Moving Forward

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Retrofit incentive programs and updated building codes are just the first step in addressing climate change

An eastern Ontario homeowner thought about operating costs and opted for a ground source heat pump and geothermal field instead of oil.

By Bruce Nagy

After nearly a year of solitude, introspection, and solving all the world’s problems by finger pointing on social media, society may be moving toward some lessons learned when is comes to the climate crisis.

Our climate crisis is the government’s fault for all of the things it did or did not do by now. It’s also Big Oil’s fault for saying, “Don’t worry, we’ve got this. It’s not that serious. We’ll self-regulate, self-police, and everything will turn green and shareholders will get rich.”

We all know how that worked out.

The climate mess might also be the fault of consumers and voters, but let’s go with door No. 1—the government. It’s the government’s fault and it’s time to start moving forward with concrete actions.

Federal retrofit program

Reacting to Canada’s latest climate plan announcements in December, Martin Luymes, vice-president of government and stakeholder relations for the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) said: “Ten years from now we definitely will have decarbonized buildings. New homes and buildings will all be zero carbon, and this is needs to embrace this and in the next five years we need to all be moving in the same direction. We need a plan for our transition, and that means training for installing heat pumps.”

He added that he was encouraged by Prime Minister Trudeau’s introduction of a detailed climate plan accompanied by legislation late in 2020, entitled “A Healthy Environment and A Healthy Economy.” The plan calls for $2.6 billion over seven years, starting in 2021, to help homeowners improve home energy efficiency through 700,000 grants of up to $5,000 each.

The government will fund up to one million free EnerGuide energy assessments and create a program to recruit and train EnerGuide energy auditors to meet increased demand. There are other related supports, and in all $15.2 billion has been added to the $60 billion previously allocated to implement the “Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change,” a plan developed in 2016, with the goal of meeting the government’s emissions reduction targets, growing the economy, and building resilience to a changing climate.

Closer to his heart, Luymes was also encouraged because the new federal plan specifically referenced NRCan’s “Market Transformation Road Map for Energy Efficient Equipment in the Building Sector,” something HRAI have been working on with the federal government. It involves industry teams hammering out the details of dramatically changing Canadian mechanical systems, including education and training, financial incentives, certifications, codes, standards, inspection framework and labelling programs.

The roadmap already specifies that by 2023 space heating technologies must offer energy performance of more than 100 per cent. In other words, heat pumps.

“They seem to have heard us when we said you can’t just charge down a path and leave the details to the industry to figure out,” says Luymes. “We need a runway, a training and inspection regime, orientation and sensible pacing. These are the important things that came out of December. But of course, the media just wanted to talk about updates to the carbon pricing scheme that were also provided.”

Beginning in 2023, Canada will increase the price on carbon by $15 per tonne per year, to a total of $170 per tonne by 2030. As before, proceeds will be returned to Canadians, but will shift from annual to quarterly rebate payments starting next year.

The federal government currently has numerous decarbonization programs underway.

Building codes

An update to Canada’s National Building Code and National Energy Code (commercial) that was due in 2020 has been delayed by the pandemic by one year. According to Kevin Lockhart from Efficiency Canada, the code committee has been working to develop a tiered energy code that progresses to a net zero energy (NZE) or NZE-ready level of efficiency. NZE is defined as a building that uses an enhanced building envelope, solar orientation and high-efficiency equipment to produce as much clean energy as it uses over the course of a year.

He says several provinces, including British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, are well-positioned to adopt the new code, and that all of Canada’s provinces have agreed to harmonize construction codes by 2025.

The national group is employing a similar approach to that used by the Toronto Green Standard and the B.C. Step Code. In both cases changes are phased in over time, by providing optional levels of compliance called tiers. “A tiered code has the effect of laying out a roadmap for the future,” says Lockhart. “Some cities have been very aggressive and it was questioned whether they have the authority to move faster than their province (which they do in B.C.).” A tiered code provides a potential solution around that pushback, because tiers are presented first as voluntary, and later adopted as mandatory, according to Lockhart.

Municipal programs

“The good news is that just about every municipal climate plan in the country coming out right now includes programs for building retrofits,” says Gaby Kalapos, Executive Director for the Clean Air Partnership (CAP). “It’s finally receiving some attention in Canada. In this respect we’re behind the US. They’ve had residential building efficiency programs all over the country for years.”

CAP provides education programs for municipal policy planners and works with Canadian cities on future planning. “I think COVID-19 will be a catalyst for getting homeowners in Canada moving. And the first cohort of PACE programs will be announced early this year by FCM. That’s $300 million.” She is talking about Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs offered by cities, funded by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Incentives paid for some of this cold climate mini-split system for a small country house in Quebec.

Funding takes the form of loans for deep energy retrofits like solar, geothermal, building envelope upgrades and air source heat pumps. Loans are repaid in installments on property tax bills, and attached on title, which means recipients can sell the home during the term, without complication.

“There will be a lot of training work needed to build the capacity of the sector,” says. “But the first step will be to get homeowners interested and show the trades that there is demand for the new systems. Then they’ll want the training, and it will become an economic development opportunity, a job creator, because the HVAC trade will be expanding its scope into building science.”

According to Kalapos, the conversation with developers and homebuyers needs to change around the topic of affordability. “Everyone is afraid to make home ownership beyond the reach of people, but I think we are starting to think long term and look at operating cost. It’s another reason for labelling—a rating on the MLS for the energy efficiency of the property being sold. This is coming. Powerful interests are trying to delay it, but it’s not a question of if, only when. It’s coming.”

While things are headed in the right direction, eventually clean buildings will conquer all, but not without a lot more finger pointing. This article only scratches the surface of the numerous decarbonization incentives, regulations and standards currently being implemented by governments across Canada.

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