New Hampshire Town and City
Toronto’s Renewable Energy Solutions Concord and Nashua Participate in Cross-Border Exchange
New Hampshire Town and City, October 2006
By Jennifer Schroeder
There has been increased attention recently to the roles local communities can play in the effort to halt global warming. From a big-picture, public benefit point of view, urban planning, community ordinances and public-private partnerships can help create a new energy future and protect air quality—and these are vital roles. Yet from a pragmatic, paying-the-bills and-keeping-the-lights-on/buses-running/snowplows-moving perspective, energy costs and even energy capacity and infrastructure are increasingly sticky issues for local government. Officials from two Granite State cities, Concord and Nashua, recently had the opportunity to learn more about—and witness firsthand—energy alternatives and local leadership on curbing global warming.
It’s one thing to hear about “global warming solutions"—it’s quite another to understand what those solutions might look like in your community, how to get started, and how these solutions improve the community and its bottom line. Nashua city planner Angela Vincent and Concord Community Development Director Roger Hawk were part of a U.S. delegation of municipal representatives who traveled to Toronto’s 6th annual “Smog Summit" in June. They participated with five other Northeast cities (Boston, New York City, Portland, Montpelier and Pittsburg) in a cross-border knowledge exchange hosted by Clean Air-Cool Planet, a nonprofit organization helping communities, businesses and campuses reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The three-day tour was packed with firsthand, working examples of innovative energy systems along with illustrations of partnerships and processes that make the systems work. Toronto is a prime demonstration ground because the Canadian city has managed to aggressively pursue greenhouse gas reductions (greenhouses gases are the heat-trapping pollutants that result from the burning of fossil fuels and contribute to human-induced global warming) while also securing additional energy supplies that fit with the city’s short-term needs and long-range vision of planning.
Angela Vincent, a city planner from Nashua stated, “Being in a non-attainment zone that includes the Boston metro area is affecting Nashua’s air quality. This program will work to offset that by choosing palatable options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing energy efficiency and ultimately, best of all, saving money on energy costs. We see this as a win-win-win situation for city government, citizens and the business community. We are looking forward to this program getting very big, very soon!"
Hawke, Vincent and the group first heard presentations from municipal officials about Toronto’s overall energy picture. Toronto is working hard to address what is projected to be an energy supply shortage within five to seven years without the addition of substantial new sources. The city is focusing first on conservation and then on distributed generation options to avoid the logistical nightmare of siting a very large fossil fuel plant in the greater Toronto area. Having received this contextual information, the U.S city representatives then got up close and personal tours of Toronto’s wind turbine—the first urban wind turbine in North America—as well as a hydrogen refueling station servicing several municipal hydrogen vehicles and an innovative “district cooling plant."
The wind turbine is a prominent feature on the drive along the downtown Toronto lake shore, sited on the grounds of Exhibition Place, a large and historic public park on the Lake Ontario waterfront. The turbine serves not only as a working energy generator but also as an educational exhibit for which there is completely open public access. It was erected in 2002 in a partnership between a local utility (Toronto Hydro) and a citizen’s cooperative. The emissions free turbine produces enough energy to power 250 households. The annual greenhouse gas reductions associated with the turbine are 1,180 a year. Hawk and Vincent learned from Toronto officials that the wind turbine is silent; is less lethal to birds than the high-rise buildings scattered throughout the downtown area (hundreds of bird killed per year, versus one documented dead bird for the wind turbine); and has never posed any problems with ice.
On the same site as the turbine is the hydrogen refueling station, built as a test station and now serving fleet vehicles for the city. Plans are to introduce more hydrogen fleet vehicles. Another innovative project, a district heating and cooling plant that pulls cold water from deep in Lake Ontario, is serving the needs of downtown Toronto’s business district, providing emissions-free heating and cooling at a fixed cost for business and commercial customers. The deep-water cooling plant was funded largely by a group of private investors already seeing higher-than-projected returns from the very large (and very capital intensive) initiative.
The value in getting up-close-and-personal looks at these projects was not just in offering models of specific technologies, but in providing insight into the creative problem-solving processes and collaborative partnerships that allowed them to happen. One such example, vital in moving projects like the wind turbine and district cooling station forward, is the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF). Hawke, Vincent and the others got an inside view into this mechanism from TAF Executive Director Phil Jessup. The fund offers low-interest loans to finance capital projects that will lead to greenhouse gas reductions. The loans are then repaid from efficiency-related cost savings or other project revenues. This has proved to be a very effective investment mechanism for the City of Toronto, and projects funded by the TAF have resulted in cumulative greenhouse gas reductions of 225,000 tons and saved the city over $2.7 million annually in energy and maintenance costs.
Another example of an effective facilitation and management measure is the Clean Air Partnership, a regional group with representatives from communities across the greater Toronto area who work together on developing region-wide policies and programs to fight air pollution. The Clean Air Partnership organizes the Toronto Smog Summit every year, providing a forum for informational presentations on best practices. Hawke, Vincent and the rest of the Clean Air-Cool Planet (CA-CP) cross-border contingent took part in the summit, where CA-CP presented some of its successes with US cities, and Canadian officials shared successful projects in their communities as well. Examples presented at the summit of initiatives that achieved greenhouse gas reductions, cost savings and more livable communities included LED traffic light switchouts; building retrofits; recycling; fuel switching; public transit projects; hybrid and alternative-fuel fleets; and residential and commercial public education programs targeting energy efficiency.
One of the most useful aspects of the CA-CP cross-border exchange was that it offered an opportunity for Vincent and Hawke to network and socialize informally with professionals from other Northeast communities also taking part in the trip.
“Clean Air-Cool Planet’s role," explains Koehler, “is to facilitate leadership, and to convene people so the leaders and champions who’ve learned about this—sometimes the hard way —can help mentor others. Whether it’s [Portland Solid Waste Director] Troy Moon sharing his city’s plans for developing a climate action plan or [Pittsburg businesswoman and Green Building Partnership president] Rebecca Flores explaining green building work, resources are being leveraged. Intellectual capital is being leveraged. And that’s something a local government can always benefit from."
As vice-president of the New Hampshire Planner’s Association and former city planner for the City of Keene, Koehler has some firsthand experience of the needs of local governments. Keene has been a leader in climate protection initiatives by completing a long-term climate action plan and implementing many of the recommendations. Keene has switched the entire public fleet to biodiesel, captures methane from the recycling center to generate power, and installed a geothermal pump in the public works building. The city also administers many public education campaigns including an aggressive anti-idle program. The city found that these changes were good not only from an environmental perspective but for its bottom line, resulting in less equipment failure, fewer employee health problems, and more reliable power supplies at fixed costs. Koehler now works to share these Keene success stories as well as CA-CP’s additional successes in other Northeast communities, with local government staff and officials who can use the information day-to-day to steer their communities toward a lower global warming “footprint."
Koehler, along with Steve Whitman from Jeffrey Taylor and Associates, recently presented a session at the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association (NNECAPA) conference that was held in September on different projects communities have implemented in order to address climate change at the local level. “Communities are increasingly feeling the impacts of a changing climate," explains Koehler, “and those communities play vital roles in solving this problem because so many decisions determining individual and collective energy options are made at the local level."
Concord’s Roger Hawke puts it this way. “Good government means we have to act to reduce our climate change footprint, diversify our energy supply, and make our community more sustainable—economically and ecologically. Seeing and hearing what our peers our doing is exciting and it moves us closer to understanding how we can meet these needs ourselves."
Jennifer Schroeder is Program Officer for Clean Air-Cool Planet.