Councillors vote down Energy Efficiency working group

by Avery Zingel - July 31, 2018

The city of Yellowknife is facing delays in its building bylaw review that could see years-long delays before any energy efficiency standard is brought into force again.

During last week’s municipal services council, Coun. Julian Morse proposed a working group to examine energy efficiency standards modelled after the new Natural Resources Canada gigajoule rating system, after councillors voted to scrap the old Energuide 80 standard from city bylaw.

The city is preparing information for people at different stages of home building, said Nalini Naidoo director of planning and development. NNSL file photo

“I believe its important for us to have an energy efficiency standard in place so this will set us on the path to getting a new one in place as quickly as possible,” he said.

The city needs regulatory consistency for builders, said Morse.

“Certainly many people had built their homes to a certain standard and I want to ensure that people who are planning to build their homes will have a standard in place that they can rely on,” he said.

Coun. Shauna Morgan and Mayor Mark Heyck voted in favour of the motion, with the remainder of council opposed.

Coun. Adrian Bell, voiced his support for the motion, though he could not vote while chairing the meeting.

City administrators said that although the building bylaw is due for overhaul, the city has to coordinate with the GNWT on key questions of jurisdiction and regulatory power, said senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett.

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“We have been coming up against this wall against the regulatory framework. I’m a little bit nervous, or concerned, that this could be a long-term project,” she said.

Coun. Rebecca Alty asked administration to get council’s direction in light of the delays, but said she would not support a committee on energy guidelines.

The city has staffing challenges in its planning department, limiting the amount of work the department can take on, said Nalini Naidoo, director of planning and development in an interview with Yellowknifer.

“There is nothing at the territorial level to say what a community needs to do in their building bylaw,” said Naidoo, adding that overlap between the fire marshall and building inspection division adds confusion.

Any future legislation should address enforcement issues, said Naidoo.

“We need to have a better package for people, stronger words around enforcement or incentives or reduction in permit fees if you would achieve a certain rating,” she said.

The city is preparing information for people at different stages of home building, said Naidoo.

The last time council amended the building bylaw, it was achieved through a working group similar the the motion proposed by Morse, said Heyck.

Any recommendation and implementation would have seen a grace period, but delays on the building bylaw review could spell an additional two-year wait for a new standard, said Heyck.

“We could be looking at a year, two years potentially before anything is back before next council in terms of the comprehensive review of the building bylaw,” said Heyck.

Morgan supported Morse’s motion “for the sake of fairness” for builders who built in line with energy efficiency rules.

“Especially if we are facing significant delays in the overall review of our bylaw, I’m concerned that the gap in having no meaningful energy efficiency standards, … that the gap will drag on and on as we get tied up in complications with the overall building bylaw,” said Morgan.

The city should close the gap on energy efficiency standards as soon as possible for developers that have been required to build to the standard over the last eight years, said Morgan.

“As long as this gap drags on, it just creates unfairness between those who are taking advantage of this gap … and those who have been working hard in the past and will work hard in the future to improve energy efficiency,” she said.

Coun. Adrian Bell stated his support for the motion and said he would have sought a cost-of-living perspective in the working group, including stakeholders from multi-family and social housing.

Bell was in favour of scrapping EGNH80 but said the city of Yellowknife could turn to models like those used by the city of Whitehorse which follows the national building code and adds restrictions.

“Personally, I’m concerned about the cost of multi-family construction and the impact that EGNH-80 may have had on rental rates in this city,” he said.“This is our opportunity now to evaluate those unintended consequences and get it right,” said Bell.

The building bylaw is interconnected and should be looked at holistically, said Coun. Niels Konge, who voted down the motion, stating that stakeholder working groups could delay the review even further.

“I think we should let administration continue down this path they said they would do,” he said.

A working group would not “throw a huge wrench” in the building bylaw review, because administration has discretion, said Morgan.

“I don’t think we need to be overly worried this will become this huge onerous process,” she said.