Mayberry outlines Oxford County's lofty goals - April 4, 2019
BY DENNY SCOTT
As part of the Municipal Officers’ Association meeting recently held in Brussels last month, former Warden of Oxford County David Mayberry detailed how his county is tackling some impressive initiatives on behalf of its constituents.
While invited to talk about Oxford County’s pledge to use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, Mayberry also highlighted some other pledges that the county has made in terms of social responsibility.
In 2015, the second year of his four years as warden, Mayberry said Oxford committed to 100 per cent renewable energy. In 2016, the county made a similar commitment to eventually reach zero waste and, in 2017, Oxford County made a zero per cent poverty pledge.
He started his presentation saying that, whether people want to admit it or not, climate change is real.
“It is in fact mostly caused by human activity,” he said. “It’s the result of two things: first, global population has increased eight-fold in the past hundred-plus years.”
He said that, since 1910, when the world’s population hit one billion, global population has grown in leaps and bounds, and in 2023 and 2024, the world will be home to eight billion people.
The second cause, he said, is the increased rate of energy and resource consumption.
“Climate change is not the legacy any sane or decent human being wants to leave to future generations,” he said. “[Oxford County Council] wants to do something about greenhouse gases right now.”
Unfortunately, as far as government involvement is concerned, Mayberry said, Oxford County is the odd man out.
“Until climate change becomes a populous issue, it won’t be moved on by top-tier governments,” he said. “Movement on climate change continues to be a privately- or municipally-driven effort. You need to do the work.”
Less reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear fuel will allow municipalities to keep income in-house and help save the environment, he said.
“Oxford County spends half a billion dollars importing energy for consumption each year,” he said. “Then we use it; burn it up.”
By moving to 100 per cent renewable energy, he said, the county can participate in one of the cheapest forms of energy out there, and that goal is being realized with small-scale projects.
He said that utilizing LED technology instead of traditional light bulbs, using low-speed drives for water and wastewater projects and capturing methane from plants for re-use are examples of how the county is moving forward. Unfortunately, he said, those are the “low-hanging fruit.”
“Now we have to move on to the bigger projects,” he said.
Mayberry explained that traditionally, one-third of energy consumption is tied to residential environmental controls like heating, one-third is associated with transportation of goods and people and one-third is commercial, industrial or private consumption. Oxford County has started focusing on the former, looking at making more efficient homes.
“The minimum standards for today’s building code were just great for 1970, 80 or 90,” he said. “Now, it’s time for serious improvement.”
Oxford County has gotten hands-on trying to create more green living spaces, starting several different housing projects to provide attainable, environmental homes.
The county’s first project was to resurrect a 120-year-old former sock factory as affordable housing with green building practices, Mayberry said.
The building, located in Woodstock, houses 54 units that each cost $5 a month to heat.
“There is excellent heat recapture, the air quality is excellent and it is as good as any building in Oxford,” he said.
Mayberry explained that Oxford County is using U.S. passive house standards, saying that those goals fit better for the county and allow them to buy local.
Two more projects are on the way, he said, with each being more green than the last.
In Tillsonburg, for example, a fully-accessible 18-unit building geared towards seniors with limited income is being built.
“We had the energy modelling done by a consultant and, the total cost of all energy in the 600-square-foot units should be less than $10 a month,” he said, adding that the co-op in charge of the site is charging $20/month for utilities just to be sure.
With the addition of a solar array on the roof of the site, the total cost of all energy consumed per month will be $3 to $5, Mayberry said, including delivery.
The county’s next project involves six four-plexes and one 180-unit building geared to income.
“These are all going to be built to passive-house standards,” he said. “There will be solar-self generation and the county will continue to move towards building and demonstrating highly-efficient building options.”
While many municipalities or counties may shy away from being involved with residential projects, Mayberry said the projects are actually investments, with the first projects payback periods being around 20 years, and, thanks to more easily accessible materials, the next projects are looking at 10 years.
The project in Tillsonburg is by far the most cost-effective, he said, with the project only costing three per cent more than a home without the green construction methods, and saving 80 per cent of energy consumption.
He said that the county’s investment in the projects is not just about energy efficiency, greenhouse gases, or employment, but about changing the building landscape in Oxford.
“Yes, the educational value these contractors receive in how to build better is subsidized by the county,” he said. “There is no question about that, but our residents are and will be the beneficiaries of that education.”
For the county, projects like those listed above and a new waste management and education centre built to be net-zero impact, meaning fully-solar powered, accomplish multiple goals with minimal increases to expense.
The county is also converting its fleet of vehicles to compressed natural gas, reducing emissions between 20 and 25 per cent. He said there have been growing pains as the staff get used to new equipment, but it’s worth it for the savings.
The county purchased two of the first hybrid ambulances available in 2017, two more in 2018 and will be purchasing three more this year.
“It reduces consumed fuel by 18-20 per cent,” he said. “We had hoped for better, but that’s where they sit.”
Like the building practices, the first two ambulances were pricey, he said, costing $35,000 more than their diesel counterparts, however those costs should be recovered in the fuel savings for the unit in the six-year life span.
After that six-year cycle, Mayberry hopes that 100 per cent electrical ambulances will be available, and may be less expensive options at that point.
He said that, since Oxford signed on for hybrid projects, other regions, such as York and Toronto, have followed suit.
While energy conservation- and greenhouse gas-focused initiatives have been successful, Mayberry said that the zero-waste program may be the most difficult and that’s due to a lack of buy-in from ratepayers.
“It started with a waste audit,” he said. “Despite our free blue box program and $2 bag tags, it might be surprising to know that 25 per cent of all material in household garbage bags could be put in a blue box.”
He said another 40 per cent was organic matter that could have been composted. “In the simplest terms, almost two-thirds of all household garbage in the bag didn’t need to be there if our residents wanted to be more responsible.”
The need for a zero-waste policy became apparent when Oxford County Council was told its county landfill had a capacity of 30 to 40 years at its current use.
“We decided to have staff make it last to 2100,” Mayberry said.
He explained that global consumption of raw material is growing faster than the population rate and that, by 2100, when the landfill is set to last until, nine of the 10 most easily-accessible minerals are set to be fully depleted.
To reach that goal, the county needed to reduce material going to the landfill by 90 per cent, which he said was a pricey proposition.
“We hoped that national and provincial governments could help,” he said. “We also figured, if Germany can make cars 100 per cent recyclable, why can’t we hit similar goals.”
He said some projects may not be palatable in Oxford County, so he doesn’t really know where the county can turn next.
One of the county’s most ambitious plans is its zero-poverty pledge, Mayberry said.
“Given the nature of humanity, there could be some real challenges around turf protection,” he said.
To meet its goal, Oxford County Council set out basic objectives, the first of which is an adequate supply of affordable housing, being housing that’s affordable for people making $18 to $24 an hour.
“I used to think $24 an hour was pretty good, but, if you make $24 as a single person, you’re not going to buy a house in Oxford,” he said. “We need 1,000-square foot residences for purchase or rent.”
He said that services need to be universally available as well, regardless of income, including access to transportation, and opportunities need to be created for residents to earn a living wage.
“We’re in the early stages of developing a program for living wages,” he said. “The first program we have is moving forward, and it provides access to all those who need a systems navigator to help access funding.”
He explained that, in Oxford County, there is a complex system for people who need to access county services, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon, so a coach is needed to help people access.”
For more information, visit www.oxfordcounty.ca.