Provincial policies support thermal energy

July 25, 2016

Thermal energy is a growing theme in provincial land use policies.

I attended a workshop last week on two far-reaching provincial policy documents.  The two documents were Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) and  the review of the growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. That is to say, Ontario’s developing land use and climate policy framework was the focus of the day.

Both documents acknowledge the need for an integrated approach to energy management at the local level.  As a result, community energy planning is supported as a tool to achieve a smart energy communities.

The mainstreaming of climate and energy policies into local land use planning is promoted by both documents.  The goal is to promote “energy-efficiency and demand reductions and opportunities for alternative energy systems, including district energy systems”.  Indeed, the CCAP goes a step further by calling for the support of:

“… collaborative, community-based and data driven approaches to carbon reduction. This would include district-wide mapping that integrates gas, electricity, heating and cooling, water, transportation, waste consumption and building data into a single platform to enable district-wide decisions. Applications would include distributed generation opportunities, detailed emissions analysis, targeted conservation spending and improved benchmarking.”

I believe we will soon see the next level of community energy planning in Ontario – CEP 2.0.  There are several reasons.  The tool is becoming more sophisticated as local governments develop expertise.  The need for municipal leaders to step up will only become more evident.  As well, the ongoing disruption of our urban energy base will only pick up speed. Niche innovations in renewable and distributed energy are driving changes to the current regime. Like any good socioeconomic disruption, it is being met with some opposition but the many benefits of “going local” will prevail.

As a colleague notes:

“In another age it used to be fine – and bankable – to build power stations that used fossil fuels at very low efficiency to generate power for distribution over large distances to consumers. No more – innovation into renewable and ‘waste’ fuels, making use of local resources and using energy locally is the name of the innovation game.”

Access to good data will be key.  Consequently, the provincial government could accelerate the transition to low carbon communities  by “freeing the data”.  Local governments struggle to get the energy data they need from utilities for robust district mapping.  Several workshop participants emphasized this point.  So the provincial government could save communities considerable time and money if they collected and provided energy and emissions inventory data to all local governments. This would improve the quality of inventories and reporting  and allow local governments to direct limited resources towards implementation.  As a result, one suggestion was to legislate the release of energy data through amendments to the Planning Act.

The workshop was organized by the Ontario Climate Consortium (OCC) and the Clean Air Partnership (CAP).  The Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University hosted the event.