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2001 Building — Co-winner 1

City of St. John's, Newfoundland

Retrofitting city buildings to save energy and money

Population: 100,000 

The City of St. John's retrofit project is paying for itself with financial savings generated by energy-efficiency improvements to municipal buildings. The project, in its final year, has already substantially reduced energy costs. By the time the project is complete, St. John's expects its annual energy bill will have been slashed by $600,000 a year. Implemented in partnership with Vestar (formerly Rose Technology Group Ltd.), this four-year project delivers many benefits to St. John's. It reduces operating costs, increases equipment reliability (reducing the need for emergency service) and improves operating practices and staff skills. The project also improves the environment in several ways: it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improves air quality and enhances conditions for workers through improved lighting, heating and humidity levels in the city's buildings.


St. John's owns and maintains many large, old buildings constructed at a time when energy costs were not a serious concern. Some dating back to the 1950s, most municipal buildings are fitted with outdated technology, such as older types of lighting and heating systems, that have prevented the city from implementing any significant energy reduction measures without a large capital investment.

In the early 1990s, the city's revenue base began to shrink. In order to trim costs, St. John's was forced to choose between slashing programs and trimming operating costs. Planners at St. John's department of building and property management proposed that the city, which paid $2.3 million a year in energy bills to heat and light its buildings, save money within the existing maintenance budget by retrofitting city buildings to increase their energy efficiency. They reasoned that this would result in lower annual energy bills.


  • Once phase two is completed, the city expects to save $600,000 a year in heating costs (exceeding the $500,000 originally forecast), which will be used to finance other city programs once the cost of the retrofit project is paid off.
  • The project has led to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. St. John's has eliminated 330,000 litres of thick and polluting Bunker 'C' fuel annually that was needed to drive three 200-horsepower boilers. When phase two of the retrofit has been completed in 2001, St. John's will have reduced its draw on the provincial power grid by more than
  • 3.2 million kilowatts per hour.
  • The city has improved building comfort for its employees. Not only is it easier to control temperatures, but staff can also monitor carbon dioxide levels and add fresh air to their buildings if necessary. The project has improved lighting and reduced maintenance costs.
  • The project has so far provided the local economy with $3 million worth of work in the construction industry, as well as associated spinoff activities.
  • St. John's now has in-house, state-of-the-art maintenance expertise in energy conservation measures and retrofit implementation.

Lessons Learned

  • Many of the financial and legal aspects of the project were very complex. Putting together a multidisciplinary team comprising representatives from the legal, finance and property management departments was critical to the project's success.
  • Staff was not adequately prepared when the first group of facilities came on stream upon completion of phase one. Training had been conducted a year before, too long for staff to retain the information without the chance to apply it. Once the computers were in place, staff used trial and error and support from Enerplan to become familiar with the energy management control systems. Phase two includes a very thorough training session that will refine workers' skills.
  • In retrospect, the city would make one significant change if it had the project to do over again. For phase one, it would have Vestar complete all of the work related to air sealing, lighting changeover and installation of infrared heaters etc. However, for phase two, it would carry out that work itself, or through contractors. The Vestar fee agreement included markups and premiums that could have been avoided had the city used contractors. St. John's would, however, still employ consulting engineers to design complicated items such as the computerized energy management control panels.
  • According to Blackmore, "The federal government should help municipal governments study EMF contracts to decide if their inherent fee structure is acceptable. Instead of working with EMFs, cities and towns could deal, instead, with qualified engineering consultants with experience in this area."
  • St. John's embarked on its retrofit program before the Federation of Canadian Municipalities launched its Municipal Buildings Retrofit Program (MBRP). The Federation of Canadian Municipalities can offer municipal governments a step-by-step approach for undertaking a building retrofit, in addition to model documents, manuals and workshops.


Page Updated: 21/12/2015