03 26
The Anti-Green Policies Of Toronto Hydro

Toronto Hydro’s archaic pricing policies are bent on destroying the city’s position as a leader in sustainability. Why? A colleague of mine, Cameron Miller, discovered that Toronto Hydro customers are not treated the same when it comes to paying for electricity. Mr. Miller and his wife live in a condo in downtown Toronto. Retired now, they remain—more than ever—committed to reducing their environmental footprint. Like many Torontonians, they believe that conservation is essential to our city’s viability, and should be rewarded by our community-owned utility companies.

It turns out that in Toronto being green makes one a bit of a fool—at least in the eyes of Toronto Hydro. Mr. Miller found out that he was paying more for his electricity than others who consumed far greater amounts. In fact, the more he reduced his use of electricity, the more he and others like him underwrite the excess consumption of others. Armed with proof, he went to the Ontario Energy Board. Here is his case:


This is about residential rates only.

But as Toronto Hydro has 500,000 residential accounts, at an average of 2000 kWh per bill, it’s quite an important piece of business. I’m not suggesting that I “discovered” the issue I’m speaking about. I’m just expressing my personal views, and want to thank the board for allowing me to do so. 

I have selected 5 actual TH bills that friends of mine sent to me. 

They represent quite a range of consumption. They also average close to the TH residential customer average of approx. 2000 kWh per bill.

My point is that the Customer Charge of $12.68/30 days regardless of kWh consumed is unfair, and discourages conservation. 

I recently received a cheque for $5.22 from the CEO of TH, along with a very effusive letter congratulating me on reducing my electricity use by 10% compared to the previous summer. (None of these five bills is mine, but my consumption puts me between customers A and B.) So TH wants to be seen to be encouraging conservation, but its rate structure actually encourages consumption. Look at Customer E. He consumed 6000 kWh, fully 14 times the amount of Customer A. As thanks from TH, he gets a built-in 33% rate discount over Customer A, a huge volume discount. I’ll have to save an additional 10% next summer to get my $5.00 cheque, but Customer E gets his 33% volume discount on every bill all year long.

The Customer Charge, and here I quote from an e-mail from TH is for

- “fixed administration costs that do not change with your consumption. This monthly charge helps recover the administrative costs associated with providing services such as: meter reading, billing, customer service and basic connection costs.  It’s calculated as a daily rate then multiplied by the days of service within the current billing period.”

It strikes me that such administrative costs could well be less for a unit in a condo than for a detached house in Scarborough, for example. I’m in a 155-unit condo building, and condo buildings now regularly contain 200, 300, 500 living units. Are TH’s administrative costs for 500 condo units really as high as they are for 500 single-family dwellings? On the other hand, I will concede that some condo units are big consumers of electricity, so why not base the Customer Charge upon kWhs consumed? 


Toronto Hydro would still collect exactly the same Delivery Charges as it currently does, only now they would be apportioned based upon consumption, which would be fairer, and would encourage conservation. Toronto Hydro’s total revenue would remain the same. 

Customer A would (...read more...)

[email this story] Posted by Robert Ouellette on 03/26 Comment Here (0)
03 18
Bear Stearns: This Just May Change Things


If you find yesterday’s bailout of Bear Stearns by U.S. regulators to be more than a little hypocritical, well, join the rest of us. The so-called free market once again showed how it is anything but free, and that any absolute power—in this case the power of greed—corrupts absolutely. But where is the lesson that should be learned by an investment sector that ignored the need for risk management? By its actions, the U.S. government is showing that there is no lesson to be learned, or no penalty to be given. It also shows that in spite of its right-wing rhetoric, the “freest” world economy can and does interfere with the marketplace. Ironically, that’s good news for environmentalists. Now that the U.S. government has set this precedent, the right’s self-serving arguments about non-interference in free markets no longer apply. And now everyone knows it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the financial market place should be done away with or should be allowed to meltdown. What I am saying is that this week’s events clearly illustrate the role regulatory controls play in a complex world. There is a lesson here, but it is not, unfortunately to the free markets whose actions precipitated this crisis—they’ve been spared that rod. The lesson is to people and governments everywhere. We are reminded by the Bear Stearns fiasco that they do have the obligation, power, and right to use whatever regulatory levers exist to both save the economy, and save the environment. After all, what is more important, the financial health of rule-breaking investment firms that benefit the few, or the long-term health of the environment that benefits everyone?

[email this story] Posted by Robert Ouellette on 03/18 Comment Here (0)
03 14
Oil Earth: Why The Energy Crisis Can Be Good


With oil reaching the formerly unimaginable price of $110 a barrel yesterday, and the U.S. dollar sliding into global irrelevance, some Canadians of the political persuasion think this country is headed into a golden age of prosperity. Why? Oil sands of course. We have them, they don’t.

Our leadership in Ottawa seems all too ready to dig up half of Alberta, pump billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and happily perpetuate the oil gluttony that is part of the American way of life. Oil revenues at these levels mean power—lots of it. Power buys access to the political theatre in Ottawa. And absolute power, as the old saying goes, corrupts absolutely. Innovative energy use, on the other hand, is not even a second thought in this environment. It is the last thing we consider, and only then when the Canadian public comes out of its slumber to say wait a second, don’t we need clean water to drink and fresh air to breath? Isn’t this the land of glaciers, and pristine watersheds?

Not for much longer if we end our stewardship of local resources. Given the greed of the oil marketplace, I’m afraid things will get far worse for us before they get better. Our one hope is that escalating prices for post-peak oil will fuel the rise of alternative energy sources. If that happens, and if they are successful, market forces driven by efficient use of resources, may just disrupt the oil patch mentality we’ve embraced in Canada. But don’t hold your breath. Well, maybe you should.

