Body blow to SmartTrack

By nixing road tolls around Toronto, Kathleen Wynne failed to cauterize the arterial bleeding of a corpse-white SmartTrack plan that would have benefitted Weston and Mount Dennis. Wynne killed the tolls because she faces a tough reëlection fight next year.

The bill for the western part of SmartTrack was to have been roughly $2 billion. The province has promised to give Toronto $170 million a year in gas-tax money, short of the roughly already-inadequate $250 million tolls would have raised. The gas money will go to all transit in Toronto, not only SmartTrack.

Tory’s revised SmartTrack plan would have built an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT out toward the airport from the Mount Dennis station, connecting the west end to Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Pearson.

Tory did bring much of this pain on himself, promising a magical line that could leap deep valleys, tunnel far underground, and be built by 2021 without raising taxes. He complained to the press about being treated like a boy in short pants by Wynne—but boys do dream about trains.



Mount Dennis sees a bright future

An artist impression of the future Mount Dennis Station at 3500 Eglinton Avenue West.

Just as the UP Express is beginning to make a difference in Weston, according to an Inside Toronto article, people in Mount Dennis are anticipating a boost to their area as a result of the Eglinton Crosstown and the new Mount Dennis Station. The 19 km line with a 10 km underground stretch between Keele and Laird is set to open in 2021 after ten years of construction.

Incidentally, without former Premier Mike Harris, we could be riding a different version of the line today. This is a map of the subway line that Harris buried (and not in a good way) in 1995.

The subway line that we could be riding today if Mike Harris hadn’t killed it in 1995.

The Eglinton West Line would have run from Eglinton West Station all the way to Renforth along a right of way that had been reserved for the Richview Expressway (killed in the 1970s). Sadly, the Eglinton road allowance was sold for small change by Rob Ford in 2010 but nobody thought to tell John Tory as he was putting crayon to napkin for his SmartTrack plan. The allowance is now being filled in with some spectacularly awful townhomes.

Gratuitous side note: right wing politicians claim to be able to lower costs but their penny wise antics often end up costing us more in the end.

The latest iteration of an Eglinton line.

The new Mount Dennis Station will adapt the old Kodak Recreation Building and will be part of a transportation hub connecting with buses and the UP Express lines. Let’s hope that combined with the end of the vacant property rebate, the new transportation infrastructure will actually breathe fresh life into the area.

More on the Mount Dennis Generator

Image from:

Steve Munro is a tireless blogger who is an authoritative voice on transit and politics in the GTA. He recently posted an article about the proposed Mount Dennis generator and some interesting points have emerged in his article and also in the comments section. As an aside, comments sections are IMHO as interesting and sometimes as informative as the articles to which they are attached.

Readers are no doubt aware that late last year, Metrolinx and its partner Crosslinx Transit Solutions proposed that an 18MW gas-powered generator be built to supply electricity in the extremely rare event of a Toronto Hydro outage. Later proposals designed to soften the blow claimed that heat could be recovered from the generator and used for heating purposes.

Steve maintains that the heat recovery idea could only be useful if the generator was operating regularly rather than the claimed (by Metrolinx) use as a standby. Also, according to Metrolinx, only one of the 6 generators would be used for heat recovery while the other 5 would be untouched.

He received information from Metrolinx stating that:

An alternative (to the gas powered generator) would have to provide the same basic functional requirements as the proposed natural gas powered facility.

The gas-powered facility was proposed in order to provide the ability to maintain service when the power goes out and improve transit resilience, lower the cost of power by eliminating any contribution to peak power demand from the new system, and ensuring it does not contribute to the need for more transmission or generation infrastructure.

Steve notes that there are several electric train systems coming on line and Metrolinx stated that there is already an ample electrical supply for these trains. He concludes that the main goal of the generator is to reduce electricity costs rather than provide an emergency backup.

In the comments, one reader suggests that in a true emergency, gas supply is only guaranteed for 3 hours. Another points out that the natural gas supply relies on line pumps which need electricity from the grid. Yet another states that running the whole line from one generator is impractical because of the voltage drop that would occur over the 19km length of the Crosstown Line.

Apparently the generating system at Pearson Airport sells power to the grid at peak times and this income pays for its operating and maintenance costs. The generator is fired up every week to ensure that it is reliable (i.e. at least 52 days a year) and supplies the airport with power on those days. Because the airport covers a relatively small area, transmission losses are minimal (unlike along a 19km transit line).

