Why 100% Renewables is right for Guelph

This week, Council voted unanimously (13-0) to strive towards meeting 100% of its energy needs using renewable sources by 2050.  It’s bold, it’s aspirational, and it’s doable.  This decision was set in motion through the great work of the Our Energy Guelph (OEG) Taskforce, a group of energy experts tasked with updating our award-winning Community Energy Initiative.  After 15 months of research and public consultation, the OEG recommended that we strive for “net zero” as a community. This includes our stakeholders: residents, business, institutions, and industries.

We – the Corporation of the City of Guelph – chose to go one step better by pledging towards 100% Renewables.  We will lead by example.


There will be those who say “that’s too much” or “what’s the cost?”  During the debate on this issue, one of the questions that circled around was “how can we set a goal without knowing how we will achieve it, or how much it will cost?”

But that’s the point of setting an aspirational goal.  We’ve done it before, with great success.  Over a decade ago we set an ambitious and bold goal “to have the lowest water use per capita than any other municipality in Canada”.  We set that goal because, as a fast-growing groundwater dependent community, we knew that our water supply would limit our quality of life and would inevitably lead to spending billions of dollars on a pipeline to Lake Erie.  When we set the goal, we didn’t know exactly how it would be achieved.  We knew that conservation, new infrastructure and new supply would be part of the solution.  We were successful — Guelph uses less water today than it did a decade ago, including new growth!  Today, we are at the same crossroads.

Today, the alternative energy economy is transforming rapidly.  The need for action on climate change mitigation is critical.  Our soon-to-be hydro utility Alectra Utilities is already talking about energy conservation and new supply generation, and they will be locating their new Green Research and Energy Technology Centre (GR&T) here in Guelph to test new innovations that will move us towards a 100% Renewables future.

The 100% Renewables movement has been embraced by over 1,000 communities worldwide and growing.  http://www.go100percent.org

Guelph is seen as an environmental leader.  The 100% Renewables pledge continues that legacy, but also moves us forward.  Being a 100% Renewables city also poises us for economic development opportunities.  We collectively spend over $500 million per year in energy costs that leave out community.  With renewables, the jobs and energy revenue stay right here.   By planning now for a future of 100% renewables, we can spend your tax dollars on infrastructure that will stand the test of time and keep us resilient when the effects of climate change mount.

The year 2050 is 32 years away.  Think back to where technology was 32 years ago.  The pace at which our world is changing is mind-boggling.  And inspiring.  One of the delegates at Council who came to speak about the 100% Renewables pledge —  Evan Ferrari of Emerge Guelph — has worked in the energy field for three decades.  In his words, “I have never been more hopeful for the future of the environment than now.”


Dam Thoughts

Recently, an article in the Guelph Mercury highlighted the conflicting community opinion on the future of the Wellington Street dam. While the debate may be years away — as there is no immediate need for a large capital investment in repairs — it is still a subject that is of high interest to those who care deeply about our river systems.

On one hand, the health of cold water fish habitat would be improved by removing the dam and letting the river run its natural course throughout the year. On the other hand, the stretch of river between the Boathouse and the dam is a highly-valued and well-used recreational ammenity for canoeists and enhances the aesthetic for park users. All sorts of other complicating factors also add to the mix — the proliferation of geese, removal of channelization walls, etc.

It will be a lively debate. Historically, the river has not been the same since 1828 when the first mill pond and dam were created to power the Canada Company mill (later the Allans Mill, and most recently the Woods site at Arthur Street). Clearcutting, industry and five more mills (Speedvale, Goldie, Victoria, Gows and Fergusson) later polluted and damaged the river health.

The naturalization efforts along the riverbanks in the last 20 years has significantly improved water quality and wildlife habitat. These efforts must continue.

The best solutions are often compromises. Is there a way to retain the dam and the human enjoyment of the river corridor, and still achieve a by-pass for cold water fish habitat to thrive? I was recently assured by experts that a by-pass channel can achieve a win-win for all.


River Rant

There’s been quite a flash flood of emails over the last few days about Official Plan Amendment 48 (OPA 48) and a claim that the document ignores how much we value our river systems.

Nothing could be further from the truth! From my perch, there is no Council in recent history that values the rivers as much as the current one!

Let’s have a look at the facts:

An Official Plan is comprised of many parts, all working together to  form one integrated plan.

Everytime something changes in an official plan, it is called an Offical Plan Amendment (OPA).

OPA 48 is just one of a series of amendments made in the past few years. Yes, it is true that OPA 48 removes many previous references to our river systems. But that’s because an earlier amendment (OPA 42, passed by Council in July 2010) is a far stronger and more comprehensive document — called the Natural Heritag Strategy — and it’s ALL in there and more.

OPA 42 not only contains significant protection for river systems, but it also treats whole environmental systems in context — ie. valley lands, grades, moraines, vegetation — which is a much more progressive approach to environmental protection, including rivers.

I’ll be honest, I am not sure where the campaign to reinstate the Rivers System language back into OPA 48 is coming from, but to do so would be redundant. If it is deeply embedded and enhanced in OPA 42, why repeat the same material in OPA 48? Yes, OPA 42 is under appeal to the OMB right now, but it seems to me that the if we include the same language in OPA 48, we run the risk of having OPA 48 being appealed to the OMB as well. This would stagnate the whole Official Plan and we need to move forward. The major points of contention at the OMB are not related to the river systems language, and all protections in the current OP remain in force until OPA 42 is settled.

