McKenna announces 20 municipal green grants, loans

The $13.5 million Green Municipal Fund will aid capital projects.

OTTAWA — A $31.5-million funding announcement is a taste of what municipalities could do with billions in promised green infrastructure money from the federal government, municipal leaders say.

The money from the Green Municipal Fund will be used to pay for capital projects and also to support planning, field tests and studies related to future green projects.

Cities believe the $20 billion in new green infrastructure money that the federal Liberals have promised is coming over the next 10 years will be more effective than the Green Municipal Fund in the current economic climate.

The fund annually doles out about $50 million in loans and grants, drawing on a pool of funds set up with a $500 million federal investment 15 years ago. The low-interest rates on loans through the program were designed to encourage cities to think green for projects that included wastewater treatment plants, turning solid waste facilities into energy producers and helping clean up and develop polluted lands.

But rock-bottom interest rates have made the fund’s work more difficult. Municipalities can turn to banks for competitive interest rates without having the money tied to requirements for innovative, green component.

Ben Henderson, chairman of the green fund, said cities are the “canaries in the mine shaft” on climate change, facing issues like forest fires and flooding that have forced them to spend money to mitigate the effects of global warming. Federal funding would help cover those costs and future costs to adapt to climate change.

“Having that kind of federal government commitment to help us make it happen is the really pivotal piece of this,” said Henderson, an Edmonton city councillor.

“Our hope and our belief is that it doesn’t stop here. There’s a lot more capacity that we have.”

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has highlighted $31.5 million in grants and loans to 20 cities and towns across the country that would pay for projects to improve local standards for air, water and soil quality. Among the projects McKenna cited for funding were a net-zero-emissions library being built in Varennes, Que., and a Halifax project to install solar hot-water systems in local homes.

In a speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, McKenna said cities have direct control over 40% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. To reduce those emissions, she said local governments need specific, achievable and measurable strategies.

Speaking to reporters after her speech, McKenna said reducing emissions will be part of the government’s green infrastructure program.

“Some projects are going to help make cities more sustainable, so they may not have as great an impact on emissions reductions,” she said.

“There are a whole variety of ways that we can reduce emissions through our green infrastructure fund.”

The upcoming federal budget will outline just how much cities can expect from the government’s promised green infrastructure program, which the Liberal election platform promised would be $1.7 billion in the next fiscal year.

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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