Incidentally, the last time power was knocked out to Terminals One and Three back in February, the emergency system failed to operate, leaving much of Pearson in the dark.

Read Steve Munro’s article here.

Net Zero Community rises from the 18MW generator’s ashes

The original intent behind agreeing to make Mount Dennis a net-zero energy community may have been to act as a way of compensating for a seemingly grim determination on the part of Metrolinx and Crosslinx Transit Solutions to build an 18MW gas fired power station on the Kodak Lands in Mount Dennis. As reported here in July, Fernando Carou, the City’s Senior Engineer from Community Energy Planning Environment & Energy Division quietly conceded that the generator was dead. The generator, suddenly sprung on the community last year was to be located on the Kodak lands at the corner of Ray Avenue and the railway right of way. A strong and effective community response totally rejected it.

Yesterday there was another confirmation that the power plant is still dead from none other than Councillor Frances Nunziata in an InsideToronto article. In it she states her confidence that the generator will be scrapped and replaced with a greener alternative. The article goes on to say that according to Metrolinx chair Bruce McCuaig, a source of back-up power is still needed but it won’t be gas powered. The extra energy will get trains out of tunnels during a power failure. The gas generator would have made electricity in times of peak demand such as during very hot or cold weather and sold it to the grid at a premium.

The City’s Mr Carou was enlisted to come up with a ‘Community Energy Plan‘ that would outline ways of offsetting the pollution created by the generator with a more energy efficient community.

As written, the Plan, still in draft form seems hastily produced judging by the typo’s, grocers’ apostrophes and less helpfully, undefined acronyms. It details how a portion of Mount Dennis will become much more energy efficient (net zero) through a variety of strategies.

The area in daylight will become energy neutral under the plan.
The area in daylight will become energy neutral under the plan (click to enlarge). Adapted from Google.

The area is quite large and diverse with schools, stores, factories, West Park Hospital and a variety of housing types. It does not include the long awaited community centre, nor for some strange reason, houses on the north side of Edmund Avenue.

Under the plan, apartment landlords, condo corporations and homeowners will be encouraged to make use of the various City incentives to save energy. Energy saving suggestions include replacing incandescents with compact fluorescent bulbs. Curiously, LED bulbs aren’t given a mention. Apartment building tips include installing heat exchangers, lowering lighting levels in common areas, using low-flow shower heads and turning off the heat in underground garages.

Some of the savings calculations seem a bit off. For example the report claims that putting apartments on individual electric meters would save 1.3% but in a recent Star article Navigant Consulting says electrical consumption would fall by 27% in buildings heated by electricity and 34% in gas heated buildings.

Other ideas include extracting heat from trunk sewer lines using a heat pump system and capturing waste heat from the (still dead) gas powered generator itself. These, while interesting ideas would be expensive.

Since most of the ideas would be effective in reducing the carbon footprint of any community, it’s hard to know what exactly would be different for Mount Dennis. After all, the City is encouraging adoption of these measures in every neighbourhood. Low interest loans for things like energy efficient furnaces, better insulation and low-flow toilets are already available to landlords, businesses and homeowners throughout the city – repayable through City property tax bills. Any neighbourhood can and should adopt many of the more effective measures.

The idea of making Mount Dennis a net zero community is a great one that emerged as a result of a spirited opposition to the generator from a variety of community groups. The task will be hard as there are some huge emitters that will need to be tamed. West Park Hospital for example has plans to open a new hospital on its existing site. Both the old and new locations will need a thorough review. Once the bus station opens on the Kodak Lands site, diesel buses will be idling in hot and cold weather. Existing factories such as Irving Tissue (Toronto Hydro’s second largest customer) may be reluctant to come on board.

The draft Plan doesn’t attempt to justify the gas plant itself but dismisses low-carbon alternatives as ‘prohibitively expensive’. It will be interesting to see what Metrolinx comes up with although Bruce McCuaig was vague about timing.

While solar panels covering the entire Kodak Lands would not produce enough to provide backup power for the line, they could provide some energy. The rapidly expanding use of batteries to store and release large amounts of electricity shows potential. Wikipedia’s energy storage page is very informative:

In the meantime, thanks to solid citizen involvement, Mount Dennis will get the chance to reinvent itself as a net zero community.

