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Victoria eyes changes to new-build bylaw to meet climate goals

On Thursday, council heard that the city needs to further decrease building emissions to get on target

By Tori Marlan
July 26, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria eyes changes to new-build bylaw to meet climate goals

On Thursday, council heard that the city needs to further decrease building emissions to get on target

By Tori Marlan
Jul 26, 2022
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria eyes changes to new-build bylaw to meet climate goals

On Thursday, council heard that the city needs to further decrease building emissions to get on target

By Tori Marlan
July 26, 2022
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Victoria eyes changes to new-build bylaw to meet climate goals
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Aiming to improve energy efficiency and eliminate carbon pollution in new building constructions by 2025, Victoria City Council directed staff on Thursday to prepare new building and plumbing bylaw amendments.

The move accelerates a path the city is already on. Looking to do more than what the BC Building Code requires, the city, in 2018, adopted the BC Energy Step Code, which gradually requires greater efficiency from new constructions. This includes installing equipment like heat pumps, electric baseboards, and electric domestic hot water heaters. The District of Saanich and Central Saanich opted in to the Step Code as well, and, like Victoria, plan to reach the fifth and highest step—in which new constructions are 80% more efficient—by 2025, seven years earlier than the Step Code calls for. Victoria is currently on the third step for most residential buildings.

But on Thursday, council heard from the city’s community energy specialist, Derek de Candole, that the Step Code alone won’t achieve the city’s climate goals.

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“The focus on efficiency rather than emissions can result in buildings that continue to produce significant emissions over their lifetime,” he said, citing a provincial report. “Because the Step Code seeks to reduce the total amount of energy used and not the emissions, it is possible to meet the highest steps of the Step Code and still use fossil fuels like natural gas to meet the energy demands of the building.”

Natural gas has 17 times the global warming potential of electricity. That means a building that uses 100 gigajoules of natural gas in a year produces 5.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, whereas a building using the same amount of electricity produces only .03 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to a technical review by staff.

Under its Climate Leadership Plan, the city has committed to an 80% reduction in community-wide emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions modelling shows that for that goal to be met, “all new construction must be built to use 100% renewable energy by 2025,” according to a technical review presented to council.

New carbon pollution standards for new constructions are expected to be added to the BC Building Code in December to reduce emissions directly.

Similar to the Step Code, those standards will increase gradually, requiring electrification of either the space heating or domestic hot water systems to meet the medium carbon standard; electrification of both the space heating and domestic hot water systems for the low carbon standard; and full electrification of the buildings’ systems for the zero carbon standard.

Under the timeline recommended by city staff, most new low-density residential buildings would have to meet the low carbon standard by July 2023 and the zero carbon standard by January 2025; larger commercial, office, and large multi-unit residential buildings would achieve low carbon by July 2024 and zero carbon by July 2025.

Before coming up with recommendations, staff consulted with architects, developers, engineers, builders, energy advisors, and equipment suppliers to run through adoption scenarios, identify challenges, and brainstorm solutions.

For multi-unit residential and commercial buildings, de Candole told council, “a lot of those projects are already being planned, even for the 2025 timeline, and so we're ensuring that they have sufficient notice to work [decarbonization] into their design without necessarily slowing down the projects. One of the key pieces of feedback that we heard is that the housing affordability crisis is the backdrop against which all this work is being conducted, and so we're trying to strike a balance between ensuring that we can meet these climate objectives without potentially slowing down those projects."

After hearing de Candole’s presentation, Mayor Lisa Helps told council that she was reminded of the book she’s reading, Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril, by Thomas Homer-Dixon. In thinking about solutions, the author raises what he calls the “enough vs. feasible dilemma”: Is it enough versus is it feasible? “I think this [proposal] hits the sweet spot between those two places,” Helps said.

The city is also working on decreasing the amount of waste caused by tearing down old buildings. In June, council adopted a bylaw to encourage salvaging reusable and recyclable materials from building demotions. Under the bylaw, demolition permit holders would be refunded their $19,500 waste management fee for salvaging a required amount of wood. The first phase of the two-phase implementation begins in September. Read more about the rise of unbuilding in our feature story from last year.

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Tori Marlan
Investigative Reporter

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