Across the country, countless passionate people are working towards a common goal: to help Canada meet its climate targets by 2030.
“In the public and private sectors, in academia and not-for-profit organizations, many people are pushing in this direction,” says Vince Gasparro, managing director, Clean Energy Finance at Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB). “And that’s what we need: siloed sectors can’t do it on their own. We all need to work together to turbocharge this green transition.”
Among the measures that can help to address climate change are innovative projects that reduce emissions from energy generation, transportation and buildings, yet “nothing can happen without the capital to finance these projects,” he suggests.
Wind and solar projects, now considered “plain vanilla,” can access financing from all large financial institutions across North America, including VCIB. But support for other technology types – such as wastewater-to-energy, geothermal energy, battery storage, EV infrastructure or building retrofits – is harder to secure, and Mr. Gasparro notes that this is where VCIB, a subsidiary of Vancity Group, has built considerable expertise.
“We spend a lot of time finding creative solutions to help implement emerging technologies and finance complex projects,” he says. “We’ve become the financier of ‘firsts.’”
Among the trailblazing endeavours supported by VCIB are battery storage solutions in Ontario, an energy-as-a-service model, and the world’s largest raw wastewater-to-energy conversion project, which will generate enough thermal energy to supply 90 per cent of the heating and cooling requirements at the Toronto Western Hospital.
The base technology for the project “checks all the boxes,” says Dennis Fotinos, CEO of Noventa Energy Partners, the renewable energy company spearheading the initiative.
“At Noventa, we are energy geeks and engineers – and we’re partnering with HUBER, an established wastewater technology company based in Europe. We became the exclusive distributor for their patented ThermWin system for North America.”
Pairing HUBER technology with Noventa’s proprietary DFSCTM process allows harvesting energy from raw municipal wastewater, which can then provide the hospital with a clean, renewable energy source, explains Mr. Fotinos. “We knew that by displacing natural gas, we would significantly reduce carbon emissions – and we already have many installations proving we can do this. What we didn’t have was a funder offering reasonable terms.”
What appealed to the team at VCIB was the substantial impact of the project, says Mr. Gasparro. “It’s going to reduce the hospital’s carbon dioxide emissions by 250,000 tonnes and will help save about $800,000 per year in heating and cooling costs for the next 30 years.”
However, executing the ambitious $38-million project required more collaborators and “we had to get creative and bring in the Canada Infrastructure Bank to provide a capital structure that made the project more viable,” says Mr. Gasparro. “It’s our job to ensure we can help de-risk these asset types so they are bankable, and this can include bringing in other capital partners or stakeholders.”
As a result, the project now has a number of backers, including the Government of Canada, which will invest $3.3-million from its Low Carbon Economy Fund, and VCIB and the Vancity Group will provide financing of $15-million. The City of Toronto will offer support in the form of access to wastewater under a long-term lease.
In addition to providing tangible economic and environmental benefits, the project can also serve as an inspiration for other organizations, notes Mr. Gasparro. “Whenever we announce a project, this creates a positive feedback loop. People come to us to see how we and our network of partners can help.”
Transitioning Canada’s economy to net-zero emissions over the next 30 years comes with an estimated price tag of $2-trillion, roughly equivalent to Canada’s annual GDP last year, according to a recent RBC report.
Private capital has to help finance this shift, and Mr. Gasparro says VCIB embraces its role as the only financier for asset types and clean energy projects in the $5-million to $50-million range to “help these types of industries and markets grow and scale clean energy solutions.”
Projects of such size are important drivers of the clean energy transition, according to Mr. Fotinos. “With renewable energy, there’s no one-size-fits-all,” he says. “Wastewater-to-energy is a technology that works very well, but it’s only one step in the right direction. The biggest part is finding partners like VCIB to allow us to chase our passion, which is developing kookier and wilder ideas for reducing carbon emissions.”
There is a role for everyone, believes Mr. Gasparro, with efforts including industry adaptation measures, government regulations, Bay Street financing, climate activism and more. “We often focus on what divides us, but the fact is, we have to embrace and support the transition to a clean economy,” he says. “And these achievements create real jobs and provide real environmental and socio-economic benefits.”
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Canada’s Clean50. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.