The most abundant, affordable, and accessible form of energy is conservation. Toronto is embarrassingly behind in this area, using much more energy per capita than New York City.

Conservation is a realistic and proven source of new energy. A report by the David Suzuki Foundation called Bright Future finds that Ontario can “reduce its total demand for power by 20 per cent between now and 2010,” and that “energy efficiency and conservation are the fastest and cheapest ways to ease Ontario's electricity crisis.” A 20 per cent reduction in peak load would ease Toronto's needs by 900 MW, 60% more than the Portlands Energy Centre could provide, and more than triple the amount that Toronto's demands would grow at current rates by 2010. While this is a realistic goal for the next four years, the practical economic potential in the future is much higher still.

Provincial Contributions

To accomplish such broad reductions, we need a radical rethinking of energy policy at a provincial level. Energy decisions must be made through a transparent long-term integrated resource planning process which explicitly considers energy efficiency, load management and environmental and health costs in assessing the appropriate response to rising demand. Although conservation and efficiency are typically cheaper than new generation, participation by the public sector is needed to stimulate adoption of practices that benefit the public good. Real-cost pricing and public benefits charges on electricity similar to those in place in California and New York would accelerate the implementation of conservation measures and would be reflected in other related policies such as building codes, further encouraging conservation.

Public investment would be applied to agencies to advocate conservation and efficiency, provide assessments, set efficiency standards, offer rebates on energy efficient appliances, support housing retrofits and otherwise encourage demand reductions.

We need only look to California for an example of a region where one third of Californians cut their energy use by 20% in a short amount of time. Californians have maintained steady per capita electricity consumption for 30 years through commitment to energy conservation. The solutions are pragmatic, achievable, and necessary.

Building Efficiency Standards

The single greatest impact the Province can have on encouraging conservation is to strengthen energy efficiency standards in the building code or authorize the City to make these changes. Rather than spend time developing incremental improvements to the code, the simplest way of achieving dramatic improvements in efficiencies in new and renovated constructions is to adopt wholesale a standard such as the R-2000 standard or to choose a high Energuide for Houses rating as the building standard. Building to high standards of energy efficiency is economical. While R-2000 homes cost only 3-4% more to build, they reduce energy costs by 26%.

In addition to energy efficiency standards in the building code, summer cooling should also be addressed in construction standards to ease electricity demand in the summer. South and west elevations of large buildings should have reduced glazing or extended balconies, for example.

A Real “Culture of Conservation”

The McGuinty government has talked of creating a “culture of conservation.” The goal is laudable, and the language is correct. The shift in behaviour that is required can only be described as cultural. But there's much more that needs to be done to get there. The government should initiate a three stage plan to engage, advise, and support individuals and industries in their conservation efforts, with participation of public interest groups at every stage of the process to maintain transparency and accountability.

The first step is to engage people in the conservation effort and motivate them to take action. Accomplishing this will require a public education campaign. The cultural shift must come from the ground up, therefore the government must support grassroots organizations in their campaigns of public awareness.

Once people are engaged and motivated to take action, they'll need advice on what sort of action they should take. One way of providing this information is through energy audits. Existing organizations that provide audits are stretched to their limit. Additional government funding would allow them to increase the amount of homes they're able to visit, as well as lower the cost of those audits to make them more attractive.

Once the public is engaged in the conservation effort and has good advice about how to proceed, they'll need support in actually making the changes necessary. This final step must be made as easy as possible, in effect, “holding someone's hand as they change the light bulb.” Energy efficient products need to be easily accessible, and smart energy decisions need to be made obvious. One way to make those choices clear is through real-cost energy pricing.

Real-Cost Pricing

Government price regulation is decoupled from the wholesale energy market, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the costs rather than the consumer. A reasonable pricing policy should inform the decision-making of end-users.

When our office buildings are too cold in the summer and too hot in the winter, the price of energy is too low. When a restaurant on Queen Street can afford to air condition the sidewalk by leaving their windows open on a hot day, the price of energy is too low. And, most importantly, when the price of energy hides the many real costs that come with energy generation and consumption, that price is unrealistic and unsustainable.

