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Council removes energy standards in 4-3 vote

Council voted 4-3 on Monday to remove EnerGuide rules from city bylaw, leaving no minimum energy efficiency standards and an indeterminate date for any replacement.

Avery Zingel/NNSL Photo
A full house was present during Monday's council meeting for a vote to remove energy guidelines from city bylaw.

Mayor Mark Heyck, councillors Linda Bussey and Julian Morse opposed removing the guidelines while councillors Niels Konge, Rebecca Alty, Rommel Silverio, and Steve Payne voted to axe EnerGuide.

For several months, the bylaw has been a divisive topic at council and numerous advocates including Ecology North, Alternatives North and energy evaluator Arctic Energy Alliance have voiced that the guidelines were in no urgent need of removal and could be supported until Dec. 31, 2019.

After the bylaw was cut, Morse stated he would bring forward a motion to direct administration to draft terms of reference and establish a committee for a new energy efficiency standard for home building in Yellowknife.

“I've heard from numerous residents on this issue, and not a single one of them, not one person I've heard from, has supported removing this wording from the bylaw,” said Morse.

“If I had heard 50 per cent yes, and 50 per cent no this would be a much more difficult decision. That speaks loud and clear that Yellowknifers support the standard and want to keep it in place.”

Heyck read a statement from Coun. Shauna Morgan who was out on the land in Gameti during the final vote, which stated the city should implement an enforceable and incentivized regulatory approach.

“We recognize that a minimum energy efficiency standard without adequate enforcement may motivate some developers to build better homes, but ultimately it creates frustration and resentment in the building industry,” said Morgan in her statement.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) shifted from its EnerGuide (EGNH-80) rating system to a new system that measures energy efficiency of a home with gigajoules.

EGNH-80's inefficiencies “do not mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said.

The argument that EGNH-80 software will be phased out is moot, said Morgan.

A working group providing a recommendation by Sept 30 is doable, said Morgan, adding that dropping the standard “creates even more unfairness” by pitting green builders of the past and future against builders who may take advantage of the gap at the expense of residents' heating bills.

Alty stated her skepticism that a new guideline could be produced by Sept. 30 and that a future council would likely be deliberating over a new guideline.

Few answers on previous admin's EnerGuide work, says city

City administrators could not answer questions from councillors about why the motion to remove the guidelines was done on a tight timeline.

The city scrambled to adapt to the new guidelines and first became aware in 2015 that EnerGuide would be phased out.

Coun. Linda Bussey pointed a question at administration about why the guidelines were not discussed almost three years ago.

“Why did it take us so long to do it in the first place? That’s a great question,” said Nalini Naidoo, the city's director of planning and development, adding that many people in the department had only worked with the city for 11 months.

Morse stated during the earlier municipal services council meeting that EnerGuide should have been on the table “in 2015, not 2018.”

There was a full house at city hall for the vote on whether to remove EnerGuide rules from bylaw.

Alternatives North member Andrew Robinson urged them to hold off on gutting EGNH-80 and consult with the building community.

“We don't normally talk that much about what's happening at the city, generally because you're doing a good job. But this thing did catch Alternatives North's attention,” said Robinson.

Proponents of keeping EnerGuide argued that despite its flaws, the program resulted in some homes in Yellowknife being built to higher energy efficiency standards.

Internal city memo shows low compliance rates

From year to year, compliance fluctuated greatly, according to numbers privately circulated from administration to council. Those numbers were used to show lax enforceability.

The memo shows that the number of homes built in Yellowknife that comply with EGNH-80 range from 14 per cent in 2018 to 84 per cent in 2014.

At Monday's council meeting, Bell suggested the EnerGuide rules were creating problems of affordability for residents.

Mayor Heyck disagreed, stating that energy efficiency contributes to resale value of a home, and energy savings long term.

The savings for low-income residents likely to buy single-wide factory dwellings are “phenomenal,” said Heyck.

Affordability and energy efficiency can go hand in hand, said William Gagnon, green buildings and environmental advocacy specialist for Ecology North in a tweet.

Recycling carbon pricing revenue could allow for more affordable housing, said Gagnon.

The mayor has spoken across Canada about energy efficiency projects, and there is interest from other communities in attacking energy efficiency from a regulatory standpoint.

"I’m saddened to potentially say that I'll be speaking at a conference here on Thursday about energy efficiency and I might have to inform the audience we’ve abandoned what we’ve built up over these many years," he said.

The proprietor of Homes North was initially reluctant about the standard and changing his production line, he said.

“He became converted when he provided a manufactured dwelling to his mother, who was studious in keeping a spreadsheet of her utility costs and saw them drop through the floor,” he said.

Energy efficiency will also be important as a carbon tax is ushered in, said Heyck.