For more info on what is included in both OPA 42 and OPA 48, here is the link:

Consultation on OPA 42 and OPA 48 was extensive, including the involvement of the Rivers Systems Advisory Committee.

So where do I stand on the primacy of our rivers? Let me tell you a bit about my relationship with the Speed and Eramosa. Most of my formative years were spent on the banks of the Eramosa River in Puslinch Township. We swam, fished and ice-skated (yes, on the Arkell Woolen Mill pond) in the river. I now live one block from the banks of the Speed and walk its bank several times a week. No one values our two rivers more than I…I was recently asked (and accepted) an invitation to speak about the heritage of our rivers at the Two Rivers Festival.

I believe our rivers — and their connected systems — are well proteced in OPA 42.


Thoughts on Water

From today’s Mercury (with my comments below):

Council approves 10 per cent water rate
February 01, 2011

Drew Halfnight, Mercury staff

GUELPH — Council approved a 10 per cent increase to city water rates Monday evening, the second of four projected consecutive annual increases at that rate.

The vote came at the end of an occasionally tense, two-hour meeting, as Janet Laird, the city’s executive director of planning, engineering and environmental services, fielded questions from councillors about the 2011 water and waste water budgets worth a combined $456 million.

Coun. Gloria Kovach presented a motion to exclude two new staff positions from the budget. After her motion was voted down, Coun. Bob Bell chimed in with an amendment to have a different new staff position excluded.

When challenged by Maggie Laidlaw, who spoke in favour of the new hires, Bell answered he felt most people would find the rate increase “a little high.”

“I think we’re leading the pack with the 10 per cent increase,” he said, adding: “I only see a couple of places to trim.”

When pressed on the new staff positions added to this year’s budget, Laird raised the spectre of delayed inspections, overtime costs and the endangerment of the water supply.

Bell’s amendment was also voted down.

From March 31, increases to both water and waste water rates will add $71 to the average household’s hydro bill for a total of $781. By 2013, when the projected schedule of increases is finished, that number could reach $944, nearly twice what residents paid in 2005.

During her presentation, Laird showed a chart comparing the cost of water in different, comparably sized Ontario cities. Guelph was in the middle of the pack.

Laird defended the rate hikes, which she said would help the city meet provincial environmental standards, offsetting the continuing decline in water use and growing capital reserves to address looming infrastructure deficits.

One reason rates are rising, she added, is that water consumption is falling in Guelph even as the population increases.

Coun. Leanne Piper pointed out this presents a catch-22 where “when we conserve, we end up paying more,” to which Laird replied: “Yes, there’s a trade-off there for sure.”

Piper also aired concerns that Nestlé, which owns a permit to access groundwater south of the city, was somehow driving up costs for residents in Guelph. Laird said: “At this point in time, their drawdown is not affecting our wells,” though she did not provide specifics.

There has been little public outcry over the increases in Guelph since they were revealed last week.

By contrast, city council in North Bay, Ont., convened a public meeting this week after a six per cent water rate hike was proposed there. In St. Catharines last year, councillors staged a protest when faced with a 16 per cent regional hike.

Daphne Wainman Wood, president of the Old University Neighbourhood Association, said the organization was not taking a stand on the issue. “It’s not within our purview,” she said. “We actually have terms of reference, and it doesn’t fall within our terms of reference.”

Local water activist Norah Chaloner said modest rate increases for such a valuable resource are “inevitable.”

“As long as the rate hike is modest, and is going to go back into publicly delivered water. I think we’re going to have to support that,” she said, adding “those with the least” should be spared higher rates.



In asking the question during the debate about bulk water taking permits (Nestle) — I already knew the answer.    I was in fact, attempting to refute the commonly held misconception that bulk water users are driving up residential rates by “not paying their fair share”.    I have heard this comment many times from constituents, and wanted to set the record straight.

Nestle does not draw from the same well aquifer (they draw from the Mill Creek acquifer).   In addition, it should be noted that other bulk water users within Guelph (industry) do pay their fair share of water rates, by the cubic metre, just like everyone else.

Re: Water Rates.  Conservation is still the answer to lower bills.  Residential users pay by the cubic metre and rates are set per cubic metre.  Although fixed costs are included in the rates, and fixed costs are going up, there are still savings to be had.  For more information on how to lower your water consumption, and thereby lower your water and wastewater bills…

Check out the City’s Water Conservation program at:  http://guelph.ca/living.cfm?subCatID=1762&smocid=2338


Living Sustainably in the City

This article from the weekend Guelph Mercury is a good opportunity to talk about how city dwellers can live more sustainably within the urban environment.


Obviously, city residents can’t live off of the land to the degree that Arlene Slocombe is doing, but there are ways that the City is encouraging us to move in that direction — through the Community Energy Initiative and Water Conservation Strategy — with stated targets such as “lowest energy use per capita than comparable Canadian municipalities” and increasing locally-produced clean energy (solar, co-gen, etc.)

Here’s a sampling of initiatives already underway:

  • rainwater collection incentives
  • urban farming / community gardens
  • solar installations / green roof buildings
  • pollinator park
  • increased tree canopy targets
  • adding bicycle lanes
  • improvements to public transit
  • by-law allowing backyard chicken coops
  • district heating and cooling precincts

Any more ideas?  Share them here…

One idea I heard recently was to add canoe docking facilities along the two rivers, so that residents can paddle to work and/or school.  I like it!