T.O. environmental agency under fire

A bloodsucking parasite

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By DON PEAT , Toronto Sun

After seven years of breathing easy, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund is facing its biggest challenge yet — political climate change at City Hall.

It was supposed to be standard business for the arm’s-length agency (TAF) recently when the organization’s executive director appeared before Mayor Rob Ford and his powerful executive committee to outline investments made while city councillors were off on the election trail.

Those transactions included a loan of $500,000 to the Pukwis Energy Co-operative to build a wind farm on Lake Simcoe and $300,000 to be invested by SolarShare in Penguin Power to install 20 solar tracking systems on leased rural Ontario locations.

But with a new right-leaning executive in place, the temperature jumped several degrees when it came time to discuss the loans and grants.

After a heavy round of questioning by several committee members, including Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, a review was ordered to see if the fund is meeting the goals councillors set when they took $23 million in taxpayers’ cash to start TAF 20 years ago.

Coun. Shelley Carroll, who leads TAF’s board of management, complained critics fail to realize the fund is doing good work which saves the city money.

She insisted that if the review is fair, TAF will survive intact.

However, during her first meeting with staff from the mayor’s office, she was questioned about the agency’s staffing levels.

Carroll said she has a queasy feeling about what’s coming.

“I’m ready to fight if what is really going on here is, ‘Sorry, it is great and all but we just need some cash,’” said Carroll.

“If that is what is going on here, that will be the most foolish transaction that the city has ever transacted … $23 million gone in a heartbeat versus leaving it there to find millions, ongoing, ever year.”

Councillor David Shiner — who pushed for the review — questioned why the fund is giving grants to projects to lobby other levels of government and to groups to conduct studies which he thinks are common sense.

“Why do we want to take taxpayers’ money to fund an organization to lobby the government?” he asked.

Shiner said he would like to keep funding in the city.

“To defend paying to install photo cells or small wind farms or energy conservation projects or studies that benefit areas outside of Toronto really doesn’t do what we should be doing for our taxpayers,” he insisted.

Based on the list of grants he saw earlier this month, Shiner said recipients received cash for a number studies where information already existed or were being conducted to confirm what amounts to common sense.

Holyday, meanwhile, said he’s not out to get the fund.

“I just think it’s time for a review, that fund has been in place for a while, it’s a large amount of money and I think that a review is in order,” Holyday said. “Even the auditor general, who is looking at (the fact) there is a city department that deals with environmental funding, is wondering himself whether or not there is duplication going on here.”

Holyday said TAF’s loan to the Lake Simcoe wind farm caught his attention.

“I just think someone has to look at this before we continue on down that road,” he said.

Behind City Hall, in TAF’s small office — a renovated Chinese restaurant — executive director Julia Langer argued environmental initiatives propelled by TAF have saved the city money.

“What we have is a value proposition that I think speaks for itself; we have an asset that has existed for 20 years and doesn’t cost the city anything,” she said. “To deliver savings, opportunities for being environmentally responsible, engaging huge numbers of people, that’s what we put forward and we always will be accountable to the city in terms of the asset and the privilege of offering this innovation and opportunity here.”

She noted that projects which provide better energy efficiency cut costs. Not all TAF’s projects are equally successful, Langer admitted.

“That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do them,” she said. “Certainly, we are operating within a budget, within a mandate, and I think we have an incredible track record of the grants that we’ve made over 20 years that have turned into really amazing projects and benefits for the city.”

TAF’s grants are only given to Toronto-based organizations to do local work while there are no geographical boundaries for its loans.

Past TAF grants have helped start pilot programs which proved green technology works and saved the city cash.

Langer noted projects conducted with Toronto Hydro on streets, in Toronto Community Housing buildings and even with the city’s traffic lights have helped make the case for lighting that uses less energy.

Loans have helped companies build condos that incorporate green technology.

Langer said she looks at the review as an opportunity to showcase her organization.

9 thoughts on “T.O. environmental agency under fire

  1. Toronto should look at the destruction putting Industrial Wind Turbines on lake Simcoe can cause. How will fishing be affected? These are not tourist attractions, they are Industrial machines.

  2. Why stop here?…………….let’s stop ALL FUNDING for ALL NGO’s and have every single existing NGO re-submit their applications for $$$ under a tightly controlled oversight by a non-government aligned group. I would suggest that if even half the NGO’s in this Province were eliminated we would all see a tax decrease, huge funding enhancements to Health and Education not to mention a little “honesty” being restored to Queen’s Park!

  3. I think it should be ILLEGAL for “the people’s” money to be given to ANY NGO outside of a TENDERED CONTRACT which provides either a good or a service to the people! PERIOD!

    IT’S OUR MONEY DAMN IT!

    B.B.W.

  4. Hasn’t the Exhibition Wind Turbine been absolutely useless for at least a year and a half?……………….I understand it hasn’t generated on ounce of energy for that long at least?

  5. Quixote:

    Hello? Hello? Electricity is not measured in ounces. Now politicians brains…. that’s another matter. 😉

    The only thing it has generated is controversy and misinformation. By showing Torontonians a scale model — it misinforms.

  6. Here is the references we have on Julia Langer [Toronto Atmospheric Fund]. We are putting together a special media report on her shortly.

    The info is mostly geared towards the Pesticide Ban in Ontario but there is all kinds of overlapping info on the Environment.

    We hope you can find this information valuable, use what ever you like .

    http://pesticidetruths.com/2011/01/31/references-julia-langer-husband-kai-millyard-associates-taf-environmentalist-commitee-at-arms-reach-of-toronto-mayor-rob-ford/

  7. I agree. Change the names to protect the innocent (the consumers).
    Not to change the subject. But, have you heard of smart meters? Smart meters seem NOT so smart of an idea! See website for full story: http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/01/10/10greenwire-health-concerns-over-smart-electric-meters-gai-81496.html – Amid claims of malfunctioning meters, privacy issues and dubious economic value, health issues stemming from electromagnetic waves are the latest objection that smart meter opponents have seized upon to block California’s multibillion-dollar rollout. Northern California residents and lawmakers have been sounding the alarm for the past year, saying that the meters, when layered on top of microwaves, cell phones, wireless routers and other emitters, are the final straw. Things came to a head last week when the Marin County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance (pdf) that deems the installation of smart meters a misdemeanor in some areas of the county (Greenwire, Jan. 5). “What we’re trying to say is, it’s not just endangered species we need to watch out for,” said Katharina Sandizell, a co-director of the nonprofit West Marin Community Coalition for Public Health who was arrested last month for blocking smart meter installers’ trucks. “Humans are also the canaries in the closet.” Sandizell believes that her two children could suffer developmental problems, brain tumors or other disorders as a result of electromagnetic radiation.
    Videos of leaking turbines:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoeiQo_h_eY&feature=related

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