year period ending in 2017.

Read the full story at The Toronto Star.


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(Board of Trade of Metropolitan Toronto)

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