Mainstreaming local energy

July 4, 2017 —   Mainstreaming local energy will come in many different shapes and sizes.  Some will be far-reaching like recent changes to Ontario planning legislation which will require local governments to embrace climate and energy policies.  Others will be small tweaks that bring familiarity.  For instance, I have often wondered whether we should have used the term “Local Energy Master Plan” –...

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On the path to net-zero communities

June 25, 2017 — When some colleagues and I set out to better understand the path to net-zero communities, we quickly understood we were missing something – a clear definition of what net-zero meant. It wasn’t for a lack of definitions – quite the reverse.  There were definitions for building and communities.  While some definitions focused on carbon, others focused on energy.  Sometimes it...

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Towards First Principles of Community Energy Planning

June 23, 2017 — Kirby Calvert is a leading thinker in how to support local governments and communities in the energy transition. His recent blog post – Towards First Principles of Community Energy Planning – is an important contribution to the practice. It draws from the legacy of past efforts to begin a conversation about a new model.  He proposes three primary principles. Localization...

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Green building: shifting from innovators to early adopters

June 7, 2017 — Many systems must change in the transition to a low carbon economy.  The way we plan and make decisions will look different.  There will be new people at the table.  Especially people we had never thought to include before. Already in the home building business, a transition is underway.  The Canada Green Building Council recently launched Canada’s first zero carbon building...

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Growth Plan 2017: accelerating the energy transition

May 19, 2017 — This Ontario’s recently released four updated land use plans.  They will help accelerate the transition to low carbon communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The four reports include the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan.  Coordination ensured the plans worked together. Alignment with the Ontario...

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Local governments as social innovators

May 15, 2017 — We need more local governments and utilities acting as social innovators in community energy planning and implementation. This is a brand new role for local governments in many ways. For most of their existence, local government in Canada has served as a vehicle to deliver provincial services.  That is why they are often called “creatures of the province”.  Overall, this has not...

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Culture important to achieving low carbon communities

May 4, 2017 — When legislation and good intentions meet culture, unintended consequences can occur.  As the saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast.  I would add: it snacks on legislation for lunch. Legislation: The province requires all Ontario municipalities to report annually on their corporate energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  They must also approve a corporate energy management plan.  The public has...

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Clarity in Community Energy Planning

March 23, 2017 —   Several of my colleagues expressed concern about Ontario’s Municipal Energy Plan program when it was announced.  Not about the funding to support municipal governments but the name of the program.  Would there be confusion surrounding the choice of the word “municipal” over “community”? However, as the practice of community energy planning continues to improve in Canada and Ontario, we...

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Building energy efficiency: cities upping ante

March 17, 2017 — I recently shared a post – 8 ways cities are upping the ante on building efficiency. Citing a World Resources Institute report, the author summarized eight actions for urban leaders to accelerate energy efficiency in their cities. It is a helpful summary although the examples of innovation are all international.  So, I thought I would put an Ontario lens on...

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Energy Transition: Role for Local Electricity Utilities

February 6, 2017 — The energy transition in Ontario is picking up speed. Distributed power generation and storage growing The Electricity Distributors Association has just released a report – The Power to Connect: Advancing Customer-Drive Electricity Solutions for Ontario.  The report proposes a new way forward for Ontario’s electricity utilities as distributed energy resources including local, small-scale power generation and storage technologies continue to grow.  The...

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Home energy retrofits a climate change priority

January 25, 2017 — Many governments in Canada are renewing their efforts to fight climate change.  As they do, the renovation of existing homes emerges as a priority.  Existing Canadian homes are a significant contributor to national emissions.  Governments at all levels are dusting off old retrofit programs and ramping up new ones. Renovation is also one of the least expensive ways to reduce greenhouse...

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Growth Plan: You're So Bad

January 3, 2017 — The province is reviewing the Growth Plan for our region – the Greater Golden Horseshoe. This planned 10-year review is triggering a round of opposition that is ironically reminiscent of the debate that led to the Growth Plan in the first place. I was recently mystified by a comment suggesting the Growth Plan was making local governments greedy.  The writer believed they were...

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For the love of a warm, cozy home

January 2, 2017 — We pay too much to keep our homes warm and cozy on a cold winter’s day. Why? Because our homes were built to waste energy. That has been our practice for decades. Yes, it is changing.  New homes are less wasteful of energy.  They come with energy efficiency features already built in – from insulation to windows. But that is cold...

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Acts of leadership: change the channel

November 14, 2016 — Donald Trump does not believe in climate change.  Sadly, he won’t be the first or the last.  But, as a head of state in 2016, he is the last man standing.  At least for the time being.  And that is discouraging. While it might be harder than he thinks to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the confusion and uncertainty he will...

