The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Ontario’s New Natural Gas Conservation Framework

Natural gas used to heat Toronto's buildings accounts for 35% of GHG emissions

Natural gas used to heat Toronto’s buildings accounts for 35% of GHG emissions

On December 22, 2014, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) quietly issued a new regulatory framework to govern natural gas conservation programs for the next six years.

While the release of Ontario’s new Demand Side Management (DSM) Framework for Natural Gas didn’t make any headlines, it will have a major impact on Ontario’s ability to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction commitment — and on Toronto’s ability to meet its own more ambitious 2020 target.

That’s because natural gas used for heating (i.e. excluding gas used for electricity generation) accounts for 30% of province-wide GHG emissions and 35% of Toronto’s emissions.  While province-wide GHG emissions from electricity have already fallen significantly (by 43% compared to 1990 levels), due to the phase out of coal-fired power plants combined with conservation, natural gas emissions have actually increased.

A new gas conservation framework was required both because the old framework expired on December 31st, but also because the Ontario Minister of Energy had directed the OEB to develop a new framework consistent with the Province’s Conservation First energy policy.

TAF’s research papers

Recognizing the importance of natural gas conservation, TAF commissioned a series of research papers last year summarizing best practices in natural gas conservation from jurisdictions across North America and outlining some recommendations for Ontario.

We provided our research directly to the OEB as well as to a variety of stakeholders, and it was cited prominently by several organizations in their formal responses to the draft framework floated by the OEB last fall, as well as forming the basis of TAF’s own response to the draft.

So, how did we do?

The new gas conservation framework is a significant step forward both compared to the last framework as well as the draft version floated in the September. However, it still falls well short of the Minister’s directive to enable achievement of all cost effective conservation.

Here are the key points: Continue reading

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Sharing TAF’s financing techniques with C40 Cities

C40 Cic40 citiesties – Toronto being one – are big cities from around the world that are actively reducing climate pollution and risks.  C40 offers these motivated cities a forum for collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and problem-solving.  I was recently invited to present to the C40 Finance & Economic Development Network to let them know about the finance innovation work being undertaken at TAF. This was one in a series of webinars focused on municipal funds including funds in Amsterdam, Melbourne, London, and Chicago.  Toronto Atmospheric Fund, established in 1991, is probably the oldest municipal climate funds; we were endowed before climate change made daily headlines. And, unlike most others, TAF undertakes practical programs, advances policies, and develops innovative financing tools as well as making investments. Check out what they’re saying about TAF’s approaches to financing low-carbon solutions on the recent C40 City Solutions blog featured on the National Geographic website.

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TAF invests in … The Big Move

eglinton crosstownAs an acknowledged leader in the field of impact investing, it comes as no surprise to us that Ontario’s first $500 million green bond, offered in September, was almost five times over-subscribed. The capital raised will be dedicated to infrastructure projects like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, now under construction. Funding of large transit projects in the region is a priority for TAF, because getting people out of personal vehicles and onto public transit addresses a major local source of greenhouse gas and air pollution.

TAF has always spent the interest earned from its endowment to advance low-carbon and air quality solutions.  We are also committed to deploying the endowment capital in a manner that supports our mandate and I’m proud to say that almost 80% of TAF’s $25M endowment is currently invested for impact.  That includes our equities portfolio and direct investments in local projects like high-rise residential energy efficiency retrofits. It now also includes $271,000 of Ontario’s green bond, purchased through our fixed income manager.

We have seen strong interest in opportunities for low-carbon investments for several years, and Ontario’s bond issue along with billions of other green bond offerings confirms that investors around the world really DO want their money to be deployed in an environmentally-responsible manner. And with current market conditions wreaking havoc with conventional energy values, the financial picture only becomes stronger for investments low-carbon alternatives.

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Resilient buildings – not just about adaptation

By Jonathan Morier, TAF’s Indoor Environmental Quality Researcher

district energyEarlier this month I attended the Green Building Festival put on by Sustainable Buildings Canada. It was a day packed with interesting presentations and discussions on the topic of urban resilience. While the day started with a reminder from Ontario Environment Commissioner Gordon Miller  of the “doom and gloom” that awaits us if we don’t act soon on climate change, few of the subsequent presentations provided a focus on greenhouse gas reduction, or the fact that there is a lot of crossover between greenhouse gas reduction and resilience.

For example, Robert Thornton, President & CEO of the International District Energy Association gave a passionate presentation about district energy and how it can increase energy efficiency and resilience, noting that Princeton University was minimally affected by Hurricane Sandy while millions of people around the university lost power for days. The university campus was able to maintain power thanks to its microgrid and cogeneration plant, and even became a hub for police, firefighters, and other emergency workers of the area to regroup, warm up, and recharge their equipment.

District energy networks such as Princeton’s not only increase resilience in times of crisis, but also reduce emissions due to their high energy efficiency capabilities. Robert explained that in a typical fossil fuelled power plant, two-thirds of the energy is wasted due to heat loss (see diagram, above). On the other hand, district energy power plants generally achieve 70-80% burning efficiency by capturing waste heat to warm streets and buildings. One Copenhagen district power plant was even able to achieve close to 90% burning efficiency.

In the afternoon session, Paul Dowsett, Principal Architect, SUSTAINABLE.TO, presented his award-winning designs for resilient houses that can withstand severe hurricanes such as Katrina or Sandy. The designs are elevated to adjust for floodplain but they also embrace passive design principles. They are highly insulated, oriented for optimal sunlight exposure, and have passive shading elements to reduce heat during summer months, making them a great choice both for resilience and energy efficiency.

At TAF, we work on making buildings more energy efficient and you can learn more about our program by visiting out TowerWise website.  We are also very interested in your ideas about integrating strategies to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and build up our resilience to climate change.




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Working together – harder than it looks …

John Kania speaks to delegates at the Collective Impact Summit

John Kania speaks to delegates at the Collective Impact Summit

Recently I joined in the Collective Impact Summit hosted in Toronto by  Tamarack. Collective impact is all about different types of groups working together to advance a common goal, and while the practice is really nothing new, the work of Tamarack acknowledges that this type of work is:

a)  essential to addressing the complex problems we face in the world today and

b) very difficult to do well.

The sold-out Summit had 300 delegates from all across Canada, who put in a full five days in workshops and training sessions. I joined as a panellist with people from Calgary, Saint John, and Halton Region, to talk about how we can support our collaboration initiatives as they inevitably morph and change over time.

One observation I had about the conference delegates is that most are working to address poverty and education issues in their communities. The collaboration I was showcasing – Move the GTHA,  an initiative among a group of civic organizations, including TAF, supporting regional transit improvements – was one of the rare collaborations focused on an issue of sustainability. That being said, even Move the GTHA – with all its air pollution and greenhouse gas reduction benefits, is really driven by a much broader set of public concerns, including economic, social, and public health issues.

After the Summit, Evergreen CityWorks’ Robert Plitt and I shared some lessons we have been learning about working in collaboration – 16 insights that are now available for review on Tamarack’s website.

What is at the core of these insights is that there is both power and peril in choosing to align with other organizations – across sectors and areas of interest – to advance a cause or solve a problem. It shouldn’t be entered into lightly, and it takes some professional skill and attention – so thank goodness we have groups like Tamarack doing such a good job on the training front.

Done well, I believe collective impact work is an essential ingredient for addressing many of the complex changes that will continue to confront us, including the challenges of climate change.

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