Renewable energy strategy could be toothless and delayed, advocates worry

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Final report originally due last fall now slated for later this year

By Kate Porter, CBC News

The City of Ottawa's strategy to shift toward wasting less energy and using more renewable power was due last fall, but now environmental advocates worry concrete steps won't be laid out and funding won't even flow until after the 2018 municipal election.

The renewable energy strategy was made a priority for this term of council back in 2015 and the final report was due to be delivered by late 2016, but has now been pushed back to the end of this year.

On Tuesday, a staff update at the city's environment committee meeting presented residents with a glimpse of what to expect when the "energy evolution" report lands this fall, but Ecology Ottawa foresees more studies, no specific recommendations to change policies and therefore, no budget.

"I'm really worried about this process, and I really hope I'm wrong," Ecology Ottawa executive director Graham Saul told councillors at the meeting

He fears as this four-year council term ends, the issue will be "punted" to after the next municipal election in 2018 and a new crew of councillors.

"There's no sense of urgency," agreed Angela Keller-Herzog, who has spent thousands of dollars to install solar panels on her bed and breakfast.

"As a small business owner, I've done my part and I want the city to do its part."

Delays due to staff reorganization, broad consultation

The delay is partly due to a big staff reorganization and layoffs, said Coun. David Chernushenko, who chairs the environment committee.

The employee who was leading the renewable energy file has been shifted to a different role.

The process is further complicated because the city has been collaborating and holding meetings with some 100 people from dozens of local organizations — from developers and energy companies to school boards and government departments.

For instance, the chief financial officer of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board attended Tuesday's meeting to praise the city for taking the lead

"This really had to be something that involved the city as a whole," said Chernushenko. "The City of Ottawa, the corporation, only consumes about 10 per cent of the energy and therefore emits about 10 per cent of the greenhouse gases of the city as a whole."

Chernushenko promised to push for the renewable energy report this fall to include as many specific recommendations as possible, and to argue that the plan receive money in the 2018 budget, "as tough a challenge as that's going to be."

$300,000 for eight pilot projects

In the meantime, the current 2017 city budget set aside $300,000 in one-time funding for eight "catalyst" pilot projects.

One will see the city spend $35,000 to test a technology that floods ice surfaces at arenas with water that is of ambient temperature, in a bid to eliminate the use of natural gas in the process.

The city will give a company called PrototypeD $22,000 to create off-the-grid "innovation pods" used to educate the public and entrepreneurs about sustainable energy and new technologies.

Ottawa Community Housing will receive the largest of the grants to help educate more than 200 residents in four of its social housing buildings about how much energy they use and how they can reduce that.

It plans to use the $70,000 grant to install real-time energy use meters in building lobbies, and provide residents with programmable thermostats and LED lights in their units.

"At the end of the day, they're the ones who have their finger on the button and they're the ones consuming in our bulk-metered buildings," said Dan Dicaire, an energy and sustainability officer at Ottawa Community Housing.