The Village Green

A blog about how Canadians can achieve energy independence by powering down and then powering up the right way.

One of the misconceptions that has had a lot of legs but which has started to shatter of late is the idea that the green economy – energy efficiency, renewable energy, organic agriculture, the local living economy movement  – is “too expensive”.   

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  The problem is that massive pricing distortions have created conditions at a structural level under which the polluting economy – the grey economy – is priced in such a manner as to be artificially cheap.

We know about the direct subsidies for the grey economy: billions of dollars a year in direct funding to the fossil fuel industry; hundreds of millions of dollars for muscle cars in Ontario; nuclear plants that perform at 1/3rd levels of operational downtime.  Then there’s the indirect subsidies that are vastly greater:  pollution; smog; climate change; pervasive poverty; the clear-cutting of old growth forests; the destruction of water-sheds.  

What’s encouraging is that people are starting to get it and they are getting it real quick.  

This constitutes a sea-change in collective consciousness and it’s one that business and industry once again finds itself attempting to play catch-up on.  (You’ll note that I left out government.  The problems regarding the lack of innovation in Canada fall directly at the feet of industry, not government). 

Over the past several months my business partner and I have been planning out a total energy retrofit of a non-profit housing property in Toronto’s east end.  A complete efficiency overhaul is required in order for this circa-1985 property, designed as low-cost housing and operated privately by the Riverdale Housing Action Group, to continue delivering on its affordable housing mandate. 

In the coming months, we’ll be undertaking a retrofit plan with this modest property that will:  

  • Replace electric baseboard heating and window mounted air conditioning units with geothermal heating and cooling

  • Enhance building envelope performance with new insulation, doors and windows 

  • Integrate energy recycling systems such as grey water heat recapture and energy recovery ventilators that both pre-condition and enhance indoor air quality 

  • Integrate a thermal storage system that will enable the building to benefit from time of day electricity pricing 

  • Capture rainwater on-site for use in the property’s vegetable garden

  • Verify carbon offset credits which can be sold, resulting in future revenue for the organization 

It turns out that funding by the City of Toronto is making this project happen.  However, the client was committed to this project regardless.  Simply put, the operational cost reductions would have been self-funding; the cost of borrowing and the depletion of the organization’s capital fund would have been met by energy cost reductions.   Put another way, if you can get a 17% ROI on a project and you can borrow money at 7%, the project becomes self-funding and enables cost shifting from operating to capital budgets.  

Such self-funding projects are among us in the countless thousands – from lighting upgrades to solar heating systems for pools and apartment buildings to geothermal retrofits to the complete re-skinning of buildings.  

If non-profit housing providers understand that operational cost reductions better enable them to deliver on their core mission and that such undertakings are self-funding, Canadian industry has run out of excuses for beginning the massive efficiency project it needs in order to ensure its strategic survival – never-mind our survival as a species – in the 21st century.