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Energy retrofits fail to produce expected savings in Toronto

Toronto’s auditor general says costly automation systems installed at the city’s community centres and arenas to slash energy costs may have failed to reach expected savings.


Downtown Toronto, with the Hockey Hall of Fame in foreground. Photo BP/CCE
Downtown Toronto, with the Hockey Hall of Fame in foreground. Photo BP/CCE

Toronto’s auditor general says costly automation systems installed at the city’s community centres and arenas to slash energy costs may have failed to reach expected savings.

The newly released Review of the Energy Retrofit Program at Community Centres and Arenas, written in March of 2012, notes that the Energy Retrofit Program earmarked $36 million for 13 ongoing energy retrofit projects at arenas, community centres and pools across Toronto.

Some $9.9 million in basic upgrades, such as new water heaters and draft reductions, have realized clear savings, the report says.

Beyond that, the numbers are muddy.

In his report, Jeffrey Griffiths, auditor general for the City of Toronto, indicates that inadequate data collection and insufficient staff training for the new automated building systems are the primary culprits surrounding the inability to quantify energy savings.

The review notes retrofit energy savings generated through $3.3-million automation systems for heating, lighting, air conditioning and ice-pad cooling, may have fallen woefully short of covering the initial investment.

The only specific example Griffiths notes in his report involves the Ted Reeve Arena in the Upper Beaches, which opened in 1954. Energy savings for the arena were estimated at $33,645 per year, the report says, but the actual savings from 2007 to 2011 averaged only about $6,400 per year.

“While this specific example may not be representative of overall project results, it does indicate a specific documented case where anticipated savings were not achieved,” Griffiths wrote.

Facility officials adjusted their budgets to reflect the expected energy savings from the new equipment, the report says. The facilities reduced operating budgets by annual amounts equivalent to the loan repayments on the actual costs of the projects. The loan repayments, including interest, were spread over a 10-year term, according to the report.

“Many staff we interviewed indicate that in their opinion anticipated savings were not achieved at their individual facilities,” Griffiths wrote. “Since budgets were reduced based on expected savings, this has created additional financial pressures for these facilities.”

The report makes note of situations where facility staff had maintenance and operational issues with the building automation systems.

Although many facility staff members were adequately trained to use the building automation systems, Griffiths notes that staff turnover at the facilities reached as high as 30 per cent each year from 2007 to 2011.

“For example, the majority of front line staff we spoke to expressed significant concerns with the operation of the system,” the report states.

“They indicated that in many cases they were not able to resolve operational issues with the system and there was insufficient support to assist in the resolution of problems, ” he added. “As a result, malfunctions were increasing maintenance calls, causing undue delays and ultimately incurring additional costs. As a result and in order to guarantee a more stable operating environment, many staff were disabling the building automation system. Obviously, in these circumstances, energy savings were not being maintained.”

Griffiths makes a number of recommendations to city council in his report. Notably, he suggests the creation of a system which would allow for better reporting of energy savings from each Toronto facility.

This article originally appeared in EcoLog News, Canada’s online source for environmental, health and safety news and legislation on July 5. It is reprinted with permission. See www.ecolog.com