Net-Zero and Net-Positive Green Building: Vancouver’s New Policy, and a Pilot Project in Waterloo, Ontario

green building and bike VancouverOn May 1, the Green Building  Policy for Rezoning  took effect in the city of Vancouver, mandating that new commercial and multi-unit residential buildings  be built to standards modeled after the international Passive House standards, with airtight design, exceptional insulation, and good ventilation.  The Policy, originally approved in November 2016, is part of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan and its Zero Emissions Building Plan .  Matt Horne, the city’s Climate Policy Manager, writes in an OpEd in the Vancouver Sun  that the new rules will result in buildings which emit half as much carbon pollution, with slightly lower construction and operating costs.  Vancouver’s new rezoning policy  is in line with the province-wide standard for energy efficiency in new construction, the B.C. Energy Step Code , which came into force in April, 2017 in an effort to upgrade municipal building codes across the province.

Pembina Vancouver green-buildings-jobs-2017The Pembina Institute praises Vancouver’s new Rezoning policy and its benefits for workers in “Vancouver’s green buildings policy is good news for homeowners and renters” : “Constructing new energy-efficient homes and offices will be a boon to Vancouver’s green building sector. In B.C., the sector already employs over 23,000 people, and the industry is ready to respond to increased demand. New trades training is being offered by such institutions as the British Columbia Institute of Technology, which recently launched a new hands-on High-Performance Building Lab. Passive House Canada now trains hundreds of people a year, including designers, builders, and government staff. Energy-efficient buildings are one of B.C.’s biggest opportunities for real and lasting job creation.”   A February  article in the Globe and Mail, “The Economic Case for Retrofitting Buildings” echos this “ready to work” idea in the context of retrofitting: “we have the know-how and technology to be a key player in meeting a steep challenge. Building efficiency isn’t just low hanging fruit, it’s the fruit that’s ripened and ready to fall into our lap.”

Evolv1 is a net positive building project in Waterloo Ontario, being described as a “game-changer”,“groundbreaking”, and “iconic”.    Evolv1  will generate more energy than it needs for its own operation from 1.5 acres of solar panels on the roof and carport, allowing it to power the building’s 14 electric vehicle charging stations  and sell any remaining excess  to the provincial electricity grid.  The building is also aiming for LEED Platinum certification through the use of triple-glazed glass, very high levels of insulation,  digitally-controlled LED lighting with occupancy and light level sensors, natural light, a three-storey green wall to improve air quality, and a geo-exchange system that extracts heat from the ground for winter heating and returns excess heat to the ground in the summer. Finally, the building will have direct access to the city’s light rail transit system to reduce the environmental impact of commuters.  Completion is scheduled for 2018. The project is being built by  Cora Group  construction, in partnership with Sustainable Waterloo Region and the University of Waterloo, as well as  anchor tenant, consultants  EY Canada.  The  Cora Group website provides illustrations.

Evolv1 was highlighted in the Waterloo Region Record in “An office building so green it actually produces energy”  (Feb. 17),  and in the May issue of  the Natural Resources Canada Newsletter, Heads-Up.  Sustainable Waterloo released its own press releases about the project: “Raising the Standard” , and a description of the vision for the project.

Ontario’s Climate Action Plan: beyond job creation to job quality for building trades workers

solar-panel-house_4A report released on April 19th aims to contribute to a strong, future-proofed green jobs strategy for Ontario.  Building An Ontario Green Job Strategy: Ensuring the Climate Change Action Plan creates good Jobs where they are needed most  focuses on the building sector provisions within Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan (June 2016)  – which are estimated at 28 – 31% of the budget allocations of the Action Plan.

Building an Ontario Green Job Strategy states:  “Ontario’s investment of C$1.91 billion to $2.73 billion in retooling buildings, as outlined in the Climate Change Action Plan of 2016 , could create between 24,500 to 32,900 green jobs over the five-year funding plan with a further 16,800 to 24,000 jobs created from the reinvestments of energy cost savings into the economy.”  Job creation forecasts were calculated using  three  job multipliers, including that from the 2012 report by Heidi Garrett-Peltier, Analysis of Job Creation and Energy Costs Savings , published  by the Institute for Market Transformation and the Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts.

