Toronto: Energy Sector Climate Risk Assessment

by Paula Silverman

Former Toronto Mayor and chair of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group David Miller made climate change one of his top priorities during his term (2003-2010). Miller’s administration developed several comprehensive action plans to transform the city’s energy sector by transitioning to new sources of renewable power and investing in energy-efficiency. However, these strategies are now being put to the test by a changing political climate. In 2010, Rob Ford, a city councilor ranked last for his environmental platform by the activist group Toronto Environmental Alliance, succeeded Miller as mayor. Ford has made cutting government spending one of the top priorities of his administration, and his recently released 2012 budget calls for the elimination of several of Miller’s signature climate change programs. In order for the city to meet the challenges of a changing climate, it is imperative that the long-term goals of reduced GHG emissions and energy security be carried through Ford’s tenure.

Energy Supply and Demand

Toronto’s residents, businesses, industries, and institutions have relied upon an inexpensive energy fuel mix of non-renewables, such as coal, petroleum, and uranium (for nuclear power) (City of Toronto, 2009). Most of the power is generated outside the city limits and then transmitted. Constructed in the 1950s, the electricity transmission infrastructure that powers the city’s downtown core is aging. There are two transmission supply points that serve the downtown, both of which are nearing peak load capacity (City of Toronto, 2009).

Despite numerous government-sponsored energy conservation programs, Toronto continues to struggle with an energy contradiction, high levels of unsustainable power use that fuel economic growth. A 2009 measure of greenhouse gas emissions from 10 global cities found that Toronto had relatively high per capita electricity consumption (Rosenzweig et al, 2011), which is expected to rise 1% year-over-year (City of Toronto, 2007). Toronto’s commercial sector accounts for 58% of electricity consumption; the residential sector represents approximately 30% (City of Toronto, 2009).


Hazards & Vulnerabilities

A climate risk assessment (Mehrotra et al., 2009) for the energy sector in Toronto suggests that a primary hazard, as the climate warms, is the city facing an increase in extreme weather events; including heavy rain and the ensuing flash floods, high winds, freezing rain, and tornadoes. In recent years, Toronto has experienced several storms of a magnitude that should only occur once in 50 years. These weather extremes threaten power transmission and will likely lead to more power outages. Hotter, drier summers will raise energy demand for air conditioning and other cooling systems in business and residential communities, potentially leading to brown outs; conversely, warmer winters will reduce demand for heating.

Long-term climate change impacts will likely affect hydroelectric power production, as a projected drop in lake water levels reduces electrical output. In addition, the capacity of nuclear and coal-generating power stations is also expected to shrink as warmer water temperatures decrease the efficiency of condensers (City of Toronto, 2007).

Mitigation and Adaptation

In July 2007, the City of Toronto released a wide-ranging Climate Change, Clean Air and Sustainable Energy Action Plan that recommended over 100 actions to reduce the city’s carbon footprint in accordance with Kyoto Protocol benchmarks. Two years later, then Mayor David Miller released The Power to Live Green,, the city’s blueprint for reaching 80% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions based on 1990 levels. Through these energy action plans, government agencies have sponsored numerous programs that provide co-benefits of reducing emissions as well as harm from climate change. For example, municipal incentives for green roofs and the expansion of high albedo surfaces mitigate the impacts of the urban heat island effect, reducing both energy demand as well as absorbing carbon. Toronto’s Better Building and Green Development Standard programs require new and existing constructions to meet energy efficiency benchmarks.

The city has also begun to restructure both production and distribution in the energy sector by decentralizing the system and moving to a smart grid model to improve security of supply, eliminate waste, encourage efficiency and enable conservation. By expanding distributed energy systems, the city can reduce vulnerability to transmission interruptions that are likely to result from powerful storms and high winds.



The following recommendations will help Toronto’s energy sector effectively address climate change impacts: 1.) Expand the capacity of local communities to control its energy production and consumption. The city can facilitate the restructuring of its energy sector by helping to decentralize power generation and connecting clean energy produced by small to medium-sized generators to a state-of-the-art energy grid. 2.) Remove disincentives that deter independent energy providers from feeding into the city’s system. A longstanding policy of government support for traditional dirty power sources, particularly at the provincial level, has hindered competition for renewables. What’s more, centralized generators do not pay to use the grid while distributed generators pay various transmission and distribution charges (World Wildlife Fund, 2011). 3.) Provide additional subsidies to decentralized small-scale alternative energy sources, including photovoltaic, wind, and co-generation, to accelerate the integration of clean, renewables into Toronto’s power supply. Capital investments in energy infrastructure and clean, distributed power supply will yield numerous adaptation and mitigation long-term co-benefits, including improved air quality and energy security. The current administration should preserve earlier investments made in energy innovation to further Toronto’s reputation as a global city leader in addressing climate change.


City of Toronto (2009) The Power to Live Green: Toronto’s Sustainable Energy Strategy, Toronto, Canada

Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance . Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Renewable Energy Opportunities. Retrieved from:…/PDF/…/GTArenewableenergy-industry.pdf

Higginson, J. (2009) Distributed Generation in Toronto: A Stakeholder Survey of Barriers and Benefits. Prepared for World Wildlife Fund Canada. Retrieved from

Ligeti, Eva et al. (2006). The Scan of Climate Change Impacts on Toronto. Retrieved from

Ligeti, Eva et al. (2010). Green Energy Production Scan Greater Toronto Area Jurisdictions. Report to the Greater Toronto Area Clean Air Council. Retrieved from

Mehrotra, S., C.E. Natenzon, A. Omojola, R. Folorunsho, J. Gilbride & C. Rosenzweig. (2009). Framework for city climate risk assessment. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Wieditz. I, & Penney, J. (2006). A scan of climate change impacts on Toronto. Retrieved from


This article is a product of Professor Shagun Mehrotra’s Climate Change and Cities class. Views expressed are entirely those of the individual author.