Strategy aims to have 80 per cent of Windsor homes retrofitted for energy-efficiency by 2041

With three months having passed since Windsor council declared a “climate emergency,” the question now is — what’s the city going to do about it?

On Wednesday, the city’s Environment, Transportation and Public Safety Standing Committee examined multiple reports, looking at strategies to find the answer to that question.

One outlined a strategy to reduce Windsor’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent from 2014 levels over the next two decades. The second looked at renovating homes throughout Windsor to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

Karina Richters, the city’s supervisor for environmental sustainability and climate change, said home retrofits are a key part of the plan, since the average Windsor home was built in 1955, about 20 years before things such as insulation were required.

“So we know that we have an inefficient building stock, especially in those homes that haven’t had any sort of retrofit,” she said, adding many homeowners in Windsor don’t have the capital to do a massive retrofit since “windows and doors are pretty expensive.”

Fabio Costante says the retrofit program would save money for both the city and homeowners in the long run. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Another reason more homeowners haven’t taken advantage of grants and incentives to make their properties more energy-efficient, Richters said, is that they don’t know if they will remain in their homes long enough to see a return on that investment.

“So one of the things we’re looking at is trying to set up a program that would eliminate those two hurdles to get people to actually be able to retrofit their home.”

Called the Deep Energy Retrofit Program, the strategy would see the city create an entity to administer the program. It would have standardized retrofit packages, which could reduce costs through volume pricing for materials and labour productivity.

It also means contractors would not need to prepare customized quotes. Property owners could then pay for the upgrades through a local improvement charge on their taxes.

“It’s not a tax increase, but it will be attached to the property much like a tax is,” standing committee member Fabio Costante said. “If you bought into this program and you were to sell your property, whatever is left owing on the retrofit will be the obligation of the purchaser of the property — much like property taxes would be.”

Costante added a number of questions were directed to Richters during Wednesday’s meeting about the city’s ability to create a separate entity which would operate this retrofit program.

“There were some questions on risk to the corporation of the City of Windsor and what kind of financial commitments the city would have to make,” said Costante.

According to Costante, only five per cent of homeowners in Windsor take advantage of special grants for retrofitting. The Deep Energy Retrofit Program would aim to have 80 per cent of city homes retrofitted by 2041. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

“But ultimately, it was seen as a net positive and the rewards that could come from it could in fact outweigh the risks involved.”

Richters believes if about 80 per cent of all homes were retrofitted, that would reduce about 235,000 tons in greenhouse gas emissions every year. 

According to Costante, only five per cent of homeowners in Windsor are currently “taking advantage of special grants for retrofitting.” The Deep Energy program calls for 80 per cent of homes to be retrofitted by 2041.

“When we look at saving on energy as individual homeowners and and as a community as a whole, this is one of those programs that could really move the needle,” said Costante.

One of Costante’s most emphatic points during Wednesday’s meeting, he said, is that the program would serve not just as a means to reduce the amount of energy the city uses — but that it also makes economic sense as well.

City of Windsor councillors declared a climate change emergency on Nov. 18, 2019, joining over 400 communities across Canada. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

“The payback that homeowners will receive and the cost savings that they’ll receive within a shorter period of time than originally anticipated is really important. Over the long run, they’re going to see great savings,” said Costante.

“The community as a whole is going to be producing less energy, which is great for the environment. So it’s a really good win on both sides, the environment and the economy.”

Coun. Kieran McKenzie, who also sits on the committee, says it’s the city’s moral duty to help people cut down on greenhouse gas emissions from their homes.

“I truly believe that we can’t afford to not make the investments that are being proposed here, and what we see in front of us is a road map to help us get to where we, as a community, need to be,” McKenzie said.

Richters is also recommending the city begin considering climate change risks in all future reports presented to council. She said the aim is to “bring an awareness” to the city of possible climate risks.

“We want people to consider, for example, if we’re building something, is it going to last the climate future?” she said.

“The marina, it was under water this year. So if we’re building another marina, let’s consider what those water levels are going to be like. Giving it a little bit of forethought, maybe we can reduce those risks in the future.”

Following a unanimous vote from all five committee members, the retrofit program will be presented to council in three weeks for final approval. Even if this strategy is completely successful, there would still be a 29 per cent gap to reach the city’s target, but Richters says she’s not worried about that.

“We need to start where we can and make headway, and I think once the public sees that it’s not necessary a change of the way they live, but just a rethought, I think that we’ll get more buy-in, more acceptance,”

Richters also expects technology to come along that will make greater gains.

“For electric cars, we have a target now 10 per cent, but that could easily go up to 30, 40, if we start getting trucks and SUVs on the road that are EV.”

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