London test may allow net-zero neighbourhoods to collectively save on energy bills

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London’s West 5 development will be a testing ground for a program that may one day allow neighbourhoods to use the renewable energy they produce to cut power bills.

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Located in west London, Sifton Properties’ West 5 is Ontario’s first net-zero community — one that aims to produce as much energy as it consumes. Its homes and businesses use solar panels and other technologies to produce energy.

The new model, announced Tuesday by Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith, allows users who have solar panels to redeem excess energy they produce through rebates on their electricity bills.

Community Net Metering would allow residents in neighbourhoods like West 5 to collectively receive rebates.

“Until now, net metering has only been available as an arrangement between an individual customer . . . and their distribution company,” Smith said. “However, it has been limited in a community setting.”

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Smith said the results from the West 5 test will be used as a model for other sustainable communities.

“We’ll be watching closely to see how this demonstration project unfolds here in London, and it could be expanded to other parts of London. It could be expanded in other communities across the province,” he said.

The Community Net Metering program could move West 5 closer to its goal of becoming energy self-sufficient by allowing buildings that generate more energy to support less efficient structures, said Richard Sifton, president and chief executive of Sifton Properties.

“When you look at an apartment building, it can’t produce as much energy as it needs in order to be net-zero, so you have to count on other buildings such as townhouses, which have a bigger footprint and therefore have more solar capabilities,” he said.

“Allowing them to over produce means that you also are able to save on energy usage in other avenues, such as an apartment or commercial building.”

About 700 people already live in about 300 homes on West 5.

When the subdivision is completed in about seven years, it will have about 2,000 residential units, including townhouses and apartments as well as office and retail space, Sifton said.

Community Net Metering testing is slated to begin Nov. 1.

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