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Energy Retrofit ‘Disaster’ as Toronto’s $21.1m Project Fails to Deliver

The city of Toronto spent $21.1 million retrofitting 89 arenas and more than 50 community centers and pools, and doesn’t know if the energy efficiency measures produced any real cost savings, reports The Globe and Mail. The newspaper cites a report from Toronto’s Auditor-General that won’t be made public until next week.

The report reserves special criticism for a building automation system installed at all 89 arenas, for a total cost of $3.3 million. The equipment malfunctioned and many employees also disabled the system, rendering it useless.

And at the Ted Reeve Community Arena, annual retrofit savings had been projected at $33,645, but actual savings were only $6,400.

“The problem is there might have been a better place to spend our money where we would have truly had some measurable results that would have saved us more money and done more for the environment,” the chairman of the audit committee, deputy mayor Doug Holyday, said. “If you can’t tell, how do you know?”

Toronto started its $36 million, city-wide energy retrofit program in 2004. The retrofits were expected to make 250 city-owned facilities more efficient, and pay for themselves by 2014.

The auditor’s report only looks at arenas, community centers and pools, not the entire program. The city paid $9.9 million to retrofit 89 arenas and $6 million to retrofit 53 community centers and pools, with another $1.75 million spent to upgrade lighting at 59 centers and pools.

The city also budgeted $3.5 million for “general energy efficiency measures” in 83 smaller facilities. This work is scheduled to be completed by mid-2013.

Frost & Sullivan’s Konkana Khaund, North America industry manager, environment and building technologies, says she’s not surprised by the news.

“It’s a classic case of not really understanding what kind of baseline you are looking at, and how much are you trying to save from the retrofit,” Khaund said. “This is a disaster in the sense that they [the city of Toronto] implemented this blanket retrofit across all facilities without seeing results from a single one, or even questioning the contractors to see pilot program results.”

When done correctly, however, energy efficiency retrofits can save a lot of money. For example, research by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found large commercial buildings could cut heating and cooling costs by an average of 25 to 35 percent by adding certain retrofits to existing large HVAC systems on their rooftops.

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5 thoughts on “Energy Retrofit ‘Disaster’ as Toronto’s $21.1m Project Fails to Deliver

  1. “The report reserves special criticism for a building automation system installed at all 89 arenas, for a total cost of $3.3 million. The equipment malfunctioned and many employees also disabled the system, rendering it useless.”

    So, was the supplier contacted to fix the problem? If not, why? If so, why were the problems not fixed. Was the control system not vetted before being purchased? Didn’t an engineer verify the potential energy reduction?

    There must be a track history of success for this technology when considering a $3.3M install. BUT, as usual, stupid is as stupid does. If “many employees disable the system rendering it useless” shouldn’t the blame and questions be shifted to the leadership of Toronto’s rec centres, not the technology.

  2. I agree with the above writer. Who even knows if it is a simple case of the employees not being educated about the system, disabling it, and thus getting the bad results. It seems SOMETHING could have been done to rectify or tweak the systems.

  3. I agree too. Bad behavior is the bane of efficiency and effectiveness. This is a world in which no one is to blame for a failure because all failures are couched in 3rd party terms. The “Project” didn’t deliver; the “technology” didn’t work” right; the “City of Toronto” implemented it; the consultants say (after the fact) that the “baseline” understanding was wrong. It’s the faceless “them” or the ubiquitous ‘It” that failed. What about the people who designed and installed the systems or those using the systems on a daily basis? Bad behaviour is just too hard to change I guess.

  4. Pre-testing engineering and evaluations should be implemented on a smaller scale to ensure the savings can be realized prior to beginning any large project. There should be an audit withing the first 3 months to review energy cost for that period. Accuracy is the key to any successful project.

  5. Great comments so far… my question is, in all that money, no one thought to implement a metering system? Who approves this poor approach to energy? If you can’t meter it, you can’t control it. And, what happened to continuous commissioning? The wheels, it seems, were never on the tracks to start with.

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