Mississauga is trying to eliminate a smoggy past and make a hard u-turn toward a green, dense and environmentally sustainable future.
Nowhere is the drastic contrast between past and future more blinding than the shores of Lake Ontario.
Visitors to South Mississauga in the past were confronted by an enormous, coal burning plant with a giant set of smokestacks that belched carbon ash and smoke into the surrounding air. The environmental monstrosity that was the Lakeview Generating Station was eventually torn down in 2006. But not before the surrounding land was contaminated after decades of pollution.
Pioneering work by the late Jim Tovey, Mississauga councillor for Ward 1, saw plans for a different gas power generator scuppered and the land given over for housing, green space and cultural uses. Tovey, reverently remembered in his neighbourhood, worked with locals to create a medium density community project that would reopen the lake to residents and build housing covered in parkland and rooted in environmentalism.
One idea he floated, after a research trip to Sweden, was a district energy system to power the entire area.
District energy is a community-geared system where cooling, heating and hot water is pooled, rather than being produced per building. The early plan for its integration into the Lakeview project is to utilize effluent water from a sewage treatment plant immediately to its east.
“District Energy Systems (DES) are thermal grids that distribute hot and cold water to various buildings in a community. Buildings on DES have no boilers, chillers or cooling towers. All of their heating and cooling is provided by the DES from a centralized thermal energy plant,” a document shared by the project’s developer, Lakeview Community Partners (LCP), explains.
But, after several faceoffs where the developer fiddled with the core principles of the project, local community voices are now sceptical.
The original proposal for Inspiration Lakeview, dreamed up by Tovey and his community, suggested 5,200 units and limited height near the waterfront. Once the land was sold to the developer by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), heights and the number of units skyrocketed to the dismay of residents.
Locals fear the plan for district energy could suffer the same hijacking.
In September, Deborah Goss, President of the Lakeview Ratepayers Association, explained to The Pointer the energy system was included in the original project only as an option. She is concerned developers have taken it as gospel, without thinking it through.
“District energy was put forward in the very, very original concept because it was something that came out of Sweden, it was good, it was investigated. But it was all based on a study [taking place] to see whether it was viable; it was not a given,” she explained.
A key cause for concern is a suggestion by the developer that taxpayers should cover the cost of district energy. In a pitch to council and residents at a September public meeting, LCP suggested it would cover the City’s portion of a funding application under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). An agreement with other levels of government under the program means Mississauga would pay 27 percent of the cost, with the Feds and Province pitching in the rest.
In total, LCP anticipates the system could cost $35 million, of which they would cover $10.5 million on behalf of the City of Mississauga. The trouble is, while funding from upper levels of government may seem free, it still comes from a pool of taxpayer dollars.
The same arrangement and financials are being suggested for a vacuum waste system costing $35 million, with the developer ready to pay $10.5 million.
In 2018, OPG sold the Lakeview lands to LCP for $275 million. By the developer’s own estimations, the project is worth roughly $4.6 billion, causing critics to wonder why taxpayers need to be involved.
District energy brings further potential benefits for a developer by saving physical space. Where a conventional energy system requires valuable square feet to be devoted to boilers or coolers, a district energy system, flowing through pipes, would save on this infrastructure. This would potentially allow LCP to sell or lease more space than normal.
Asked by The Pointer why taxpayers should front the cost, LCP did not directly respond.
“Our team, collectively with [the] City of Mississauga, and the Region of Peel, are working tirelessly to bring these innovative renewable energy technologies and their endless benefits to Lakeview Village,” LCP said in a statement via email, adding they are still in the “early project planning stages.”
Rosemary Martin, a Lakeview resident with a sustainability and building science background, has presented twice to the City of Mississauga to outline her concerns with district energy. Alongside the idea taxpayers will foot the bill, a key worry is the system does not address the most basic element of going green.
“The first principle in energy management is conservation, the second principle is efficiency,” she explained to The Pointer. “When you look at a building, you reduce the energy demands at the source and how you do that is by actually designing and constructing an airtight building enclosure.”
The developer is asking for public funds to construct a project that technically doesn’t address the key issue. “At the end of the day, a district energy system may use energy more efficiently, but it doesn’t address the source of the problem, which is the demand,” she added.
Martin extolled the virtues of an energy standard known as passive house, which significantly reduces consumption through design. It is relatively new in North American modern construction. Most recently, affordable housing provider Indwell embraced the principles for a project in the City of Hamilton.
“Passive House is considered the most rigorous voluntary, energy-based standard in the design and construction industry today, resulting in buildings that consume as much as 90 percent less heating and cooling energy than conventional buildings do,” a developer's guide to embracing the system explains. “The Standard is designed to ensure certified buildings perform as expected, providing exceptional comfort, air quality and efficiency, while also avoiding condensation.”
LCP did not commit to using passive house, but said their buildings would be energy efficient.
“Our plan and objective is to implement advanced sustainability and building techniques, to create buildings and homes that are designed to be healthy and comfortable for inhabitants, while reducing energy consumption, incorporating resilience into our everyday, and combating climate change,” a spokesperson said.
The sentiment may be reassuring in its principle, but thus far details are scarce.
“The City of Mississauga and the developer have made public commitments that this development will be built to world class standards,” Martin said. “When it comes to sustainable development standards or sustainability standards, I have not seen anything that has been proposed that is world class.”
The City said it was doing its “due diligence” on the technology and would respond to concerns about energy conservation at its November 3 Enviromental Action Committee meeting.
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