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'We have no choice': Orillia's ambitious climate change action plan gets green light

'This particular plan, I believe, has the ability to create that reality where we will make a difference, and quite frankly, we have no choice but to make a difference,' says mayor
2019-09-27 Orillia climate strike 18
Mayor Steve Clarke addresses a crowd at a 'climate strike' event at City Hall in 2019. On Monday night, council committee endorsed a climate change action plan. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters File Photo

City councillors have adopted an ambitious climate change action plan that aims to reduce its corporate and community greenhouse gas emissions by 100 per cent over the next 30 years.

The plan, which has been in the works for a year, was presented to council committee Monday evening.

The plan fulfills the first three steps of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Partners for Climate Protection program, which calls for municipalities to take an inventory of their emissions sources and develop plans to "meaningfully" reduce them over time. 

With more than 400 Canadian municipalities participating in the program, Monday’s endorsement of the climate change plan fulfills council’s decision to join the program in 2019.

Using 2018 as its baseline year for emissions, council committee approved reducing the city’s corporate emissions to 50 per cent of its 2018 levels by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2040. 

Council committee also endorsed reducing the overall community’s emissions 33 per cent below 2018 levels by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2050, and called on staff to provide annual updates on the city’s progress.

Beyond setting emissions targets, council committee approved an additional $120,000 for its transit terminal design project, and an additional $35,000 for its Brian Orser Arena redesign project to ensure those already approved projects are completed in an environmentally-friendly way.

“When you run for office, you want to be able to make a difference, you want to be able to leave a legacy,” said Mayor Steve Clarke on Monday evening. “This particular plan, I believe, has the ability to create that reality where we will make a difference, and quite frankly, we have no choice but to make a difference.”

In order to tackle corporate emissions at the city level, a number of measures are suggested in the climate plan, some of which include:

  • Developing the capacity to generate six to eight megawatts of renewable energy, or purchasing the equivalent in renewable energy, by 2040.
  • Meeting all city heating demands in corporate buildings using 100 per cent clean electricity by 2040.
  • Reducing non-heating energy use by 20 to 50 per cent, through retrofit and renovations, by 2040
  • Purchasing only zero-emissions vehicles for its fleet by 2040. 

The plan to reduce corporate emissions will require heavy initial investment to get underway, but officials say the cost savings - in terms of increased energy efficiency and reduced carbon tax bills - will ease the burden.

“(The investment) totals $52.8 million between the years 2023 and 2040,” said Renee Recoskie, the city's manager of property and environmental sustainability. “It is also important to note that there will be significant energy cost savings across this time as a result of actions, which translates to a net investment of $31.9 million.”

Recoskie said the investments made by the city will ultimately provide net financial returns.

“The investments in the low carbon pathway generate financial returns on a net basis beginning in the year 2030,” she said. “As is characteristic with low carbon transition, the capital expenditures at the early years of the transition are significantly greater than the average savings and revenues generated.”

The plan to reduce emissions in the broader community is less clear-cut, as it will require significant participation by community members.

A couple items called for within the climate plan include retrofitting 65 per cent of the city’s pre-1980 residential buildings by 2030, and getting just over a quarter of the city’s personal vehicles to be electric in the same timeframe.

“Buildings account for more than 40 per cent of the community emissions, so that's a sizable amount of emissions to reduce,” Recoskie said. “To target retrofitting 65 per cent of those community residential buildings equates to 4,100 homes.”

Members of council expressed concern about the cost of retrofitting homes across the city, worrying the objective would be difficult without assistance from loans, granting programs, and additional levels of government.

“I would love to do it tomorrow, but I couldn't afford it,” said Coun. Pat Hehn. “If there were grants available, I might be able to.”

“Without granting programs in the future, this isn't going to work,” concurred Clarke. “I believe we're going to need significant assistance from the senior levels of government.”

Recoskie agreed that a funding mechanism will be required to achieve the target.

“You're absolutely correct that there needs to be a funding mechanism to help enable this,” she said. “I will say that right now (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) has a community efficient financing program that you can proceed with … and that’s just one example.”

Coun. David Campbell also stressed the need to clearly communicate the benefits of retrofitting homes to residents across the city to get people to buy into the program.

“(We need to) make things really simple and easy for people to understand,” he said.. “When it comes to programs for retrofitting and that sort of thing, make it really easy to understand so that a person knows that …  if they replace their old furnace with a heat pump they can get a loan, and the savings that they'll realize is going to cover the cost of that loan.”

Aside from retrofitting existing homes, Coun. Ted Emond asked about what will be done to ensure new construction projects in the city are energy efficient as well.

“It's so much cheaper to build that clean energy use into a building, than it is to come back and retrofit it at some point in the future,” he said.

“Part of the plan definitely looks at ways to make new construction net zero,” answered Recoskie. “It's in our best interest to ensure that as much of new construction is done in a way that is as close to net zero as possible.

"That means we will not have to invest or enable additional retrofit and renovation dollars, so we definitely have that action in the plan, (and) we will be working with the rest of the staff team to determine how that could be implemented," she explained.

The motion passed at council committee also asked that a copy of the climate plan be included in correspondence with organizations and levels of government, in request for funding and support necessary to meet the city’s goals.

The adoption of the city’s climate plan at Monday’s council committee meeting is subject to ratification at the next council meeting (April 25).


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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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