[email this story] Posted by Robert Ouellette on 03/14 Comment Here (2)
03 12
Businesses Want Green Payback


You have to understand the way businesses work. Any project a company engages in must benefit the financial bottom line of the company—even when that project helps save the planet. That’s what businesses do. Make money. The Globe and Mail ran a story yesterday on how Canadian firms are trailing behind Asian firms in their pursuit to green the workplace. It turns out that about 75% of those foreign firms want or expect to receive some return on investment this year as a result of shrinking their carbon footprint. They want to make money doing the right thing. For North American companies, on the other hand, that figure drops to 35%. Let’s face it. For more than a century now we’ve lived and worked a life based on conspicuous consumption of every resource available to us. Now we are paying the price for our environmental obesity by being slow in the uptake of new, green processes. Our loss.

[email this story] Posted by Robert Ouellette on 03/12 Comment Here (0)
03 04
Great Lakes Water Protector: The Sierra Club


The Great Lakes are a precious legacy preserved in geologic time. Formed by glacial ice over millennia, the lakes contain enough fresh water that if emptied, they’d cover the entire Untied States to a depth of nine and a half feet (and there are certain groups who like that, and would make it happen a few million litres at a time). Not surprisingly, names for this liquid treasure range from the obvious “Great Lakes” to the more poetic “sweet water” and the explorer-daunting, “inland sea.” No matter what their name, the lakes have no equal anywhere on earth.

That’s why they are such an attraction, and such a target. In a recent interview Canada’s Maude Barlow commented

This notion that we’ll have water forever is wrong. California is running out. It’s got 20-some years of water. New Mexico has got 10, although they’re building golf courses as fast as they can, so maybe they can whittle that down to five. Arizona, Florida, even the Great Lakes now, there’s huge new demand.

The Sierra Club of Canada is a active protector of this precious resource. In partnership with other North American environmental groups, the club is acting to ensure our politicians do everything they can to preserve the lakes. But, as the Ontario chapter of the club writes, the fresh water is challenged by:

  • cities dump untreated sewage into the Great Lakes in enormous quantities
  • Canadian industries emit more than 1 billion kilograms of pollutants to the air, and on a perfacility basis, release far more than their U.S. counterparts
  • ocean-going vessels are responsible for at least 65% of the now over 180 invasive species wreaking havoc on Great Lakes native species
  • water levels in Lakes Huron, Michgan and Superior are well below normal, with Lake Superior surpassing its recond low set in 1926
  • unsuitable urban development is destroying sensitive wildlife habitat. Projections are that by 2030, 3 million more people will live in Lake Ontario’s basin, which could greatly increase these development pressures.

In spite of these threats, as a species we seem to think that if we can see a thing in its entirety we also understand it. The overarching view from space shown above gives such an impression. We control this thing is its unstated subtext. Yet, we know that the idea is absurd. The lakes are in many ways an expression of the complexity found in each one of us because, as some speculate, water molecules from, say, Georgian Bay, at some time have been part of everyone—no matter where on earth. This visceral relationship between water and humans cannot be understood simply in a means and ends way, as a resource to be commodified and sold off. There are mythic truths about our evolution wetting Ontario’s shores every day. Those truths are beyond priceless, they are worth protecting anyway we can.

[email this story] Posted by Robert Ouellette on 03/04 Comment Here (0)
02 21
Superlinear Cities And The Future Of Urban Design


It turns out that city’s are not like organisms. Instead of slowing down as they get bigger, cities speed up—at least as far as their ability to create new wealth—not to mention their improved environmental efficiency. In this way they are not linear systems where a standard input of energy or capital results in a predicted output of productivity. They are superlinear entities. At least that’s what a group of researchers at Arizona’s State University suggest in a study released in 2007.

“It’s true that large cities have more problems, they are more congested, they create more pollution and they have more crime,” said Jose Lobo, and ASU economist in the School of Sustainability. “But also because of their size, cities are more innovative and create more wealth. Large cities are the source of their problems and they are the source of the solutions to their problems.”

With half the world’s population now living in cities, traditional urban design methodologies are being rendered as obsolete as, say, using a slide rule to calculate the dynamics of weather systems. There are too many critical, non-linear relationships taking place.

What was surprising to the team was when they measured creative output (jobs, wealth generated, innovation) as cities grew, the scaling of this output was not sublinear, but superlinear, meaning as the city grew its creative output grew faster and faster.

Most urban designers have no idea about the superlinear forces shaping modern cities. Their limited toolkits include poorly quantified ideas about densities, and zoning . . . principles that while useful in some ways no longer are reliably predictable in their contemporary applications.

Tomorrow’s “superlinear cities,” if I can call them that, will have to be designed using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative strategies that don’t exist today. Existing city design pedagogy is driven more by fashion than by information-driven research. That’s not surprising given the complexity involved. Still, we expect more from our urban design and architecture schools given the historically important changes facing the modern city. Where is the school that brings together information technology, macroeconomics, and design? If we are to create productive, sustainable cities of the future, urban designers will need all those skills and more.

[email this story] Posted by Robert Ouellette on 02/21 Comment Here (0)
02 15
Green City Rankings
Want to know which Canadian city is the most environmentally friendly? Corporate Knights magazine released its latest rankings this week, and here are the results. Surprised that Toronto ranks number one?

Large Cities

Large City

Eco. integrity

Eco. security


Green Mobility






































Medium Cities

Medium City

Eco. integrity

Eco. security


Green Mobility












































[email this story] Posted by Robert Ouellette on 02/15 Comment Here (0)
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