A promised $2 billion investment in large-scale energy retrofits will be central to the Canadian government’s job creation ambitions. The funding was announced today as part of a three-year, $10-billion spending package to be known as the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) Growth Plan. It follows a pledge to spur a green and resilient economic recovery from COVID-19, made in last week’s Speech from the Throne at the launch of new parliamentary session.
The $2 billion for energy retrofits is one of five thrusts in the CIB plan. It also includes: $2.5 billion for renewable energy generation, energy storage and inter-jurisdictional transmission; $2 billion to accelerate the expansion of broadband digital services to rural and other underserved communities; $1.5 billion for agricultural irrigation projects; and $1.5 billion for zero-emission buses and charging infrastructure. An additional $500 million has been allocated for required preparatory work before projects can proceed.
The government calculates activity arising from this investment will create approximately 60,000 jobs and draw further investment to sustain and grow employment. “Every dollar of public investment in these initiatives is intended to attract additional dollars from private and institutional investors,” affirms Michael Sabia, chair of the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
Efficiency Canada, a not-for-profit organization championing the dual environmental and economic benefits of energy and water efficiency, likewise envisages CIB and the Canadian economy will reap a bountiful payback on the $2 billion destined for energy retrofits. Small, independent businesses have long been active players in the energy efficiency sector, which was estimated to employ 436,000 workers in 51,000 companies and organizations prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, retrofit work is intrinsically linked to consumer savings, creating other spinoff economic benefits.
“By adding energy efficiency to its mandate, the Canada Infrastructure Bank is sending a signal that energy-efficient buildings have widespread, long-term impacts,” maintains Corey Diamond, executive director of Efficiency Canada. “This is a critical component in scaling activity across the country, while creating jobs and reducing operating costs for building owners, managers and tenants.”
The investment also supports Canada’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Indeed, the target is only getting more onerous based on the Throne Speech indication that the government will legislate its stated aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
“Considering that buildings contribute almost a third of total emissions, investing $2 billion in large-scale building retrofits is great news for our industry,” says Bala Gnanam, vice president, energy, environment and advocacy with the Building Owner and Manager Association (BOMA) of Greater Toronto.
Many commercial landlords and tenants have suffered COVID-19 related business disruptions and revenue loss and, in the landlords’ case now face future uncertainty about operating income and asset value. Large-scale building retrofits could present an opportunity to shore up both. Meanwhile, industry insiders suggest condominium corporations might particularly welcome the funds.
“Condominiums, unlike commercial buildings or even rental apartment buildings, do not have the ability to use the tax system to their advantage. All funds spent by condominium owners are made from their personal after-tax dollars,” notes Rob Detta Colli, manager, energy and sustainability, with Crossbridge Condominium Services. ” I think the $2 billion for large-scale building retrofits is a smart way to use public funds and, in condominiums, would help would help individuals and families directly.”
Energy efficiency champions also have plenty of ideas of how and where the investment could be best leveraged. While the Canada Infrastructure Bank was established as an entity that would work in tandem with provincial/territorial, municipal and Indigenous partners, Scott Rouse, managing partner of the consulting firm, Energy@Work, suggests it could also be something of a trend-setter as the Ontario government gets ready to renew its conservation and demand management (CDM) programs in 2021.
“We, along with others, are hoping to see similar support for customer-centric CDM programs that help customers manage their electricity. Energy efficiency can be equally effective in helping Ontario’s economic recovery, as well as our environmental response to climate change,” Rouse asserts.
“I hope some of the dollars will be invested to make our buildings, communities and infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather events,” Gnanam urges. “We need to improve their capacity to recover and resume normal business following an extreme event. Operational resilience is key for protecting our investments and ensuring strong, vibrant and resilient communities where businesses and families can prosper.”
Michael Lithgow, manager, energy and climate action at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, also includes resiliency on his wish list. “I’d like to see more support for retro-commissioning of existing buildings and integrated design of new buildings, including iterative energy modelling, resiliency aspects and BAS (building automations systems) and metering design,” he tallies.
Barbara Carss is editor-in-chief of Canadian Property Management.