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.