Your move Weston.

Big plans for Toronto’s Greenest Neighbourhood

The city Parks and Environment committee endorsed an interesting idea: a net-zero community energy plan for Mount Dennis. A net-zero community is one that produces as much renewable energy as it consumes. If this can be done, Mount Dennis will be Toronto’s first neighbourhood to meet the standard.

The endorsement comes out of community objections to the Eglinton LRT powerplant. The 18MW gas generator will be used in emergencies, and, potentially, to lower the Metrolinx’ electricity bill.

The city has also prepared a draft community energy plan. It forsees energy savings, at least at the early stages, from building retrofits. Most of the savings come from many small initiatives—things like sealing air conditioners and upgrading boiler controls.

The bigger and more exciting ideas are at the local level. We could have sewer heat recovery or distributed heating for instance.

One interesting idea is to recover the heat from the Eglinton generator and use it to warm buildings. The energy would otherwise go to waste.

This, quite apart from its environmental interest, could be a good litmus test of Metrolinx’ intentions; if they intend to use the plant only in emergencies, they should be be very reluctant to build heat infrastructure that will never be used. If, however, they intend to fire up the plant to lower their power bill, we might expect them to produce greater sops for the community.

The community energy report has an interesting passage on the topic. If we’re serious about co-generating heat, we should be building generators in Rosedale, not only in Mount Dennis:

The alternative to a single large plant would be numerous small (< 5 MW) CHP plants at strategic locations along the length of the Crosstown. By co-locating a thermal network along the Crosstown route, CHP plants can be deployed in areas of higher growth (e.g. Yonge Street, Don Mills Road, etc.) where thermal demand is more concentrated. The electricity can be used to power the transit line and the waste heat can be used to heat buildings connected to the thermal network.


Kodak Building move is temporary

Lots of people made standing room only bus trips this morning to witness the Kodak building’s big move of about 200 feet. Built in 1939, Building 9 as it is known, contained a gym and cinema / theatre among other things. It is the last of the buildings to survive and the community pressed hard for its preservation in some meaningful form. The stars aligned, politicians and Metrolinx listened and plans are under way to make Building 9 (now basically an empty shell thanks to vandalism) a key feature of an LRT station and mobility hub planned for Mount Dennis.

Buses were chartered from the TTC by Metrolinx in response to the anticipated demand to see this famous local landmark being prepared for a starring role once more.

It's standing room only in the shuttle bus.
It’s standing room only on the 8:30 am shuttle bus.

A large crowd filed onto the bleachers that had been set up for the occasion. On this warm and steamy morning, there was an added promise of lunch after the move.

Councillor Frank DiGiorgio, MPP Laura Albanese and Councillor Frances Nunziata watch the move from the bleachers.
Councillor Frank DiGiorgio, MPP Laura Albanese and Councillor Frances Nunziata (front row L to R) watch the move from the bleachers.

One thing not made clear by recent articles and certainly not clear to me until today (is it me?) is that the Kodak Building will return  to its original location.

The building moving along the path to its temporary location.
The building inching towards us along rails to its temporary location.

The idea is that the building’s current basement is inadequate for its future role as the main access point for the Eglinton LRT, UP Express and a bus terminal. The building is being moved off to one side while the old basement is demolished and a new one built from scratch. Once the work is done, the Kodak building will return to its old location on the new foundation.

The reason for the move today is to build
The reason for the move today is to build transportation infrastructure into a brand new basement. Click to enlarge. From

Today, many former Kodak employees were in attendance along with Weston and Mount Dennis residents and the mood was one of celebration. A large contingent from Metrolinx helped with making sure everything went smoothly.

Metrolinx workers pose to mark the occasion.
Metrolinx workers pose to mark the occasion as the building moves along slowly.
The building inching along its rails.
The building inches along its rails.

There are many more fascinating details of the plans for Building 9 and how it will be part of an exciting transportation future. Read all about it here.

The preservation of part of Mount Dennis history is a mark of respect for an alert and politically active community. No doubt we’ll be doing the whole thing in reverse in about a year when the basement is completed.

Well done to Metrolinx for organizing a great day and allowing the community to celebrate the occasion.