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Rhyze Academy: Mentoring Women Entrepreneurs

October 31, 2016 —   I recently signed up to be a mentor with the Rhyze Academy.  At first I hesitated because an earlier experience with a mentoring program wasn’t entirely positive. I am so glad I did because this time the experience has been completely different. Knowledge Sharing The mentoring relationship began with an assessment of how mentees and mentors seek and interpret knowledge, and how...

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QUEST: intensely messy, disruptive, and local

October 20, 2016 —   QUEST held their annual conference this week in Calgary – in the heart of energy country. Sir David Anthony King, UK Special Representative for Climate Change, provided opening remarks and they set the stage for the conversations that followed.  These conversation ranged from the global to the local, from growing jobs and the economy to addressing climate change, and...

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Planners' energy role discussed: OPPI

October 10, 2016 — Local planners have a crucial role to play in our energy future.  So it was wonderful to have a good turn out for our 2016 Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) panel:  The Role of Planners in Community Energy Planning. There are certainly practical reasons for planners to have attended our session.  Governments are encouraging land use planners to integrate local energy and...

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We get the governance culture we design

October 5, 2016 — The way we distribute the value of our water resources is at the heart of the debate about water takings in Ontario. Whose needs take precedence?  Those of a corporation or the public? Most people don’t think they are interested in the topic of governance.  But we talk about it all the time. Creating value is the goal of good...

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Basic Annual Income lifts more than living standards

September 26, 2016 — The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) will soon release updated findings for 2015. In preparation, they recently brought together individuals with experience in each of the eight wellbeing domains. Together, we explored the connections between domains and what new policies  would give the greatest lift for Canadians. Basic Annual Income quickly rose to the top.  The positive impact on Living Standards was clear.  ...

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Canada’s GHG reduction targets fall short

September 20, 2016 —   Top Asks for Climate Action: Ramping up Low Carbon Communities was released in June. The report recommended the federal government put a national price on carbon.  A national price would serve as a baseline for all provinces and territories. This action would establish a level playing field across the country while respecting regional differences in the chosen approach to carbon...

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Accelerate the energy transition

September 12, 2016 — Multiple systems must change to address climate change. Likely, a sequence of energy transition pathways will be needed to achieve a low carbon future.  However, the problem is time.  We don’t have much.  Intentional and coordinated interventions from outside of a system can help accelerate change.  They begin with the end in mind. Systems are always changing.  While continuous improvement is commonplace, the transition...

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Sustainability pushes systems to change

September 7, 2016 — Sustainability pushes systems to change.  And that is not easy.  Seth Godin put it so well in his blog post “Bureaucracy, success and the status quo”: “When you show up offering change, understand that the status quo isn’t the enemy of the bureaucracy, it is their entire reason for being.”  Every day, we interact with multiple complex systems.  Most of...

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Sustainability is a disruptor

August 29, 2016 — Sustainability is a disruptor because it fundamentally challenges the way we live, work and play. Many of the systems that have evolved over the last century promote short-term decision making.  These systems tend to put aside the consideration of broader social, economic and environmental impacts. Climate change, and the externalized costs associated with the release of carbon into the atmosphere, is a good...

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Provincial policies support thermal energy

July 25, 2016 — Thermal energy is a growing theme in provincial land use policies. I attended a workshop last week on two far-reaching provincial policy documents.  The two documents were Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) and  the review of the growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. That is to say, Ontario’s developing land use and climate policy framework was the focus of the day. Both documents acknowledge the...

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Elephants in the room

June 28, 2016 — Positive Energy hosted a workshop recently on public confidence in energy decision processes.  The conversation focused on public authorities because energy regulators are struggling to engage communities and civil society. The organizers introduced several “elephants” into the room because new social forces are impacting traditional decision processes.  These forces impact many sectors not just the energy world. The list began with the...

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Principles lead the way to low carbon future

June 15, 2016 —   It is easy to get distracted during disruptive times – there are shiny new objects at every turn.  How do you wade through the different options?  Tried and true principles. QUEST (Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow) held their annual strategic planning session in early June, engaging staff, board members and regional caucus chairs in a well-facilitated two days.  Celebrating its 10th...

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Top Asks For Climate Action released today

June 9, 2016 — Canada must act quickly if we are to meet our international climate change commitments, and local governments are central to achieving our goals. Local governments influence over 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The reality is clear: Canada can’t be a leader without local government action.  I was thrilled to be asked to work with the Columbia Institute on this...

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Energy transition needs to engage people

May 20, 2016 — In my virtual twitter world, everyone gets climate change and is working on solutions to prevent further global warming.  They are busy figuring out how to manage the impacts we are already experiencing and to be better prepared for what is coming down the pipe. Mind you I follow @climateoutreach, @350, @OntarioClimate, @MAC_Climate among many others.  You get the picture. In...

