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2003 Energy — Co-winner 1

City of Hamilton, Ontario

Hamilton Community Energy’s Downtown District Heating Project

Population: 490,268

The Hamilton Community Energy (HCE) combined heat and power (CHP) plant is producing enough thermal energy (hot water) to heat about a dozen buildings in the downtown core, plus 3500 kW of electricity that is sold to the City of Hamilton. Using a gas-fired reciprocating engine generator, exhaust heat from the engine is being recovered in the form of hot water and distributed to buildings via an underground piping network. CHP technology is almost twice as efficient as conventional power and heating systems, so there will be a substantial reduction in greenhouse gases emitted in the downtown core. The city leased the land for the plant from the Board of Education, one of the recipients of the low-cost energy, and it plans to build a second facility a few blocks away.


In June 1992, VISION 2020, a plan to create a sustainable community, was adopted to serve as a decision-making guide for the former Region of Hamilton-Wentworth. VISION 2020 was retained when the region amalgamated with other municipal governments into the "new" City of Hamilton in January 2001, and every five years the city invites the community to help in reviewing and revising the plan. The city also participates in Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) and has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent in its municipal operations.

District heating, also known as cogeneration, is the simultaneous production of both electricity and useful heat from one fuel source. The district heating concept was originally developed through a partnership with Natural Resources Canada, the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, and the Corporation of the City of Hamilton. Resources from each of the three partners included equal funding for an initial feasibility study.

In 1999, a former regional councillor, who took part in FCM's Community Energy Mission to Sweden, brought the idea of district heating before council. Subsequent FCM Missions to Finland, Norway, and Denmark reinforced the benefits of CHP with council.


  • Energy output from the CHP plant has an overall seasonal efficiency of 80 per cent. Since connecting to the CHP plant, customers have shut down their older heating systems whose efficiency had been estimated at between 40 and 60 per cent.
  • Net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are: carbon dioxide reductions of 9,800 tonnes/year, nitrous oxide reductions of 13 tonnes/year, and sulphur dioxide reductions of 57 tonnes/year.
  • The project met several of the city's VISION 2020 objectives. It addressed educational goals through the developed with the school board. It has made the community less vulnerable to emergencies, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and used lifecycle accounting as an integrated approach to sustainability.

Lessons Learned

  • Community support and buy-in are essential. The project did not require a full environmental assessment, but HCE conducted a self-assessment of environmental impacts as part of its commitment to the public.
  • Internal and external champions are critical. City councillors, school board trustees, and members of the public and the media supported the project and helped educate others about its benefits. In addition, HCE made several formal presentations to city council and staff. Council reports and subsequent resolutions passed were posted on the city's Web site.
  • People want to see results. The original concept to capture waste heat from the industrial sector would have cost up to $70 million, would have required more than 90 customers, and would have taken several years to complete. A smaller CHP plant allowed project partners to maintain the momentum of public support and deliver a successful project that provided the community with a first-hand look at the benefits of CHP.

Partners and Collaboration


  • The City of Hamilton's Planning & Development and Facility Management Departments


  • Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board
Page Updated: 21/12/2015