Regina housing report outlines barriers, road map to advancing net-zero building

·4 min read
The Regina Housing Association has put out a report that summarizes a roundtable discussion with objectives to move towards net-zero home builds.
The Regina Housing Association has put out a report that summarizes a roundtable discussion with objectives to move towards net-zero home builds.

(Canadian Press - image credit)

A Regina & Region Home Builders' Association report highlights how home builders can move toward using renewables and work to make new builds net-zero ready — meaning houses produce as much energy as they consume.

"Housing has long been a leader in improving energy efficiency in the housing market and it is a fundamental piece of battling climate change," Stu Niebergall, president and CEO of the Regina Region Home Builders' Association, said.

The report — titled Unleashing Regina's Renewable, Energy-efficient Economy — is a summary from a virtual roundtable with 35 organizations held on Dec. 10 to "explore ways to advance our local energy efficiency, net-zero building and renewable energy sector." It showed four areas of opportunity, three barriers and a roadmap forward.

The federal government is working on changes to the national building codes, aiming for them to become net-zero ready in 2030. Niebergall said because of that, it was a natural move to get together and discuss what can be improved and changed.

"There's so much activity happening on this front yet. Much of it is disconnected," he said. "Everybody's working in their own areas of expertise and so this is a first attempt to try to bring the parties together to have a broader conversation about how we can work together to achieve common goals."

The report found four opportunities:

  1. Take advantage of growing number of financial and incentive programs.

  2. Align with society's growing interest in inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

  3. Build on Regina's skilled workforce and leadership of Indigenous communities.

  4. Adopt proven solutions to grow their competitive advantage.

However, there are barriers including: knowledge gaps among decision-makers and the public; lack of leadership and coordination; need for a clear, predictable, enabling policy environment and market signals.

As a result, the group identified 16 solutions to overcome barriers including creating a "community energy sandbox" where the organizations can work together to advance energy data sharing, storage, efficiency and retrofits. and highlight leadership from businesses and municipalities to stop constructing inefficient buildings.

A solar project on Cowessess First Nation near Regina generates about 400 kilowatts of energy.
A solar project on Cowessess First Nation near Regina generates about 400 kilowatts of energy.

Niebergall pointed to the First Nations Power Authority and local Nations, who were doing great work with solar power, and said it's about learning how to adopt the proven technologies further.

"Regina sits in one of the most solar friendly places in the world. We've got a lot of sunshine ... and it's uniquely positioned to take advantage of that," he said.

Erwin Hueck, the managing director of the Distributed Energy Association of Saskatchewan, said Saskatchewan is uniquely positioned because it's a large province with a small population and has a single energy provider, SaskPower.

Hueck's advocacy organization is meant to create collaboration and opportunities between technology providers, utility providers and communities, and was one of the driving forces behind the roundtable that worked with many other organizations.

Ewin Hueck said Saskatchewan has a unique opportunity to move towards renewable energy for homes because there is only one utility provider: SaskPower.
Ewin Hueck said Saskatchewan has a unique opportunity to move towards renewable energy for homes because there is only one utility provider: SaskPower.

"And there's roughly, over the next five years, in the order of $11 billion of federal funding available to those types of clean, sustainable, renewable, efficient, resilient energy.

"When you put that together with all the benefits of federal investment, of energy, resiliency, economic participation by communities in their energy service ... I'm very optimistic for what we can do here."

Controversy at city hall part of push and pull in public discourse: RHA

There was a recent controversy at Regina City Hall where a potential change in naming and sponsorship rights brought the ire of Premier Scott Moe. A councillor had proposed fossil fuel producers and sellers not sponsor city events to show the city was moving toward becoming net-zero.

"Thing that we need to recognize is that when it comes to government and the public discourse related around this … there is a push and pull there," Niebergall said. "The reality is all these forms of energy need to be part of the dialogue and need to be part of tackling this problem."

Niebergall said creating energy-efficient homes requires the use of fossil fuels, and it's important to have all producers as part of the dialogue.

"Wherever you sit on the debate on these subjects … It's all about collaboration," he said.

Hueck said he's hopeful people will look at the spirit of the report, not start picking out specific words. He said this is an opportunity to decentralize, decarbonize and decolonialize power.

"The biggest I'll say challenge is it is a new way of providing energy service so that there's obviously those intrinsic barriers to to change," he said. "I think we can learn by the successes of what's happening elsewhere and be a fast follower and really adopt what's working."