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Local governments should have our backs on energy security

May 14, 2016 —   I am in the final stages of a project for a client.  It is a toolkit for local elected leaders to build more resilient, sustainable and prosperous communities for all Canadians by taking action on climate change. I had the good fortune of talking to a friend about this work who pointed me to the work of George Marshall. ...

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Accelerating the transition to low-carbon cities

April 25, 2016 — There is an urgent need to accelerate the transition to low-carbon cities. Despite the best efforts of many cities and supporting organizations, we have not seen the uptake or progress we need to help meet Canada’s international climate change commitments. We are great at planning and pilots. We need scale and we need it fast. Our country is among the...

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Low carbon cities contribute to our wellbeing

April 20, 2016 — Part of my presentation yesterday at the Big Ideas, Better Cities conference on climate change focused on the many co-benefits that come with the transition to low carbon cities.  The theme was echoed by several others presenters. When I talk about wellbeing, I like to use to the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) as my starting point.  The CIW is a Canadian...

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It's the low-carbon economy, stupid

April 13, 2016 — With an economy heavily dependent on fossil fuel extraction, Canada has struggled to find a credible path forward on climate change. Our emissions are among the highest in the world and are projected to increase without significant intervention. There is a substantial gap between Canada’s current greenhouse gas reduction targets and what will be necessary to honour the commitments made in...

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Energy disruption no fantasy

April 12, 2016 — Guelph’s community energy plan has been in the news lately.  Understanding why is instructive.  This is my take on it. First, a community energy plan (CEP) is nothing more than a tool to help a community figure out how to use less energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while driving local economic development.  Guelph’s CEP aims to make Guelph a low-carbon city. ...

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Farmers fuel cities

March 28, 2016 — There is a saying I see around town printed on bright yellow posters – Farmers Feed Cities.  Today that means more than food.  It also means energy – wind, solar, biomass, and bio-gas.  Farmers fuel cities too. While in Kingston last week, I took in a discussion on rural communities and renewable energy.  The focus of the panel was mostly on solar...

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Our Common Future

March 24, 2016 — There was an obituary in the Globe and Mail yesterday celebrating the remarkable contribution of a Canadian civil servant to global thinking on sustainable development and climate change.  His name was Jim MacNeill and he was one of the authors of Our Common Future published in 1987. This was an important report in my life and for many people around me at the time. It certainly...

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Joining the energy transition

March 21, 2016 — I find it painful to listen to the dying gasps of the climate change deniers as the evidence mounts. There is a begrudging acknowledgment that the atmosphere and oceans have warmed and the amount of snow and ice has diminished and sea levels have risen. True, their acknowledgement continues to be tempered by raising doubt about the contribution of fossil...

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Solution-focused leadership

March 13, 2016 — Someone recently sent me this great graphic about the difference between a boss and a leader.  Personally, I would say “tyrant” rather than “boss” because they are very hard on an organization. I  have also seen this management style referred to as “toxic leadership” in management books. I can think of many stories that are illustrative of these behaviours and their...

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More than pricing carbon

March 9, 2016 — Some of the proponents of the BC carbon tax are only telling part of the story. I am not weighing in on the right mechanism to price carbon. Whether it is a tax, cap and trade, or fee and dividend, we need to price carbon in Canada. There are pros and cons with each approach along with regional differences in...

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Defending democracy

March 5, 2016 — Over the years, I was asked many times: “what does a mayor do?” My most common response was to talk about the activities of a mayor – attending meetings, answering constituent questions and joining the community in celebrating special events. Sometimes though, I would answer with what I came to understand was my first and foremost function as a mayor: to...

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A role for an energy efficiency utility

March 3, 2016 — I have often pondered the intrinsic conflict of asking an electricity or gas utility to deliver a program that reduces their customers’ consumption of electricity or gas, respectively. It’s like asking a coffee shop to sell less coffee to save on coffee beans. Of course, the regulator allows the utility to recoup their lost revenue through increased rates and presumably...

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Samso: more than carbon neutral

February 7, 2016 — While making breakfast, my husband likes to listen to the CBC. Today he heard a story about a small island in Denmark. This was the second time in a week that the little island of Samso has come up in conversation. This is perhaps not so surprising when you learn that Samso is the first island in the world to...

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This would help local climate change action

February 3, 2016 — Communities across Canada have identified an energy and emissions inventory as the most important tool to encourage emission reductions. However, there are few policies that encourage the development and monitoring of inventories in Canada. The development of greenhouse gas inventories is time consuming.  Getting access to reliable data often proves challenging for local governments.  Small communities often don’t have the resources to...

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Barriers to e-vehicle charging stations

February 2, 2016 — I often get asked to do interviews on a variety of topics related to cities. The most recent interview was about potential barriers to increasing the number of charging stations for electric vehicles in municipalities.  I bet there will be some. With announcement that the Ontario government will provide $20 million in grants this year to help create a network of...

