Invest in energy efficiency -- it saves tax dollars
Think your energy bill is a high? You don’t know the half of it.
As a taxpayer, you also help pay the bills of the City, hospitals, schools and other public institutions. The City of Toronto alone spends more than $230 million a year on gas and hydro. Ontario’s hospitals rack up about a $200 million energy bill. Ontario universities and colleges shell out about $90 million per year to keep the lights on and the heat working.
So when it comes to public sector cost control, the real action isn’t in curbing paper clip use or other office expenses, it is in increasing energy efficiency.
We could cut institutional energy use by 10 per cent without even breaking a sweat. Kaaachiing – more than $50 million a year saved from just the folks listed above. With a bit of effort, 20 per cent reductions can be achieved -- now we’re into nine figure savings of more than $100 million a year. Push harder, with a longer payback period, and energy use can be slashed by at least 30 per cent -- anyone like the sound of around $160 million a year not being drawn from our tax dollars?
And there’s a double bonus. When our buildings aren’t leaking energy, our city and our province aren’t leaking money (to Alberta to pay for the natural gas). Those dollars will do a lot more good if we can keep them in our local economy and spend them instead on energy efficiency, renewable energy or combined heat and power systems.
Ontario has had a pretty rough ride in this "great recession" and we could use the jobs that come with improving the efficiency of our cities and institutions. Improving building efficiency creates an amazing 14 jobs for every $1 million we spend, and these are "green" jobs with staying power.
Oh, and there’s a triple bottom line: we stop burning energy, we stop burning money, and we stop climate change pollution.
So how are we going to plug the leaks, save some dough and save the planet? One of the biggest hurdles to implementing efficiency is access to capital – you need to invest to reap those savings and benefits for decades to come.
That’s why we need an efficiency-focused revolving fund – low-interest loans provide the up-front capital, are repaid from the savings, paving the way for the next loan...and so on. It's a specialized bank for public sector energy savers, and it pays dividends: lower draw on your tax dollars.
The City of Toronto has been using its own money and the $20 million Better Building Partnership fund to advance efficiency, and Toronto Atmospheric Fund also provides loans. But much, much, much more capital is needed to achieve anywhere near our efficiency potential, which is why provincial and/or federal financing is key.
Imagine -- schools could replace 50-year-old boilers, hospitals could replace inefficient lighting that is on 24/7, city buildings could get some badly needed insulation, recreation centres could get money- saving solar water heating systems, and we’d all be saving rather than "burning" our tax dollars.
So the next time a candidate comes to your door – during municipal elections, next year during the provincial election, whenever there’s a federal election -- and starts talking about cutting public sector expenses, ask them: what is your plan to ensure cash-strapped public institutions cut energy use?