E&E March meeting; how are other cities dealing with home heating retrofits?

The meeting began with an invited speaker, Chris Higgins, who is Senior Green Building Planner for the City of Vancouver. He discussed Vancouver’s low-rise residential building projects, which makes up 60% of Vancouver’s zoning. The committee was interested in how Vancouver is eliminating fossil fuels from both new builds and existing buildings. There was a lot of interest in Vancouver’s “floor area bonus,” which allows a slightly bigger building footprint for developers who construct fossil free low-rise buildings. The bonuses are 15 – 18%, and they are a persuasive tool, with no cost to the City.

Vancouver also has cash incentive programmes. Mr Higgins gave the example of the Near Zero programme, which offers up to $25,000 per participant, the Heritage Energy Retrofit Grant, with awards between $4,500 – $14,000 on work done on pre-1940’s homes, and a provincial/BC Hydro rebate for moving from fossil fueled heating to an electric heat pump (with a contribution from the City, this rebate can be as much as $11,000).

Although this was not mentioned at the meeting, homeowners may also be eligible for up to $5,000 in additional rebates from the federal government’s Canada Greener Homes Grant. (Registration and a home evaluation required).

City officials are now pressing developers who wish to rezone to build to a higher standard. Their research shows that the increase in costs is modest. Mr. Higgins reported a positive reception from developpers, and he believes they are encouraged by the City setting an example in fire halls, day care centres, and other City buildings.

In May the City of Vancouver will consider a proposal requiring all homes over 3,000 square feet to switch from fossil fuels by January 1, 2024.

The committee showed a lot of interest in the presentation. There was concern over the possibility that incentives may be accompanied by an escalation in price. Members seemed impressed by Higgins’ description of the “Builder’s Breakfast,” a good way to open dialogue with developers and get them on board.

One problem for Stratford is that, unlike Vancouver, we have to deal with appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal, which all to often rules in favour of the developer. This can derail efforts by Council to encourage developers to be more environmentally conscious. Ontario’s recent decision to rely on the much weaker federal building code may also make matters worse.

Councillor Burbach expressed interest in allowing a zone change as an incentive, rather than fiscal incentives.