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Where's the climate change action?

January 30, 2016 — At the current rate, Canada is not going to meet its climate goals – goals that fall far short of what the science says we need to protect us from the devastating impacts of climate change. The National Energy Board projects fossil fuel consumption in Canada will rise by 22 percent over the next 25 years resulting in higher greenhouse...

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Boom-bust city building

January 22, 2016 — We are an urban nation so city building is a big part of nation building. When the resource economy is in trouble, we become diligent city builders.  When the resource economy is thriving, not so much. The Prime Minister has signaled that we can expect an accelerated infrastructure stimulus program.  The Bank of Canada has hinted that a bigger-than-expected deficit would be...

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Emerging energy professionals

January 4, 2016 — I taught my first class today on Community, Energy and Planning.  I am feeling lucky to have this opportunity to spend time with emerging energy professionals as they embark on their careers and follow their passion to build a more sustainable future. Graduate students in the Masters of Environmental Studies and Planning programs at York University are enrolled in the class. It is an...

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The Paris Agreement: what's next?

January 2, 2016 — One hundred and ninety countries have reached consensus on The Paris Agreement.  The goal is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.  Canada was proudly among them. So what’s next? Now the reality of living up to our international commitments will test all of us.  Time is of the essence. What will you do to take some carbon out of your life?  Local organizations like...

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Great time to refresh community energy strategy

December 7, 2015 — I am in the last stretches of completing a review Guelph community energy strategy and much has changed over its 10 year history. In the beginning, we put our focus on energy to create a big tent to engage as many people as possible.  This opened the door to talk with some, although not all, of the doubters.  Even doubters are...

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Sober thoughts contemplating climate change

December 4, 2015 — The opinion columns I have been reading recently about climate change have been sobering but for new reasons. I used to find them sobering because they too often included a nod to the skeptics.  They always seemed to be hedging their bets.  It felt like they had to wait to see where the winds of public opinion would turn before making a...

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Climate talks set expectations high

December 3, 2015 — It would be easy to be skeptical of the climate talks underway in Paris given past experience. It might also be too easy as a Canadian to set our expectations too high and think everything will be sorted out for us.  I admit this is a nice feeling for a change but sadly not realistic. As Canadians, we use fossil fuels...

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Local Government and the Green economy

November 7, 2015 — There were many insights shared at the Green Economy: Ontario conference about the opportunities for green innovation in several sectors with energy, water, transportation and big data particularly noted. I was struck by how many themes had some interface with local governments – either directly or indirectly – and I was able to provide some examples of how local governments...

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Green economy

November 4, 2015 — I am preparing for a panel at the Green Economy: Ontario conference.  My session is on how public policy can drive green economic growth. The good news is there are lots of examples and opportunities. Guelph has a good story to tell in driving water innovation and it begins with two unique conditions. Guelph is one of a few Canadian cities that rely...

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Climate literacy

November 4, 2015 — In the last few weeks, I have heard the topic of climate literacy raised several times  – the pressing need to persistently connect the dots between our day-to-day experiences and choices – in our homes, workplaces and communities – and global events. Only a few days ago Hurricane Patricia hit the coast of Mexico.  It was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded...

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Lower the noise on climate change

November 1, 2015 — Sometimes simple things can make a difference. There is a strong relationship between where and how we live and our impact on the climate. This brings the focus on our communities – big and  small. I have appreciated being engaged recently in discussions considering what policies would best support local action on climate change. One that I like is very simple: include language in the Ontario Municipal Act...

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Time to get it on climate change

October 31, 2015 — I spent a good part of last week surrounded by Canadian energy leaders from all sectors who get it.  Sanity-restored. Minister Glen Murray opened up the QUEST conference with an unequivocal message of urgency – of the consequences for us if we don’t act now and definitively on climate change. Usually such honest messages receive criticism for fear it will make people feel hopeless....

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What's the question?

October 19, 2015 — So I lied in my last blog post.  There is something new that directors of non-profit organizations can do to add value during disruptive times. Directors are concerned with fulfilling their fiduciary and strategic roles.  These are still essential to good governance.  During times of change, it is also important to help generate new ideas and ways of thinking about a...

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Governing during disruptive times

October 17, 2015 — I must admit that I am fascinated with our transition from the industrial to digital age so I was both pleased and intrigued to be invited to speak this Wednesday about its implications for governance in the nonprofit sector. The latest technology always tends to steal the show  – it was the wonders of the steam engine during the industrial revolution and today...

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Closing the gap for climate change

October 5, 2015 — At the turn of the last century, people died of cholera in Guelph.  The loss of homes to fire was common. To protect public health and fight fires, the politicians of the day got into the water business to the hue and cry of local ratepayers. I have a friend who remembers her father taking their garbage in a wheel...