Beyond the evidence of the job creation potential of energy efficiency investments, the report also makes significant recommendations to ensure job quality.  Amongst the recommendations for the provincial government: Conduct a high-carbon jobs census and low-carbon skills survey so that workforce planning will work from an accurate base; make use of existing training programs and facilities; push for rigorous standards (specifically, run a pilot project of a Canadian Building Performance Institute, modelled after the U.S. BPI, to oversee credentialling and certification for trades), and consider an Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard; investigate support for domestic industries (avoiding any WTO sanctions by following  a Sustainable Energy Trade Agreement model); work to implement carbon border adjustments to avoid carbon leakage ; and design programs to stand the test of time and changes to the governing party.

Building an Ontario Green Job Strategy recognizes that the Ontario Climate Change Action Plan included language about Just Transition, but it recommends strengthening and clarifying that language.  It also holds up two models for  tendering and procurement processes:  Community Benefits Agreements (CBA), which ensure that infrastructure investments result in social and economic benefits to the community and citizens of the  immediate neighbourhood –  with a case study of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project in Toronto,  and High Road Agreements,  where contractors are assessed against an established set of sustainable contracting standards and community benefits- with a  case study of a  Portland Oregon retrofit project.

The report was written by Glave Communications for the Clean Economy Alliance , Environmental Defence, and Blue Green Canada , “with the participation of the United Steelworkers, UNIFOR, Clean Energy Canada, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, the Labour Education Centre, the Columbia Institute, Canadian Solar Industries Association, Ontario Sustainability, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, and Evergreen.”

 

Architects speak out for climate change mitigation and public advocacy

On April 17, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) issued a press release , announcing  eight principles governing how architects can mitigate climate change,  and urging the U.S.  government “to protect policies designed to conserve energy and reduce carbon in the built environment”.  An excerpt from the AIA statement  “Where we stand on Climate Change”  :  “ We know that carbon neutral design and construction is a growth industry. Employers from roughly 165,000 US companies doing energy efficiency work expect employment to grow 13 percent over the coming year, adding 245,000 more jobs. …. In Philadelphia alone, 77 percent of the city’s buildings need energy retrofits, supporting the creation of 23,000 jobs. …. We call on policymakers to protect financing and incentives to help communities design, build and retrofit their building stock.”

The AIA’s Energy Leadership Group had also recently issued a commentary  which summarizes and updates their long history of attention to sustainability.  “As stewards of the built environment, architects and our collaborators must be leaders in providing a powerful response to climate change. In order to achieve carbon neutral design as standard practice by 2030, we need to urgently shift our practices to apply passive design techniques, energy efficiency measures, embodied carbon reduction strategies, and renewable energy in all of our projects. By implementing these techniques, architects provide our clients with increased value, through benefits to human health and productivity, energy cost savings and resilience.

Architects must also expand our roles beyond design practice, by engaging in public policy to ensure the design, preservation, and construction of sustainable communities and high-performance buildings. This requires our active participation and leadership in the development, evaluation, and use of codes, standards, evidence-based rating systems and financial mechanisms.”

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Bibliotheque du Boise, Montreal, from the RAIC website

Most recently in Canada, in August 2016,  the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada ( RAIC)  joined with 11 other organizations in an Open Letter to the federal government,  with recommendations for a national plan for improving the energy efficiency of Canada’s buildings.

Illustrating what is possible in sustainable designs, the Bibliothèque du Boisé in suburban Montreal was announced  as the winner of the 2017 Green Building Award, given by the  RAIC and the Canada Green Building Council.   The annual award recognizes outstanding achievement in buildings that are environmentally responsible and promote the health and wellbeing of users.   The building’s sustainability strategies include “an innovative integration of mechanical systems: a passive heating system uses the heat accumulated in a glass prism for redistribution through a geothermal loop. Low-flow ventilation through the floors reduces the number of ducts required. The building relies mostly on natural light, combined with task lighting, for energy savings: 75 percent of the library’s floor area receives natural light. The project emphasized the use of certified wood, low-emitting materials, and recycled or regional materials.”