The hidden costs of grey (as opposed to green) energy production are many — on health, on the environment, and on the economy — and never show up on a utility bill. The use of fossil fuels including natural gas, for example, contributes to respiratory illness which in turn contributes to expensive emergency room visits, low labour force participation and increased employee absenteeism. The costs of insuring nuclear plants are also hidden and large, but nothing compared to the still unsolved problem of what to do with nuclear waste.

Consumers want to make smart choices and purchase energy with low costs, not just a low price. Factoring real costs into the price of energy not only encourages conservation, it also demonstrates the economic superiority of green energy generation and conservation, as opposed to the uneconomical grey forms of generation.

Of course, it's also critical to ensure that people with lower incomes are not left unable to cover their essential energy needs. We should strive to reduce their energy bills rather than their energy rates. This can be achieved by financing weatherization programs for low-income users and housing providers.

Industrial Users

Currently, the Province gives the best energy deal to industry. Government energy subsidies to large industry encourage waste and inefficiency, and are therefore undesirable from not only an environmental and energy policy standpoint, but also from a business standpoint. Subsidizing consumption is the wrong method of attracting sustainable industry. This is the worst form of corporate welfare. The cap should be eliminated and subsidies reduced with that money to be redirected into strategic investments in conservation and efficiency in the industrial sector.

Toronto's Contributions

Under the current division of powers, there are limits to what Toronto alone can control. For example, Toronto Hydro Electrical System Limited cannot set electricity prices. Nonetheless, there are a number of achievable local goals that could make substantial reductions in our electricity use.

Simple energy efficiency measures in large downtown buildings can achieve savings of 170 MW.

Toronto Hydro can also work to convert flat-rate electric water heaters to dispatchable metered heaters and install submeters in all apartments, where a 20% reduction in electricity use can be achieved within two months of meter installation. The potential savings are 50 MW on electric heaters and 180 MW on metered apartments.

Cool Cities

Urban areas have average temperatures 8 degrees higher than the surrounding regions. To counter this Urban Heat Island Effect and to reduce our summer electricity demand, we need to begin a systematic program of building infrastructure with summer shading and cooling in mind. Reducing city temperatures has many incidental benefits. As every single degree Celsius increase in temperature results in a 5 percent increase in smog formation, cooling the ambient temperature has profound effects on air quality and health. Health and productivity also improve with reductions in rates of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The “Cool Cities” program described by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives aims at reducing summer electricity peaks by lighter-coloured paving and roofing, green roofs, and extensive tree planting. Planting trees will not immediately reduce electrical demand, but 3 mature trees around the average home reduce air conditioning demand by 25-40%, so tree planting today can have a dramatic impact on electrical demand in the summers of the future. The City of Toronto Act now under consideration would enable Toronto to insist on green roofs in new construction within the city. Green roofs have a number of environmental advantages but the most relevant one here is the significant cooling effect they have in summer. Toronto should follow the lead of Tokyo, which requires all new and renovated buildings over 10,000 square feet in size to cover at least 20% of their roofs in vegetation.

Geothermal Heating and Cooling

Geothermal heat pumps transfer heat and cold from the earth to maintain a comfortable environment year-round. They are economical today and prices are rapidly dropping. While installation costs are high, particularly in retrofits, this initial investment is recovered through reduced energy bills, which can be just over a dollar a day for an average sized home. In new construction, installation costs are reduced, so heat pumps should be the preferred heating and cooling option, reducing electrical demand in general and especially at summer peaks, while simultaneously replacing fossil fuels for home heating. Through aggressive promotion and favourable loans, we could target the installation of 10,000 residential heat pumps by 2010, for a reduction in electrical demand of 25 MW.

Total Contributions through Conservation

Through conservation and efficiency measures within the control of City Council, Toronto could reduce its average demand by 425 MW. With the cooperation of the Province, a realistic target of 900 MW peak reduction in the city could be achieved by 2010. Conservation alone eliminates the need for this power plant.

This document is part of a three-part Realistic Energy Plan for Toronto:
Conservation, Demand Shifting, and Cleaner Power.