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Invisible wasted energy

September 29, 2015 — Our homes waste a lot of energy.  That hurts our pocket books.  It also hurts the environment. The first principle of a Smart Energy Community is conservation and efficiency – “if you don’t need it, don’t use it”.  The problem is that you can’t see wasted energy – not like a leaky faucet. To address this problem, a start-up company...

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Places to Grow - 10 years later

September 28, 2015 — I was interviewed last week for a documentary on the 10th anniversary of provincial Places to Grow legislation. Many communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe had been expressing their aspiration to grow in a more compact and sustainable way but it wasn’t until Places to Grow and the Growth Strategy came into effect they were given the planning tools to...

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The invisibility of good public policy

September 23, 2015 — When Lee Picolli of Fusion Homes sent me this photo to show that ground had been broken on their Metal Works project, I was very happy for him and his team.  I know there was a lot of effort to reach this milestone. I was also reminded of the invisibility of public policy – public policy which in this case created the...

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Sustainability goes beyond green

September 21, 2015 — I am always interested in projects that take a broad view of sustainability because it not only means healthier and more vibrant communities, it promotes more creative thinking. Blatchford is being billed by Edmonton as the world’s largest sustainable community.  The vision for the 217-hectare site will take 20 to 30 years to build and will house 30,000 people.  The goal...

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District Energy the Clear Choice for Colwood and Capital City Centre

September 1, 2015 — Terrific to see the integration of energy planning into city building in Colwood on Vancouver Island.  This is a community that has made the shift in thinking it takes to embrace district energy and understand its opportunity for future generations.

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District energy systems growing in Canada

August 31, 2015 — Many European communities, particularly after the oil crisis in the 1970s, began to improve energy efficiency, reduce reliance of imported fossil fuels and make better use of local and renewable fuel sources by encouraging local energy production with district energy. For example, Copenhagen today meets 97% of the city’s heating needs with district energy. A recent inventory of district energy systems in...

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When electricity customers become a distributed energy resource

August 19, 2015 — New technologies are turning electricity customers into a distributed energy resource and that is changing how we view the electricity grid. While some view the growth of distributed generation as a threat to electric utilities others see an opportunity. It is true that new technologies that promote conservation and efficiency and distributed generation are challenging the financial sustainability of electric distribution...

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Economics of localization

July 27, 2015 — Wherever you look, you can find examples of localization. This is a video of interesting speaker talking about how place matters more than ever today.  There are some great messages like moving from “someone should” to “let’s”(so important if we are to address climate change), turning NIMBY into SWIMBY (you need to watch to find out what that means) and seeing our...

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Does Sweden have skeptics?

July 15, 2015 — I wonder if Swedish newspapers still have columnists speculating on whether climate change is real or not.  This week, a Globe and Mail columnist referred to climate change as “as unfortunate by-product of progress, one that may or may not cause serious problems down the road”. If they do, it doesn’t seem to distract them – or Scandinavia in general. Krisianstad...

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Three recommendations for Ontario's Climate Strategy

July 8, 2015 — I was also asked, as part of my participation in the Ontario Climate Change Lab, to provide three recommendations for inclusion in Ontario’s Climate Strategy related to cities and municipalities. Here were my recommendations: Raise the bar on energy plans. Mandate and support cities to double their primary energy productivity in 20 years using community energy planning as the framework...

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Ten Reasons Why Cities Must be Part of Ontario’s Climate Strategy

July 7, 2015 — I was asked to present as a part of a panel at the Ontario Climate Change Lab yesterday.  I started with 10 reasons why cities and municipalities must be part of Ontario’s Climate Strategy. Climate change is serious. It will require both individual and collective action. No one gets a pass including cities and municipalities.  There just isn’t the time....

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Cities as Global Actors

June 29, 2015 — In addition to meeting with counterparts from Italian cities last week, I had the additional good fortune to connect with colleagues from Germany and the U.S. to discuss how cities are responding to the energy transformation. The audio recording of the panel presentations and discussion have been made available.  

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Sharing smart cities practice between Canada and Italy

June 29, 2015 — I had the very good fortune last week to be invited by the Canadian Embassy in Rome to speak about cities – what makes them smart, sustainable and ready for the digital age.  

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#OpenGov - Integration

June 21, 2015 — Taking the time to integrate the principles of Open Government into daily practice is important to drive the transformation to the digital age.  In Guelph this has included: a Civic Innovation Lab which will serve as a testing ground for new ideas convening interdisciplinary teams of policy makers, funders, citizens, service providers, business and labour to enable those with firsthand...

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#OpenGov – Walk the talk

June 20, 2015 — Open Government – the transition to the digital age – is a tremendous platform to engage public sector workers.  Your leadership – both elected and appointed – better be impeccable with their word and deeds or the naysayers and doubters – expected in any change management process – will have a field day snuffing out every bright light in your organization. This...

