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Ameresco develops 1st carbon-free school in London, Ont.

A unique carbon-free embedded energy system serving John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in Lon...

Ameresco, Fiera, John Paul II Catholic Secondary School, London, Ontario, Canada, first, carbon-neutral, school

John Paul II Catholic Secondary School, in London, ON, is Canada’s first carbon-neutral school (Courtesy, Ameresco)

A unique carbon-free embedded energy system serving John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in London, Ont., may pave the way for future projects at other schools in Canada.

The project was developed by Ameresco for the London District Catholic School Board with financial support from Fiera Capital and the Selkirk Advisory Group.

The project consists of a suite of technologies and services including battery energy storage, carport solar photovoltaic, electric vehicle charging and geothermal heating/cooling. Together they comprise a microgrid that reduces JPII’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, creating the first carbon-neutral school in Canada.

Officials at Ameresco say the project is a showcase model for other school boards across Canada.

Jim Fonger, VP of asset and advanced technology development at Ameresco Canada, said the company is an energy service provider and an advanced technology integrator.

“We integrate the latest technologies that are out there in the marketplace to help customers save money, be more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint,” he said. “We’ve worked with the London District Catholic School Board, I’m going to say going on 20 years in terms of helping them improve their schools from an operational standpoint.

“What happened was Natural Resources Canada released, on a competitive basis, an opportunity for companies to apply for both a smart grid funding and carbon reduction project grant back in 2018. As Ameresco is very much focused on finding ways to help customers reduce their carbon emissions and also has expertise to integrate advanced systems, we saw this as a great opportunity to build a demonstration project and we approached the school board to see if they would be interested in providing one of their schools to facilitate production of the project. They jumped at the opportunity.”

Ameresco employs $4.53M grant to retrofit JPII

Fonger said the project earned a grant of $4.53 million and Ameresco had two things it wanted to demonstrate. First, that it could take an existing facility, retrofit it and have it become an electricity market participant in Ontario. It also wanted to demonstrate its energy-as-a-service contracting method, which is how the school board will wind up paying for the project over the long term under an energy service agreement.

The project went into commercial operation on May 1.

“The first thing we did was a major retrofit of all of their inside energy-use components. That was something that started before this project was actually implemented, but we completed them under this particular project. Part of that was installing integrated circuit meters so that we can get down to the actual plug loads throughout the school. We’re also connected into the sensors monitoring CO2 levels, air quality levels,” said Fonger. “We basically have this school fully sensored so that we can monitor in real-time to make sure that the energy systems that are in the school are actually providing the comfort, cooling air quality to the school at appropriate times. So empty classrooms aren’t being cooled when they don’t have to be.

“To transition the school off-gas, which is what we needed to do to go carbon-free, there were two major initiatives. One was the installation of a ground-source heat pump system in order to use geo-exchange as part of the heating mechanism, and then the other thing that we did was to install as much solar as we could on site in order to generate carbon-free energy.

“In terms of where we’re at right now, the school actually produces more energy over the course of the year than what it consumes off the grid. Not only is it actually carbon-free but it’s net-negative on its carbon footprints. So those emission credits can be used at other schools throughout the school board.”

Project puts out the art of the possible

Fonger said there is also an energy storage system on-site so that the school can be operated in microgrid mode and resilient to grid outages. It has the ability to supply its own service when required.

“Certainly this project is our demonstration project that puts out the art of the possible. Ameresco is doing projects like this all across its North American and European footprint in terms of offering these kinds of services to our clients,” he said. “It’s very much a feature project that shows that we can actually execute on this kind of an initiative and help customers across multiple sectors.

“This isn’t just for school boards. This concept can be taken to commercial buildings, industrial buildings and other public service buildings.”

Ameresco was established in 2000. Its headquarters are just outside Boston with Canadian headquarters in the Greater Toronto Area city of Richmond Hill.

Alexandre Cousineau, vice president and portfolio manager, active fixed income at Fiera Capital, said the company was interested in the London school project because there has been demand from institutional clients for not only long-term investments but also for sustainable and responsible investing.

“This was a unique opportunity for us to participate and to commit for a long-term investment with the school board in London, Ontario. When you look at this project, it’s the first of its kind in Canada. It will become the first carbon-free school . . . and it’s not only really unique but it also combines innovation,” said Cousineau.

“Not only is the goal to reduce to near zero the greenhouse carbon emissions on an annual basis, but it combines a suite of technologies . . . We just hope it’s only the beginning. I think Fiera is looking at the next phase of responsible investing and we really want to do more of those projects going forward.”

Fiera and Selkirk on board to create more carbon-free schools in Canada

Cousineau said this project will kickstart more carbon-free projects in schools in Canada, and Fiera would be willing to work with those projects as well.

Daniel Doubilet, managing director of Selkirk, said the company is grateful to have had the opportunity to participate “in the successful development of this unique and important project and to continue to build its relationship with Ameresco, a leader in the cleantech, energy services and renewable energy markets in North America.

“We are hopeful that JPII will be the first of many such carbon-neutral building projects across multiple sectors and fully expect Ameresco to continue to be at the forefront of this space,” he said.

Selkirk acted as arranger for the lender and is also administrative and collateral agent for the transaction.

Doubilet said Selkirk has a long-standing relationship with Ameresco – financing numerous projects for the firm in Canada and the U.S.

“They’re an outstanding energy services company, renewable power developer and innovator,” he said.

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