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Oxford plans 1M square feet of rooftop solar

Look up next time you’re shopping at a major mall in the Greater Toronto Area — it might just mak...

IMAGE: Solar panels atop Oxford Properties' Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. The company plans to install a million square feet of solar atop its N. American retail and industrial properties. (Courtesy Oxford)

Solar panels atop Oxford Properties’ Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. The company plans to install a million square feet of solar atop its N. American retail and industrial properties. (Courtesy Oxford)

Look up next time you’re shopping at a major mall in the Greater Toronto Area — it might just make you green with delight. That’s because Oxford Properties will install a million square feet of rooftop solar panels atop its North American retail and industrial assets by 2022.

“We’re seeking to hold ourselves accountable and demonstrate the viability of solar for our customers and the industry,” Oxford’s director of sustainability Darryl Neate told SustainableBiz in an interview.

The massive sustainability project is estimated to generate approximately six million kWh of electricity per year, which is enough to power all homes in the town of Collingwood, Ont. (population 22,000) for a month.  The initiative is also part of Oxford’s commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2025.

There are three drivers, according to Neate.

* It’s good for customers. “We know our customers want to live, work and shop in green buildings, and we want to provide them cheaper, cleaner power. So this commitment helps us do that. We’ve already reduced our emissions across our portfolio by a considerable amount, and we are aiming to (improve) that through this commitment.”

* It’s good for buildings. “Really, it makes our buildings more efficient, more sustainable, and really helps to future-proof our assets … as energy prices continue to increase.”

* It’s good for the environment. “We’ve reduced our carbon emissions by 35 per cent on a per-square-foot basis between 2010 and 2015 … we’re on track to achieve our targets.”

Two GTA malls getting solar panels

A pair of GTA malls are currently receiving the green treatment: Mississauga’s Square One Shopping Centre and Scarborough Town Centre are being outfitted with solar panels.

“We expect to have them developed by early 2020,” said Neate, adding it’s approximately 200,000 square-feet combined for both malls.  “We’re a little over 100,000 (square feet) in right now.”

More solar projects across Oxford’s retail and industrial properties are to be installed by 2022.

Oxford’s first large-scale solar project was completed in 2017 at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto.

“That project was a success,” said Neate.

The environmental improvements were part of a $220-million southwest expansion, which includes a living roof.  It saw 600 rooftop solar panels installed on 20,000 square feet of Yorkdale’s rooftop, with seven inverters spanning more than a kilometre.

Solar program outperforming expectations

The existing panels generate 234,140 kWh — equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 40 residential homes.  Since 2017, it has “outperformed the model by 10 per cent,” said Neate, adding “internally, we’re very comfortable with that.”

Oxford isn’t disclosing the cost of the project.

Established in 1960, Oxford manages approximately $60 billion of assets across the globe on behalf of its co-owners and investment partners.

Oxford’s portfolio encompasses office, retail, industrial, hotels and multi-family residential, and spans more than 100 million square feet in global gateway cities across four continents.

With its global headquarters in Toronto, Oxford operates out of at least 15 regional offices including New York, London, Luxembourg, Singapore and Sydney, investing in properties, portfolios, development sites, debt, securities and platforms across the risk-reward spectrum.

Malls offer large, flat rooftops

The GTA malls were selected as early projects for the solar panels since they provide large, flat roof space.

“It lines up with our re-roofing cycles at our shopping centres,” said Neate, adding “these shopping centres are more attractive for solar, just given the size and the scale.”

Overall, sustainability and energy efficiency “are core principles in Oxford’s strategy,” said Oxford’s North American executive vice-president Eric Plesman in a news release. “We recognize the importance of incorporating renewable energy and reducing the carbon footprint across the Oxford portfolio, and we hope our work can be a model in the real estate industry by demonstrating that solar energy is both environmentally and financially smart.

“By making this public commitment, we’re holding ourselves accountable to deliver industry-leading sustainability practices to our customers and communities.”

Yorkdale’s Green program

The mall’s rooftop is covered in more than 150,000 square feet of greenery. The living roof helps to save energy by reducing atmospheric heating, mitigating local air pollutants and managing surface water run-off.

Two hives from urban bee keeping company, Aveole, were adopted to live on Yorkdale’s rooftop to support and help grow the bee population as part of a two-year program. Initially the hives housed 5,000 bees each, growing to 50,000 by the end of the summer. The bees travel up to five kilometres, contributing to the greening in the Yorkdale neighbourhood and local gardens.

The shopping centre’s $220-million expansion includes several eco-conscious concepts. Dine on 3, for example, features signature, reusable plates, bowls, glasses and cutlery, which reduce waste by 85 per cent. Its state-of-art-scullery is designed to compost all organic food waste. Yorkdale’s restrooms are furnished with the latest hands-free faucets and low-flow toilets to conserve water.

Oxford’s sustainability statistics:

* Since 2015, Oxford has reduced carbon emission intensity by nine per cent, on the way to achieve its target of 30 per cent reduction by 2025, while an 11 per cent reduction has been made in water consumption.

* Oxford is the 2018 Real Estate Sector Leader in sustainability as recognized by the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) and has achieved this recognition in five out of the past six years.

* Oxford’s commitment to sustainable real estate has seen it grow its LEED certified offices to 92 per cent of its North American portfolio and achieve 100 per cent BOMA Best, and 100 per cent Green Key certifications for its mall and hotel assets.

(Sources: Oxford Properties Group,

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