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#OpenGov – Practice is messy

June 19, 2015 — Practice makes perfect?  Perhaps.  But first it makes an unholy mess. A lesson for governments wanting to “go digital”? Practice disruption – often. Practice disruption even though you work in a fish bowl – knowing full well how easy it is for others to have an opinion when they have no responsibility – or accountability.  Do it anyways. Providing an...

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#OpenGov – Beyond compliance

June 18, 2015 — Compliance is the enemy of accountability.   Once you tick a box, your responsibility ends.  You are safe.  It is “compliance” that make a veteran prove annually that he lost his legs in order to receive benefits.  That is not the fault of the person ticking the box – it is the fault of the system based on hierarchies and silos. Open...

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#OpenGov – Local disruption

June 17, 2015 — As the song lyric says, “video killed the radio star”.  Incremental change is not new but the scale of disruption being caused by the emerging digital age is something different altogether. Shedding the tools, systems and thinking of an industrial era would be hard enough if it was just an internal exercise for local government. Institutions have drawn comfort from holding information...

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#OpenGov - Early Trials

June 16, 2015 — Guelph was practicing aspects of its digital age strategy (Open Government) long before a complete framework was built. In 2002, an innovative community engagement process was launched.  The community was invited to co-produce a set of sustainability principles to guide municipal planning.  These principles have since been integrated into the City’s growth plans. The public was asked to participate as...

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#OpenGov - More than that

June 15, 2015 — Open Government is what we have called Guelph’s strategy to adapt our local government to the digital age. We may need a new name before we are done. Too often it is mistaken for just more government transparency while open data enthusiasts see it as paving the way to new sources of government data. Open access to information, sharing rather...

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#OpenGov - Let's Get Digital

June 14, 2015 — I can take a picture of a cheque and deposit it instantly into my credit union account using my smart phone. The technology that permits this convenience is remarkable – and only a few years ago would have been inconceivable to most of us. More remarkable is the social transformation underway, which lies behind the technology, as we shift from the industrial...

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Energiewende on the ground

June 6, 2015 — A big learning to share in June from my participation in the Transatlantic Urban Climate Dialogue (TUCD) was getting to see how Germany’s national policy Energiewende (energy transition) was being implemented at the local level. Energiewende is the transition by Germany to an energy portfolio focussed on energy efficiency, thermal and renewable energy and sustainable development – the backbone of community energy planning.  Germany’s long-term goal is...

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Opportunity for electric utilities

June 4, 2015 — The electricity sector is recognizing opportunities to innovate in areas of demand response, the facilitation of distributed generation and electric cars, optimization of asset use, fault detection, mitigation and storage[1].  How can the provincial regulator support innovation and value creation in Ontario’s LDCs? LDCs should be encouraged to embrace the transition to a new energy future and extract value out...

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Multi-service energy providers

June 3, 2015 — The good news is that the transformation occurring in the energy sector is being driven by many benefits: increased system efficiency, lower system costs, reduced energy bills, increased clean vehicles, increased energy efficiency and competitiveness, reduced emissions, increased system resilience and reliability, and increased energy security. The question for municipal owners of electric utilities is whether their community is interested in...

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The Future Electric Utility: Regulatory Change

June 2, 2015 — The growing risk to a significant municipal asset – electric utilities – and the increasing localization of energy decision-making with draw more municipalities into provincial regulatory discussions. See earlier posts: The Future Electric Utility The Future Electric Utility: Local Implications Municipal owners of electric utilities have an interest in seeing proactive regulatory change that helps pave the way to a new energy...

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The Future Electric Utility: Consolidation

June 1, 2015 — Consolidation will be one of the topics discussed at this week’s conference on the future of Ontario’s electric utilities. After the regulatory reforms of the 1990s, some municipalities sold their LDCs as they were too small to operate efficiently under the new rules. Other LDCs sought efficiencies through mergers, maintaining the involvement of their respective municipalities in the electric utility, while others...

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Creating markets for energy solutions

May 31, 2015 — The programs that implement smart energy community strategies create markets for energy efficiency, renewable energy, thermal energy, and more.  They attract investment and business to serve emerging markets and catalyze innovation. This was just confirmed for me during my participation in the Transatlantic Urban Climate Dialogue. Canadian innovators providing energy solutions will also need access to international markets to excel.  Collaborations...

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A reunion of collaborators

May 26, 2015 — I am heading to Washington DC in a couple of weeks for a reunion of sorts – a reunion of some of the former and current elected officials who met during a multi-year Transatlantic Urban Climate Dialogue (TUCD). The reunion is being organized by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. The TUCD is great example of the kind of collaboration...

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The Future Electric Utility: Local Implications

May 25, 2015 — As I have been preparing for the conference in June on the future of electric utilities in Ontario, I have been considering the implications for local governments and communities and reflecting on the observations and questions raised by the conference organizers. There are several risks associated with the changing business environment for electric utilities that their owners should be aware of. LDCs...

