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Council gets glimpse into $53M options to reduce carbon footprint

'It’s actually quite remarkable how little this will cost when you think we’ve been doing damage for about 100 years, probably, here at the corporation,' says Coun. Tim Lauer
2021-10-26 climate plan strat plan
Council members were updated recently on the city's climate change action plan.

Converting city facilities and vehicles from gas to electric powered are among the steps that could help the municipality reduce its climate footprint, council members recently heard.

During a strategic planning meeting, staff and consultants provided an update on the city’s climate change action plan.

It will have two parts: a corporate action plan mostly focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are within the city’s direct control — fleet and facilities, for example — and a community plan that will consider the city as a whole.

“Together, these two documents will form Orillia’s climate future,” said Renee Recoskie, manager of property and environmental sustainability.

Council got a look at a draft report regarding the corporate plan. It includes three options outlining emission-reduction targets for consideration, each with an estimated total cost of $53 million.

The report notes the majority of the costs associated with taking steps toward net-zero emissions are attributed to “deep-building retrofits to support lower energy consumption, and transition towards electrification,” fleet electrification, and clean electricity strategies “to potentially offset carbon emissions still associated with electricity.”

The three targets are evidence based (Option A), science based (Option B) and federal (Option C).

  • Option A calls for a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, below 2018 levels, and a 100 per cent reduction by 2040, also below 2018 levels. It would take 18 years to fully implement.
  • Option B is a more aggressive target, aiming for a 70 to 75 per cent reduction by 2030 and a 100 per cent reduction by 2045.
  • Option C is the least aggressive, with a goal of reducing emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2050 — in line with the federal government’s commitment.

While Option B would be the most expensive in terms of annual costs, Coun. Pat Hehn suggested it could save the city more money in the long run because of its shorter timeframe for emissions reductions.

Working toward a reduction of 70 to 75 per cent by 2030 would require a “deep retrofit” of all city buildings — of which there are more than 35 — including a switch from natural gas to electricity, Recoskie responded.

“That is a very enormous undertaking for this community,” she said.

Staff resources would also be strained. The report noted Option B would have the “greatest impact to near-term staffing needs.”

There is value in acting fast, though, said Yuill Herbert, co-founder of Sustainability Solutions Group, the firm hired to help guide the city’s action plan.

He noted the federal carbon tax is set to increase annually from 2023 to 2030.

“There’s definitely an incentive to move quickly from a financial perspective and, really, the constraint is logistics,” he said.

Municipalities should see such plans also as economic development strategies, he said, “stimulating a new economy in your community” with new jobs and future cost savings.

Coun. Ralph Cipolla asked how the city could implement a plan like this without overburdening taxpayers.

Recoskie said additional grant opportunities are becoming available and, when a municipality has an action plan in place, it would likely increase its chances of receiving some of that funding.

“It’s actually quite remarkable how little this will cost when you think we’ve been doing damage for about 100 years, probably, here at the corporation,” said Coun. Tim Lauer.

“If we can sort this out for the kind of dollars we’re talking about, especially when you look at it on a per-capita basis, the increases in taxes might be less than what your insurance is going to go up if you do nothing," said Lauer.

While the meeting focused mainly on the corporate plan, the community plan is the “much more intriguing part of this process,” Lauer said.

There have been some consultations and more are planned in the next month or so, Recoskie said, adding staff expect to bring forward a draft action plan early in the new year.

Consultants are analyzing responses from a survey, which showed support from the community for an “ambitious target,” said Naomi Devine, senior consultant with Sustainability Solutions Group.

Lauer wanted to know if the action plan would “bring the hammer down” or simply make suggestions and provide incentives for people.

“We’ve really started to see municipalities requiring zero-emissions activities or technologies,” Herbert said, noting California has banned natural gas in new home builds — a move Toronto is also looking into.

“As the climate emergency becomes more in our face, in a way, that kind of reaction is becoming much more common.”

The report notes the City of Orillia has already taken action on some “key projects” locally. It has upgraded more than 3,300 streetlights to LED, which resulted in a cost savings of 40 per cent and a 76 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions produced by streetlights.

The city also upgraded the lighting at municipal facilities to LED.

Other climate-friendly moves have included the use of sustainable materials during the Orillia Waterfront Centre construction and installing solar panels at Rotary Place and the Barnfield Point Recreation Centre, generating a total of 600 kilowatts of electricity.

The recent meeting was only to provide an update to council. No decisions were made.

It is expected the overall action plan — both the corporate and community aspects — will come before council for a decision in early 2022.