How Vancouver plans to reduce GHG emissions from its largest buildings

The first emissions limits will come into effect in 2026, with steep fees of $350 per ton of carbon dioxide for exceeding them.

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Starting June 1, the City of Vancouver’s largest commercial buildings (those larger than 100,000 square feet, such as office towers, shopping centers and institutional buildings) will have to begin reporting their emissions, estimated by the amount of energy they use.

The change is part of the city’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by 50 percent by 2030 and then by 100 percent by 2050.

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“In a dense city like Vancouver, emissions from buildings are the biggest (source of emissions),” said Micah Lang, team leader of the city’s sustainability group. “57 per cent of our emissions in Vancouver come from buildings, and the vast majority comes from burning fossil fuels to heat those buildings.”

Reducing carbon footprint is something most large building owners were already working on before Vancouver passed its annual energy and greenhouse gas limits bylaw in 2022, so its requirements are not a big surprise, according to engineer Rod Yeoh.

“Most of the clients I have spoken to are larger institutional clients with building portfolios. They have known this was going to happen for a while (and) have been planning how to accomplish it,” said Yeoh, who works for the architecture firm DIALOG and serves on the city’s technical advisory committee.

Ultimately, though, there is “a mix of preparation, as you would expect,” according to Damian Stathonikos, president of the Building Owners and Managers Association.

Stathonikos said the city has worked well with the association’s least prepared members to get in line. The “hard part” now for many members, he said, is the administrative work needed to connect buildings’ energy meters to what’s called Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

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Sanctions according to the rules of the statute will come into force from 2026.

What comes first?

Buildings report their emissions by first registering with Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a software system available through Natural Resources Canada. They must also share their full building profile with the city’s Energy Star account and file a claim under Vancouver’s building performance system.

“(Energy Star) is an industry standard. There are already thousands of buildings using it in Vancouver even before we implemented this bylaw,” Lang said.

Larger commercial buildings, those larger than 100,000 square feet (9,290 square meters), must begin reporting their emissions by June 1. Lang said office towers taller than 10 stories are typical examples of those early buildings, and the city has a list of 288 buildings. who fall into this group.

The next group of buildings, 898 in total, are commercial buildings between 50,000 square feet (4,645 square meters) and 100,000 square feet, and multifamily residential buildings over 100,000 square feet (typically about 20 stories). They must report emissions by June 1, 2025.

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Residential buildings between 50,000 and 100,000 square feet, 678 of them including hotels, hospitals and dormitories, must begin reporting emissions by June 1, 2026.

How are emissions measured?

“The main job is entering utility data, electricity usage and natural gas usage” into Energy Star, Lang said. “Both FortisBC and BC Hydro have created auto-upload features where, if you give them permission, they will populate your monthly utility bills in the software.”

Emissions are calculated based on energy use per square foot, primarily the emissions generated by each gigajoule of natural gas burned. Lang said a similar factor is used to calculate emissions from buildings connected to district energy systems.

However, this is where some of the administrative headaches arise for building owners, Stathonikos said. There are cases where building owners, especially industrial buildings, have sole tenants who pay utility bills. In the past, they didn’t need to see meter readings, so it’s a challenge to coordinate.

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Building owners can receive bylaw violation notices worth $500 for each day they fail to comply with reporting requirements. But Lang said the city is not looking to penalize all buildings that don’t comply on time. “Our priority is to help them…figure out how to deliver successfully.”

How will GHG limits be enforced?

The first emissions cap will go into effect in 2026, with office buildings limited to 25 kilograms of carbon per square foot per year and retail operations limited to 14 kilograms, which Lang said were intended to “cover the worst performing quartile, or a third of the buildings”. .”

Then, in 2040, buildings larger than 100,000 square feet will face stricter thermal energy limits of 0.09 gigajoules per square foot per year.

Lang said enforcement will be done by requiring buildings to obtain operating permits that become more expensive if they exceed emissions limits. The basic permit will be $500, but homeowners will pay $350 for each ton of CO2 they exceed their limits.

“So, in a 200,000-square-foot office building, which is kind of a medium-large sized office building, if they exceeded their limit by just two kilograms per square meter, their fee for the operating permit would be that base of $500 plus $14,000 per year. —Lang said.

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How realistic are the emissions reduction targets?

Lang said the 2026 limits are set “at a level that most buildings could meet by taking simpler measures,” and about three-quarters of the first group of large buildings to report emissions are already within that. first limit.

Stathonikos said the first cap will be “doable,” but landlords are concerned about targets beyond 2030, particularly among office properties that have fewer vacancies and more uncertainty about future operations.

“Many building owners have made the job easy,” Stathonikos said. “He changed his halogen lights to LEDs, (he adjusted) the timing of his HVAC system instead of running 24 hours a day.”

However, further reducing emissions will require switching from natural gas to electricity for heating, switching boilers to heat pumps or even all-electric boilers, Yeoh said.

“The main obstacles at the moment are the capacity of electrical services that power individual buildings and current heat pump technology,” Yeoh said. Current heat pumps are not as efficient as they should be and require gas backup heating.

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And Stathonikos said those improvements “are more expensive and disruptive things,” at a time when uncertain market conditions and higher interest rates make financing more difficult for homeowners.

Lang said the city will remain open to working with individual buildings that face obstacles in reaching their limits.

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