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Recipe for collaboration

May 24, 2015 — The collaborations that I have seen to be the most effective in building sustainable and smart communities follow a similar, although always unique, path: Set the agenda. Champion the agenda far and wide. Convene a community conversation to understand what matters. Connect people and ideas from across the community to promote innovation. Provide resources to support change and measure results. In...

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The Future Electric Utility

May 21, 2015 — I am speaking at a conference in June – The LDC of the Future – hosted by the Centre for Urban Energy at Ryerson College.  The target audience is municipal elected officials. It is a timely conference. The backdrop is that several converging trends are reshaping the energy sector in Canada. As part of Ontario’s electricity system, this transformation will impact...

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Sustainability and CSR start with values

May 17, 2015 — There is a reason why corporate social responsibility (CSR) is discussed around board room tables – it is legitimately a governance matter.  CSR is about leadership and the values that inform how decisions are made in an organization.  Some governance structures – like co-operatives and B Corps – are built around a shared set of social values. Ensuring cities are...

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Connection grows prosperity

May 13, 2015 — On June 2, I am part of a panel on sustainable and smart cities at a corporate social responsibility (CSR) conference. So why a session on sustainable and smart cities at a conference focussed on improving business performance through CSR, you might ask? I believe businesses will become increasingly invested in the success of cities given the new role of...

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Ethical leadership

May 6, 2015 — I had a coffee with a young women entrepreneur a few days ago.  She is working to certify her retail business as a B Corp and meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. She is moving on a new business venture and was looking for a few community contacts to help make it a success – for her business...

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The tenacity of the status quo

April 29, 2015 — The status quo is remarkably tenacious even in the face of overwhelming evidence that change is an imperative. Whether it is a complex global system that needs to change – as is the case with global warming – or a moribund institution that has lost its way, the actors that protect the status quo are incredibly resourceful and resilient. Some...

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Engage to increase energy literacy

April 23, 2015 — I have recently heard several people talk about how we must increase the energy literacy of Canadians. It got me thinking about what’s in a name? The name of the body overseeing Guelph’s municipally-owned electric utility up until the restructuring of the industry in 1998 sort of says it all – The Board of Light and Heat Commissioners.  Their first...

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Changing role for electric utilities

April 17, 2015 — Usually, local governments initiate and lead community energy planning initiatives in their communities. This was not quite how it happened in Guelph. In 2003, the Guelph Hydro Board of Directors engaged in a strategic planning exercise with its management team. A fundamental question was posed given all of the changes precipitated by The Electricity Act in 1998. What business were...

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Electricity sector innovation needs capital

April 8, 2015 — From my vantage point, and I grant it is limited, I am having trouble discerning the long-term strategy behind the proposed sale of parts of Hydro One. From media reports, it appears that the complete sale of Hydro One’s distribution business is not on the table. Rather a partial sale of some of its franchise to municipally-owned local distribution companies...

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We all crave connection

April 1, 2015 — A couple of years ago, some work colleagues and I took an online survey called Strength Finder as part of a team development exercise. As its name implies, it helps you identify your core strengths. One of my core strengths was connection. No surprises there.  Making connections has been a key theme throughout my life. I love connecting people and ideas...

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Taking a first step on climate change

March 30, 2015 — If knowledge of the facts were sufficient, we would have responded to climate change a long time ago. Learning at a conceptual level grows our knowledge but rarely will it lead to change on its own. Targets give us the destination only. The path will only be fully discovered by walking it. Change will only happen by taking that first step. So...

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Let's talk energy strategy

March 24, 2015 — As energy planning and decision making becomes more local, municipal governments and their electricity distribution companies have more need to engage each other than ever before. Much of our national energy conversation has been focussed on supply. This has been true in communities too. As a community grows, the role of local electricity distribution companies has been to supply new...

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Co-benefits of greenhouse gas reductions

March 19, 2015 — I attended a public consultation last night on Ontario’s Climate Change Discussion Paper. It was a full house with lots of informed input. Fortunately, there wasn’t a climate change denier to be heard – apparently that was not the case in other communities. If the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change takes an integrated approach to climate change mitigation our...

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Sustaining sustainability

March 17, 2015 — Presented at the 2015 Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainable Communities Conference in London Ontario I am going to start with a brief story. There is much more to the story that I have time to tell and it involves many more people, but I want to use it to highlight three themes I believe are important to making sustainability part of...

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Are electrical utilities the next stranded asset?

March 16, 2015 — Wikimedia Commons All local governments have stranded assets – assets that through neglect have lost all or most of their value and have become a liability. Sometime a municipality is simply the last one standing and is left holding the bag. Neglect can take two forms. The most obvious is neglecting the maintenance of an asset. This is often the...

