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BC Construction Roundtable discussion emphasizes critical role of retrofits

Russell Hixson
BC Construction Roundtable discussion emphasizes critical role of retrofits
TRIOVEST — ATCO Centre in Edmonton has been used as an example of what can be achieved with retrofitting. A recent discussion hosted by the BC Construction Roundtable focused on the role retrofitting must play in helping Canada meet its climate targets.

Without building retrofits, Canada will not meet its climate goals experts say.

Government officials, real estate investment companies and green building advocates shared their thoughts on how to ramp up retrofits during a virtual discussion hosted by the BC Construction Roundtable. 

Thomas Mueller, CEO of the Canada Green Building Council, showed attendees a photo of a major city landscape and noted that 70 to 80 per cent of the buildings seen would still be there in 2050 and many of them need retrofitting. 

“It is an enormous challenge, but not insurmountable,” he said. “The building sector is on the forefront of climate action.”

He noted one of the keys will be unequal distribution of assistance. 

“When it comes to climate change and the building sector, we cannot focus our efforts equally across the country,” he said. “Some need more support in their actions.”

He noted western provinces have especially carbon intense power grids. While Ontario has a cleaner grid, it’s sheer number of buildings makes it a challenge.

Mueller said to achieve climate targets, Canada must build a workforce capable of carrying out the work, advocate for good government policy, research market solutions, set standards and performance verification, and create capacity to deliver retrofitting at scale.

Frederic Bettez, the managing director of investments for the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), explained how the CIB is strategically deploying its resources to encourage deep retrofits. 

“We want to help transform the market, attract more private capital, drive deeper retrofits rather than lighter ones, push for innovative solutions,” said Bettez.

Their standardized minimum investment is $25 million. Bettez said this is to target either very large projects or whole portfolios of projects so that more buildings can be impacted and the owner can implement a standardized approach. Flexible interest rates allow the CIB to incentivize deeper, more innovative projects. 

Jamie Gray-Donald, a senior vice-president at real estate investment company QuadReal, explained half of the company’s $44 billion portfolio is in Canada and he is working cut down greenhouse gas emissions. So far, energy efficiency programs have gleaned roughly two per cent in energy savings each year, but larger moves will be needed.

“In the long-term, the biggest thing we need to do is switch off natural gas in our existing buildings and purchase renewable energy in markets where that is possible,” he said.

But deep retrofits and fuel switching have long payback timelines, making them a difficult choice. 

“We need all the help we can get,” said Gray-Donald. “Our goal is absolute carbon reduction of 80 per cent.”

Regan Smith, Manulife’s AVP and managing director of sustainability, explained the next five years or so for her company’s portfolio is advancing energy efficiency measures outlined in audits and reports that are already in business and operational plans.

“We are just trying to keep up with the momentum of those existing reductions,” said Smith, who noted Manulife is also averaging a two per cent reduction in energy use each year. “Beyond that, the goal is to bake in these carbon retrofits into our planning. We can’t just look at an energy budget. We must have a carbon budget. Part of our discussions is looking at a collaborative approach to change the thinking of how we are managing our buildings.”

She noted various programs and organizations that generate reports and data help their property teams develop plans to move forward.


Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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