How Ottawa plans to launch a climate-friendly building boom

Seven years after construction began, a formerly contaminated 34-acre industrial lot in the middle of the Ottawa River is being celebrated as the most sustainable community in Canada.

The planned development between downtown Ottawa and Gatineau, Quebec. uses post-industrial waste to heat homes and businesses in the winter and the river itself to generate cooling in the summer.

The net effect is a carbon-free energy system that will power development for decades to come, said project engineer and developer Scott Demark.

“It’s a pretty massive win,” said Demark, president of Zibi Community Utility, which operates as the development’s in-house power provider.

An aerial photo of the 34-acre Zibi development between downtown Ottawa and Gatineau, Quebec, which provides residents with net-zero heating and cooling systems. (Zibi)

He described the creation of Zibi’s net zero energy system as a massive undertaking – one that more developers could replicate with the right government incentives and requirements in place.

“I wish everyone did that. I wish the rules were stricter, so you had to do it,” he told CBC News.

But the federal government’s current approach to encouraging climate-friendly housing and construction, he said, “isn’t enough and it’s not fast enough.”

Scott Demark, president of Zibi Community Utility, said the availability of more government programs and a higher price on carbon emissions will encourage more developers to undertake low or zero carbon projects. (David Thurton/CBC)

Jesse Helmer, a researcher who studies climate-friendly housing policies at the Institute for Smart Prosperity, said Canada needs action from the federal government to make buildings much more efficient to meet its national goals. reduction in emissions for 2030 and 2050.

“What the federal government is doing on this front is critical,” Helmer said.

Minister says federal investments ‘are nowhere near enough’

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson recognizes that the federal government has a bigger role to play.

“There are significant additional resources that we are going to have to mobilize,” he said. “The federal government has made important commitments, but it is not enough.”

More money will be needed from other levels of government and the private sector as well, Wilkinson said.

This month, the government launched consultations on its green building strategy, due out early next year.

Wilkinson predicted the strategy will spark a “boom” in green building construction and jobs.

Greenhouse gas emissions from buildings accounted for 18% of Canada’s total emissions in 2020, or about 87.8 megatonnes, making it the third largest source of emissions after oil and gas production and transportation.

Canada has committed to reducing emissions from the building sector by 37% by 2030, and then to achieving net zero in the sector by 2050.

Efficiency Canada, an organization housed at Carleton University that studies energy efficiency strategies, estimates that all of this would require an annual investment of $20 billion to $32 billion per year.

The role of individual owners

Ottawa is also urging individual homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient through upgrades and renovations.

A new $4.4 billion loan program announced in the 2021 federal budget – the Canada Loan for Greener Homes – promises to provide loans to up to 175,000 homeowners undertaking ‘significant energy retrofits’ . The list of eligible projects includes replacement of windows, doors and insulation and installation of solar panels.

The program offers interest-free loans ranging from $5,000 to $40,000. Loans must be repaid within 10 years.

Helmer said previous versions of this program have proven popular, but demonstrated the need for fine-tuning to get projects approved faster.

“It combines ambition and practicality,” he said. “With existing Greener Homes grants and loans, it is easy to access bottlenecks and arrears.”

A separate, similar program launched by the federal government in 2021 provided $38 million in grants to approximately 10,000 Canadians. Demand, however, exceeded supply; more than 170,000 people had applied for the program as of June 2022.

A labor shortage could threaten plans

But a problem is looming that could derail the federal government’s efforts to significantly improve the energy efficiency of buildings – a shortage of skilled workers to do the job.

Economists at the Bank of Montreal and elsewhere have pointed out that the Canadian construction industry is already “address workforce and capacity constraintswhich could jeopardize plans to build new homes or renovate existing ones.

Figures compiled by Statistics Canada show job vacancies in the construction and trades sector have increased by almost 160% over a two-year period.

Helmer said the national labor shortage will have to be addressed one way or another before significant progress can be made in improving the efficiency of Canada’s buildings.

“We can design as many programs as we want…but until we start targeting the work side of this problem, I think we’re going to run into scaling issues,” he said. declared.

Another challenge will be ensuring the construction workforce reflects Canada, said Rosemarie Powell, who organizes The directory NexGen Builders Retreat for racialized people pursuing careers in construction.

She cites statistics that show that people of color make up half of the population of the City of Toronto, but only 22% of unionized construction workers.

“The government is leading the work that needs to be done on climate change,” Powell said. “The next level we need to consider is that there is equity and diversity among the people working on these construction projects.”

Wilkinson said tackling the labor shortage is a “great challenge”. To resolve it, the minister said the government needs to engage young people, especially Indigenous youth, and consider changes to Canada’s immigration policies.

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