Councillors approve energy plan that puts Edmonton on the road to a net-zero future

The City of Edmonton is moving toward being a low-carbon municipality within 30 years, and is adopting an energy transition strategy now to help get it there. 

Plan tackles high emissions in transportation, manufacturing, construction industries

Some homes built in the Blatchford neighbourhood are based on net-zero standards. (City of Edmonton)

The City of Edmonton is moving toward being a low-carbon municipality within 30 years, and is adopting an energy transition strategy now to help get it there. 

Council's executive committee agreed Monday that council as a whole should approve the Community Energy Transition Strategy at a meeting next week. 

The plan aligns with goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to keep the global temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees above average, and to become carbon neutral by 2050. 

The strategy would expand on current investments like the district energy system in the Blatchford neighbourhood, along with an electric vehicle charging infrastructure, more electric buses and LRT, and energy efficiency standards for new buildings. 

The energy initiatives are estimated to cost Edmonton $100 million a year, plus capital costs for new city buildings starting in the 2023-2026 budget cycle.

The city would also need consistent investment totalling about $2.4 billion a year from the federal and provincial governments and the private sector. 

Mayor Don Iveson said the city needs to set incentives and regulations while it's developing renewable energy industries. 

"That's going to unlock hundreds of thousands of jobs answering these challenges and achieving carbon neutrality — a balanced carbon budget if you will — by 2050." 

Edmonton is in a challenging position as GHG emissions have increased over the past decade. The city has one of the highest per capita emissions levels in the world at 18 tonnes per person. 

Four major sources contribute to GHG emissions in Edmonton: transportation (31 per cent of total emissions); manufacturing, industry and construction (27 per cent); commercial and institutional buildings (20 per cent) and residential buildings (18 per cent). 

Boost retrofits

The committee heard from 20 people at the meeting, including representatives from the city's Energy Transition Climate Resilience Committee. 

One member, Shafraaz Kaba, encouraged council and administration to adopt any measures that will quickly advance the goal of zero emissions by 2050. 

"We underline that every decision city council makes has to be a carbon decision," Kaba told the committee. "The time is now to make this happen." 

The city's strategy would incorporate stricter regulations when constructing new homes and buildings, which could mean changes in zoning bylaws and codes. 

Chandra Tomaras, program manager of the City Environmental Strategies department, said right now only seven per cent of renovation permits are related to energy retrofits. 

That needs to be 10 times higher to reach the city's goals, she said.

"We need 10, 12, 13,000 homes a year being renovated for energy efficiency," Tomaras said. 

Tomaras said one of the important steps in the plan requires partnerships and advice from industry to emission-neutral buildings.

Coun. Ben Henderson is calling for net-zero building standards to be adopted sooner rather than later.

Some things, like replacing furnaces, are easier to retrofit but the structure of a building is not, Henderson suggested. 

"That's the bit that I'm worried about, that we are just building ourselves another set of neighbourhoods that are going to be our nightmare 10 years from now," Henderson said. 

"I would love us to get there as fast as we possibly can." 

Stephanie McCabe, manager of the urban form and corporate strategic development branch, said the city will continue to work with industry on establishing net-zero building standards and bring in regulations while watching the affordability of new housing.