Despite strong Strategy, Vancouver needs fuel-switching policies to meet its ambitious renewable energy goals for 2050

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BC

English Bay, Vancouver B.C.  Creative Commons License, originally posted to Flickkr by JamesZ_Flickr

Vancouver is a green policy leader amongst Canadian municipalities, but on March 14, a new report from researchers at Simon Fraser University Energy and Materials Research Group  asks  Can Cities Really Make a Difference? Case Study of Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy  .  The report focuses on the building and transportation policies of the Renewable City Strategy , using CIMS, a hybrid energy-economy model which incorporates elements of consumer choice.  Applauding Vancouver  for its leadership to date, the authors conclude that current policies are likely to achieve only a 30 percent reduction on projected 2050 emissions, and fail to meet the Strategy’s target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, an 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions  on 2007 levels.

The report calls for stronger, politically-challenging “fuel-switching” for buildings and vehicles as the necessary next stage in emissions reduction.  Amongst the specific actions suggested:  No fossil fuel heating installations after 2030 for all new build residential buildings – instead, electric-powered heat pumps, solar hot water, electric thermal heat, or other zero emissions equipment.  For vehicles, a gradual reduction of parking allocations for gasoline or diesel, starting  in 2025, with  no spaces  remaining on city land for conventional cars by 2040 .  Businesses would have to demonstrate exclusive use of renewably-powered fleet vehicles to qualify for a  business license after 2030.   Read the press release from Simon Fraser   for an excellent summary; also the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, one of the sponsors of the research  here .    As for  the Globe and Mail summary  , report co-author Marc Jaccard has tweeted that it “misses my main point”, that municipal government needs the support of other government levels.

Alberta reinvesting carbon levy revenues in clean energy programs

cropped-worksolar.jpgAlberta announced  a new Residential and Commercial Solar rebate program  on February 27, funded with $36 million from revenues from the province’s carbon levy. The government estimates that the program will stimulate up to 900 jobs in the solar sector, while reducing GHG emissions and cutting installation costs for residences by 30 per cent and  for businesses and non-profits by 25 per cent.  In combination with a December 2016  change to the  Micro-generation Regulation ,  which increased the allowable capacity of  micro-generation systems to five megawatts, the rebate program  is meant especially to encourage solar commercial  and community operations .  The Pembina Institute reaction    highlights the aspect of microgeneration and distributed energy; DeSmog Blog   gives more details and context about the overall growth of solar in Alberta. Iron and Earth , the workers’ organization promoting the transition from oil and gas to renewables, calls the announcement a “great first step” on their Facebook page   , and notes their previous call to the Alberta government for increased access to solar skills training programs.

smart-thermostatOn  Febrary 28,  the government issued an invitation for Albertans to register for a Residential No-Charge Energy Savings Program   ,  encouraging all households, regardless of income, to upgrade to more energy-efficient products, including LED lights, high efficiency shower heads, and smart thermostats. Installation and product costs will be borne by the province and financed, again, through carbon levy revenues.

Finally, on March 3, Alberta announced matched funding of $10 million from the province and the federal government for a Calgary-based Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre (ACCTC) .  The facility will “test breakthrough technologies that convert CO2 from harmful emissions into applications for everyday use.”  It will be owned and operated by InnoTech Alberta   , a subsidiary of Alberta Innovates; the goal is to support “Alberta-based technology developers, as well as attracting global companies and world-class researchers to the province”.  The Pembina Institute calls it “a plug and play technology sandbox”  and “an excellent way to create partnerships and accelerate our learning with respect to new technologies, in order to develop emissions solutions and create economic opportunities.” The Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance also approves.  The investment follows a February 13 meeting to expand and renew the Alberta – Canada Collaboratory on Clean Energy Research and Technology Memorandum of Understanding.