Mount Dennis wants to be Toronto's first 'Net Zero' community

Mount Dennis wants to be Toronto's first 'Net Zero' community

Mount Dennis is striving to become carbon neutral as Toronto's first "Net Zero" neighbourhood and its community association is hosting a public meeting Monday night to discuss how residents can use less non-renewable energy.

"The fundamental ingredient that we need is community engagement and as you can see in Mount Dennis, residents are extremely engaged and they are active towards the transition to a low-carbon future," said Fernando Carou, who leads the community energy planning program at the city of Toronto in the Environment and Energy Division.

The Mount Dennis Community Association (MDCA) is working on developing an action plan that will detail how the community can become carbon neutral as well as become a more sustainable neighbourhood overall.

Save energy, pay lower bills

Among the possibilities are retrofitting homes for energy efficiency, providing incentives for electric vehicles, encouraging active transportation and further down the line, even adopting solar panels or wind turbines as energy sources in Mount Dennis. 

"The big thing about Net Zero is everyone wants to pay lower bills for water and electricity. So if somebody comes to you and says, 'Would you like your house insulated? You'll save energy,' it's pretty hard for them to turn it down," said Mike Mattos, president of the MDCA.

"When we come up with the concept that Net Zero means lower utility bills, people agree that's a good idea."

Rick Ciccarelli, the MDCA lead on the project, says the aim is to improve energy efficiency in both homes and businesses but also to reconnect the community of Mount Dennis into the city's economy.

"If there's going to be intensification in this area, [we need to] make it the best development possible in terms of energy efficiency but also accommodate that development," he says. 

With the arrival of the Eglinton Crosstown light-rail project, which the Ontario government says will be finished by 2021, the community is expecting to be more integrated with the city's economy, according to Ciccarelli. 

The 19-kilometre system will connect Mount Dennis in the west with Kennedy Station in the east.

Carou says there are a number of neighbourhoods in Toronto that are interested in becoming carbon neutral but the community interest from Mount Dennis is what makes it the first to really tackle it. 

"We knew the next round of large-scale [carbon] reductions had to come from communities. We just didn't know which community was going to actually self-identify first. We're very pleased Mount Dennis is the one doing this at this time," he said. 

Open House

The open house on Monday evening will update residents on how sustainable the neighbourhood is right now and what the next steps will be.

Carou says he will provide information on how much energy the community is using right now and review the work already underway to "quantify energy use in Mount Dennis."

A survey will also be launched for residents to collect more energy data, transportation patterns and where the community best thinks change can take place.

Ciccarrelli describes it as "the beginning of an engagement process."

"The idea is to start to map out the various parts of what sustainability means to a neighbourhood. Let's start to identify who is active in these areas, where the opportunities and the challenges are," he said. "Let's get people organized and resource groups aligned to have a dialogue about what can happen."

At the meeting, Metrolinx officials are also expected to provide more detail on their plan for an alternative to the proposed gas power plant.

The open house takes place at the Mount Dennis Public Library at 7 p.m. 

"They're going to be a really strong community going forward just by having this conversation," said Carou.  

Celebrating a 'green' win

The community recently celebrated a big win after Metrolinx and the provincial government cancelled plans for a gas-powered backup facility in their neighbourhood.

The gas plant was supposed to provide backup power to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is currently under construction.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said last week that the community wanted a greener option and that the new battery-powered system will decrease emissions, reduce costs and increase the line's reliability.