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No one gives you permission to lead

March 15, 2015 — In the past year, I have talked to several women who were active during the women’s movement in the ’70s and ’80s.  They are dismayed at the increase in misogyny they are seeing around them – globally and in their own communities.  I saw more attention to International Women’s Day in my community this year – perhaps this is why. ...

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Advancing Smart Energy Communities

March 12, 2015 — I have just returned from chairing my first QUEST Ontario Caucus meeting. I spoke at the first QUEST meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2007; Guelph had just approved their Community Energy Plan. In the intervening years, the rapid emergence of QUEST as an effective national voice for advancing Smart Energy Communities has been remarkable. The 8th annual conference in Vancouver was...

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Strategy trumps shiny new objects

March 11, 2015 — The recent story of Blind River’s failed green energy plans is a sad one. One sentence stood out for me in the Globe and Mail story: “The solar farm couldn’t get approval to hook into the provincial grid.”  It appears this might have been when the project began to go off the rails.  It is not the only solar project...

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Infrastructure relics

March 9, 2015 — Deicing at Cambridge Bay Airport – Wikimedia Commons This winter has inconvenienced our lives in many ways but not as much as it might. In the developed world, we exert such remarkable control over our daily environment that we can easily forget how much of what we have built to protect us is tied to climate – the old climate. We...

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Proposed changes good for communities

March 6, 2015 — The Ontario government is proposing changes to the Planning Act and the Development Charges Act. This is good news for municipalities and it is great to finally see the results of the extensive consultations that occurred over a year ago. Municipalities collect development charges to pay for a variety of infrastructure – from roads to fire stations – to serve new homes and businesses. ...

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Great cities raise the bar for everyone

March 1, 2015 — Cities have always been places where people and ideas come together, where creativity and innovation find their roots.  With urbanization and globalization, cities are emerging as an important force in the 21st century. When countries compete it can get messy; often neither side emerges a clear winner (think war). When cities compete, it is different.  We all win because they...

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What about Open Community?

February 25, 2015 — What about Open Community? What would that look like? Open Government is a catchall phrase to describe a fundamental remaking of government so its works better – within and beyond its own walls. Scorn will be heaped on those institutions who have the courage to push down this path for not being able to turn decades (or centuries) of entrenched...

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World class energy performance for Ontario

February 23, 2015 — The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has just released Ontario’s Climate Change Discussion Paper 2015 and is seeking input. The Ministry of Energy also has a program to encourage energy planning in communities. This is a great opportunity to marry the two initiatives to help achieve the province’s vision to establish Ontario as a leader in climate change mitigation...

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Long-form census improves lives

February 16, 2015 — “Cities to weigh loss of long-form census for community planning”, read the headline in the Globe and Mail a week or so ago. No kidding.  It should come as no surprise that the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census is hampering evidence-based decision making by local governments. I spent three days last week at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainable Communities Conference in...

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The next is harder than the last

February 14, 2015 — There is a bit of a myth about municipal budgeting in Ontario. Unlike the federal or provincial governments, local governments cannot carry an operating deficit.  They can use debt to pay for capital projects like roads and water pipes but not to pay to plow those roads or pump water.  If they overspend their operating budget, they must address that deficit...

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Turn to cities for help on climate change

February 3, 2015 — The first time I stood in a city council chambers and advocated for local action on climate change was in 1993. I was part of a delegation of urban citizens asking that a target be set for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in our community. While the primary concern of our delegation was the impact of climate change on the...

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Early adopter of climate change

February 3, 2015 — Relatively speaking, I was an “early adopter” of climate change.  While there were scientists in the 19th century that believed climate would be changed by human emissions of greenhouse gases, it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that a consensus emerged that this was indeed the case and that there would be consequences for human and natural systems. In the...

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Open Government: more than transparency and technology

February 3, 2015 — Open Government is a bit of a buzzword right now in government circles and like so many buzzwords it gets interpreted to mean different things to different people. The media quickly assumes that it means that they can get any information they want regardless of privacy legislation or the cost to the taxpayer.  Improved access to information and transparency will...

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Changing relationships

February 3, 2015 — What does it mean to be an urban citizen in the 21st century?  What does it mean for our relationship with our local government? Last Halloween, a constituent sent me a photo with his smart phone of a squashed pumpkin lying at the curb in front of his house. He expected (and that is putting it politely) a public works crew...

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I am an urban citizen

January 2, 2015 — I grew up in the country. After emigrating from England when I was three, my family settled in the country north of Toronto near a small village called Kettleby.  Behind our two acres lay a wooded ravine with a small creek complete with the remnants of a pioneer homestead.  My brothers and I spent our childhood exploring its every nook...

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Recovering politician

December 6, 2014 — I have often heard  Michael Harcourt, with a chuckle, describe himself as a recovering politician.  It’s a good joke.  And now I understand.      

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