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The City of Edmonton is looking for different ways to encourage more energy-efficient construction after the Alberta government announced its intention to revoke Edmonton’s and Calgary’s ability to demand greener building practices in December.

With nearly 40 per cent of Edmonton’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from residential and commercial buildings, the city wants to increase the stock of new emissions-neutral buildings and prepare existing ones for the impacts of climate change in the future. But Edmonton won’t be able to require new buildings to be more efficient than the province requires through the building code, putting a wrench in one option the city was exploring through Edmonton’s community energy transition plan approved by city council in 2021.

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That strategy contemplated “increasingly stringent energy codes in alignment with federal and provincial governments,” along with boosting energy retrofits. City staff also told council in a November 2022 memo that more stringent energy requirements would drive economic growth in Edmonton by signaling to manufacturers “that the region and province will require windows, (prefabricated walls), insulation and energy consultants.”

But councillors heard at Tuesday’s urban planning committee meeting that the province is responsible for choosing the level of energy performance in the building code and the city can’t impose stricter rules.

“Edmonton does not have the powers to regulate to a higher level, however there are other options to advance action,” said Kim Petrin, deputy city manager of urban planning Tuesday. “Without regulation as an opportunity, we need to increase our advocacy and partnership efforts to achieve our climate goals.”

Pitched as a way to preserve housing affordability, the Alberta government in December announced upcoming changes to city charters that will revoke Edmonton’s and Calgary’s ability to make bylaws around energy consumption and heat retention through bylaws surrounding building codes.

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Options the city still has are creating incentives or subsidies to encourage this kind of construction. City staff will return with more detailed ideas in June after council members voted to accept the initial staff reports on Tuesday.

Edmonton is looking at ways to expand the district energy network, essentially creating several centralized energy systems to distribute thermal energy, such as the one currently set up in Blatchford.

Mandatory energy labeling is another idea.

This would create a disclosure and labeling bylaw that sellers show how much energy a building uses, or create incentives to do so, according to staff’s presentation. The city has had a voluntary EnerGuide program for new and existing homes since 2017.

Dave Turnbull, a director with the Canadian Homebuilders Association Edmonton Region, told council that new homes are being built to be more energy efficient and they are running events for builders to build in greener ways.

But, he thinks it’s wise Edmonton doesn’t weigh in on Alberta’s jurisdiction for building codes because of complex rules and the province’s weather. He also said mandatory labeling could hurt small builders.

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“Many of our members are already using energy labels and new homes are already being built to a high standard for efficiency,” he said. “(But) smaller home builders are still using the prescriptive building side of the code and this would have to cause them to change their processes and they would be impacted quite a bit by mandatory labelling.”

One report from Efficiency Canada recommended Edmonton draft a bylaw that would make new requirements for emissions-neutral buildings or require this through the building permit process before the province announced pending changes to city charters.


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