Ottawa committee seeks stable city funding for climate projects

A City of Ottawa committee agreed to look into creating an "energy and emissions fund" on Tuesday after residents criticized a lack of stable funding for climate change projects.

Garbage fee and water bills also on the rise as environment committee debates 2022 budget

A few hundred people protested outside Ottawa City Hall in April 2019 to urge the city to declare a climate emergency, which councillors soon did. (Kate Porter/CBC)

A City of Ottawa committee agreed to look into creating an "energy and emissions fund" on Tuesday after residents criticized a lack of stable funding for climate change projects.

City council declared a climate emergency in 2019 followed by a climate change master plan and a long list of ways to hit the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

A local "energy evolution" to transition buildings and vehicles off fossil fuels could cost the huge sum of $31.8 billion in today's dollars, city staff previously estimated, but retrofits and efficiencies could start to offset that spending in a decade.

Despite their big analysis one year ago, the municipal budget only allocates a sliver of the dividend it receives from Hydro Ottawa toward climate change projects. In 2022, that represents just $800,000 for seven projects, which include identifying a handful of municipal solar power sites and electric vehicle charging stations.

Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard praised the hard-working, small group of city staff that works on climate files — there will soon be 10 staff members — as he proposed an extra $1 million in one-time funding for 2022. For the long term, Menard suggested taking savings, such as from converting traditional lighting to LED, and rolling them back into a new fund.

"We as a city need to move on this," said Menard of the energy evolution plan. "The only way we get the savings on the other end, is if we actually start to invest in it."

LRT construction just 'business as usual'

The standing committee on environmental protection, water and waste management approved Menard's motion, as it passed its 2022 draft budget. Councillors Allan Hubley and George Darouze dissented on the Menard motion, and the full budget still needs final council approval on Dec. 8.

City staff had pointed to city-run climate-related initiatives such as the construction of the second phase of light rail and plans to purchase 74 electric buses.

Angela Keller-Herzog of Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability dismissed light rail construction as an example of a project with the climate at top of mind, as it was launched before the declaration of a climate emergency.

She also pointed to how the city quickly found $60 million to pay for the central library's higher price tag, and said climate files should be treated as urgently.

Retired atmospheric scientist John D. Reid also called on the city to develop a separate budget to track its greenhouse gas emissions, insisting they should be watched as closely as dollars spent.

General manager Steve Willis said the city was poised to test out a carbon budget inside two departments when the pandemic hit. They will look to resume it next year.

Garbage fee up 11 per cent in 2022

The committee approved $617 million in operational spending and $298 million in capital projects for 2022 overall, because it covers many municipal mainstays, from supplying water to garbage and recycling pickup.

Several city councillors described how residents are concerned about water bill increases beyond the rate of inflation, and beyond the rate of property tax increases. For 2022, that increase is expected to reach an average of 4.2 per cent.

Deputy treasurer Isabel Jasmin explained that's part of a multi-year plan to catch up on paying for infrastructure upgrades.

The solid waste fee on the property tax bill is rising, too, but for a different reason. 

Homes with curbside pickup will see a $118 item on their 2022 bills, a $12 increase from 2021. The garbage fee for units in multi-unit residential buildings has climbed even more steeply in recent years. They will pay $77.50 in 2022. 

Committee chair Coun. Scott Moffatt explained those changes are directly tied to cost increases in contracts with waste collectors. The garbage fee also contains an extra $4 for single-family homes and $2 for multi-residential units to pay for landfill upgrades.