GTA sitting on `gold mine'

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The GTA is one of the world's biggest "gold mines" in potential energy efficiency savings, says environmental guru Amory Lovins.

It could start taking advantage of this lucrative resource without waiting for support or action from the federal government, Lovins said yesterday before a presentation to the Toronto City Summit Alliance.

The city and surrounding 905 regions use electricity and other energy very inefficiently, and are too cautious about making improvements, he said. Progress on efficiency actually slipped during the 1990s and is only now showing signs of a comeback.

Improvement is essential to try to reduce climate change and to cut air pollution that creates smog, said Lovins, who has been developing and promoting energy efficiency for 30 years.

His super-insulated 3,700-square-foot home, built in 1983 on a mountainside near Denver, doesn't have a furnace, but it's warm enough to grow bananas. Its construction cost $1,100 (US) more than a conventional house, but his monthly electricity bill is about $7.

"Toronto is catching up," he said. "It's very encouraging to see the revival in efficiency efforts that largely collapsed in the '90s. There's strong leadership emerging."

Mayor David Miller's pledge to make Toronto the greenest city in North America is a promising and worthy ambition, and "there's plenty of talent here to do it."

"I would hope that with the kind of leadership that the mayor is showing we could see some much more ambitious efforts. All the ingredients are there, and I don't really care whether Ottawa plays or not. The real action is at the provincial and municipal level."

Higher energy prices aren't essential for change to occur, said Lovins.

Among the major steps he recommends:

Get rid of electric water heaters and home heating, "which are both grossly uneconomic," he said. "One of the most lucrative things would be bounty hunting" for these energy wasters, as well as electric stoves and clothes dryers. Electricity and natural gas distributors team up to replace those uses with gas or, in the case of water heating, gas and solar.

Developers who apply to build "green" projects should be moved to the head of the line for approvals. "That doesn't cost the government anything. Time is money to the developer, though. It's a good incentive," Lovins said.

Offer cash rewards to developers whose projects are very efficient. Instead of paying permit fees, they would get a rebate. Those with wasteful buildings would pay higher fees.

Reward home or building owners whose energy consumption is less than a pre-set, stringent standard. They would get the same payment for the energy they save as those who actually generate power. The system is used in New England, Lovins said. "You can sell the megawatts" that you save.

A typical Ontario office building uses 27 watts of electricity per square metre of floor space for lighting, he noted. That could be cut to less than three watts and produce a better, brighter working environment.

Let businesses claim investments in energy efficiency as an operating expense when they file their provincial corporate taxes. At present, they must treat them as capital costs that must be written off over several years. "If I run a business and pay for energy, I expense it," Lovins said. "Why shouldn't I expense the efficiency investment so it's a level playing field."

Boost taxes or fees on gas-guzzling vehicles and use the money to reward drivers who buy efficient models.

Interest in climate change and other environment issues is wide and deep, said Lovins, who helps companies become more efficient and uses some of the proceeds from those contracts to support the research and lobbying work of his Rocky Mountain Institute.

In the United States, the private sector and the public are leading the way and governments are only gradually catching up, he said.

"Politicians commonly suppose that climate protection is costly and they argue about who makes the sacrifices and bears the burdens. Actually, climate protection is profitable, so those who understand that race for the profits, jobs and competitive advantage before their competitors get there."


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