Community buildings targeted for retrofits

Community buildings targeted for retrofit funds

Two new programs promise $1.67 billion for GHG reduction projects
Thursday, April 15, 2021

Two distinct, but complementary new federal programs are promising funds for community buildings. The Green and Inclusive Community Buildings program will provide $1.5 billion over five years for capital upgrades, major retrofits or new construction of buildings that provide non-commercial services to the public. The Community Buildings Retrofit initiative will be administered through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) Green Municipal Fund, and will make up to $167 million available over six years to improve energy performance and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in recreational and cultural facilities owned by local governments or not-for-profit operators.

Together, the programs offer varied project streams for somewhat different but often overlapping proponents, but both are focused on meeting GHG reduction targets and are aligned with the government’s pledge to invest $15 billion in measures to address climate change and boost the green economy. They are also framed as a counterpart to the $2-billion commitment for large-scale commercial building retrofits announced last fall.

“Our community buildings, like arenas, libraries and recreation centres, are important parts of our towns and cities across the country. Upgrading our existing community buildings and building new, green centres will help Canadians create healthier and more vibrant communities,” says Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change. “By working together, we can cut pollution, help communities save on energy costs and create good jobs.”

Green and inclusive community buildings program

The $1.5 billion fund will be dispersed through two streams: a competitive process for eligible applicants with project costs in the range of $3 million to $25 million; and funds for smaller and medium sized retrofit projects in the range of $100,000 to $3 million, which will be allocated to eligible recipients on a first-come, first-served basis until depleted. Both streams are open to provincial/territorial and local governments, their associated agencies and incorporated not-for-profit organizations, while $150 million is specifically targeted for Indigenous project proponents.

Candidate buildings must be publicly accessible and host services that “play a meaningful role in fostering inclusion in society and combatting systemic inequities”. That includes community culture, recreation, health and wellness facilities, mobile structures such as mobile libraries and health clinics, and Indigenous health, social and education facilities. New construction typically must be net-zero-carbon or net-zero-carbon-ready, but building proponents in remote or Northern communities will also have the option of exceeding requirements of the 2017 National Energy Code if it is too onerous to achieve net-zero-carbon.

The largest share of the funding — up to $860 million — will be directed to retrofits in the categories of small ($100,000 to $250,000), medium ($250,000 to $3 million) and large ($3 to $25 million) projects. To qualify, projects must meet a prescribed threshold for energy performance, and retrofits must be completed during the period between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2026. Projects that can be quickly underway will receive a scoring advantage.

Generally, a 25 per cent improvement over baseline energy use is expected, although that requirement could be waived in select cases. Proposed projects that can deliver a higher level of energy efficiency and greater GHG reductions through minimization of embodied carbon will have an edge, as will projects that incorporate climate change resilience.

“Making every building greener is critical for Canada’s sustainable development and net-zero emissions future,” submits Thomas Mueller, president and chief executive officer of the Canada Green Building Council. “In addition to the positive environmental outcomes, green building has the power to improve occupant health, promote well-being and support learning outcomes — benefits that all Canadians should enjoy.”

Funding can also cover various accessibility and health and safety upgrades, provided the project also meets energy and sustainability prerequisites. All accessibility measures must meet or surpass the highest published standard within the jurisdiction to qualify.

Underserved or high-needs communities will get preference in allocations for new construction projects. New construction automatically falls into the large project category, along with major retrofits valued at $3 million and $25 million, with funds to be awarded through a competitive process. Funds cannot be used to build new administrative buildings, hospitals, emergency services (police, fire, paramedic) stations for non-Indigenous communities, daycare centres, shelters for non-Indigenous patrons, multifamily housing, hospices or educational facilities for non-Indigenous communities.

Applications can be submitted via Infrastructure Canada’s portal for both streams of the program. Proponents in the competitive stream have until July 6, 2021 to apply.

Community buildings retrofit initiative

The FCM retrofit program will provide grants and grant-loan combos for energy-use monitoring, recommissioning and retro-commissioning, pre-project feasibility studies and capital projects — limited to one per municipality for each program category. That ranges from a maximum of $25,000 to cover up to 80 per cent of the eligible costs of implementing energy-use monitoring to a maximum of $5 million to cover up to 80 per cent of eligible costs of capital projects.

“With community buildings like arenas, pools and recreation centres emitting some of the highest levels of municipal GHGs, successful retrofit projects can have a significant impact on climate change efforts,” maintains Garth Frizzell, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. “Together, we can improve our community infrastructure and work to meet Canada’s climate change goals.”

Two types of capital undertakings will be funded: GHG impact projects involving retrofits that reduce emissions by at least 30 per cent compared to the initial baseline; and GHG reduction pathway projects enabling a phased process toward achieving near-net-zero emissions. Proponents can attain a combined grant and loan of up to $5 million to cover 80 per cent of eligible costs, with a maximum of 25 per cent or $1.25 million in the form of a grant. Recipients of GHG reduction pathway funding must first complete a feasibility study, for which they can also receive grants of up to $65,000 for one building or $200,000 for a portfolio of buildings.

Recommissioning and retro-commissioning grants max out at $55,000 or up to 60 per cent of eligible costs. This could be applied to a single building or a portfolio of buildings.

Seven of Canada’s largest municipalities — Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax — which have access to a $183-million federal fund through their participation in the Low Carbon Cities Canada initiative, are not eligible for this program. For now, Quebec municipalities are also on hold until an agreement between FCM and the Quebec government is finalized, but it is expected they will be invited to apply in the future.

Otherwise, Canadian municipalities and municipal partners — which might include municipally owned corporations, other agencies delivering municipal services, non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations, private-sector entities, Indigenous communities or research institutes — can apply. Typically, FCM accepts and processes application year-round, until annual fund allocations are depleted. After that, incoming applications will be deferred until the next fiscal year.

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