This is a guest blog by Jamie Kirkpatrick, Program Manager for Blue Green Canada an alliance between Canadian labour unions, environmental, and civil society organizations that believe a sustainable economy must provide good jobs and protect the environment, not one or the other.

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT could be emissions free but not if a polluting gas plant goes ahead. Metrolinx wants to build the gas plant to provide back-up power for LRT. A better option exists – the LRT’s storage facility could house Canada’s largest rooftop solar project.

Building more and better public transit is an important part of addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. In Ontario, we’re seeing record investments in new public transit infrastructure, including the 19 km Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit line (LRT). The Crosstown will provide modern, fast, reliable, and emission free transportation across Toronto – but only if Metrolinx stops a proposed 20 megawatt (MW) gas plant apparently needed to provide backup power to the LRT.

Late last year, Metrolinx, Ontario’s regional public transit agency, surprised local residents in York South-Weston, one of Toronto’s more vulnerable, lower income communities, by unveiling plans for the gas plant in the heart of their west-end community. The proposed gas plant was not part of the LRT’s original plans. And without the gas plant, the LRT would be emissions-free.

It’s unclear why Metrolinx considers a gas plant the best solution for back-up power. Or if back-up power is even needed. A natural gas-fired power plant will emit carbon pollution and add pollution to the community’s air-shed including harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter that can damage sensitive lung tissue.

A gas plant is unnecessary. Viable clean power options exist and are operating in Ontario. In fact, solar panels are being used on private buildings near the proposed LRT garage. Instead of creating more pollution, this is an opportunity to showcase Canadian clean technology, like solar power and energy storage.

But because the proposed gas plant was added to the LRT garage plans without any public consultation, we’re left in the dark about whether cleaner energy options were ever considered. It’s a strange oversight given that LRT is supposed to be part of Ontario’s plan to cut carbon emissions. (You can help. Take action here.)

A better option exists. The Crosstown maintenance and storage garage has the potential to support the largest rooftop solar project in Canada. Paired with ever improving energy storage, it’s possible that this system could meet the back-up power needs for the Crosstown, as well as generate electricity for the daily need of the maintenance and storage facility. In fact, the community has been calling for a solar roof on the building for years.

A solar installation would be a visible demonstration that Metrolinx and the province take climate action seriously. It would also answer the community’s desire for more clean technologies to be introduced on the site of the old Kodak factory where the LRT garage will be built. Putting a rooftop solar project on the garage’s massive roof would set an example for other planned transit projects throughout the province. Ontario and Metrolinx would both be leaders in climate action.

But if the proposed gas plant is built, the Crosstown project will miss a huge opportunity to showcase existing clean power options. And Metrolinx and the province will miss the chance to demonstrate leadership at a time when urgent climate action is needed.

Join us in calling on Metrolinx to stop this gas plant and explore cleaner power options that are better for the community’s health and the climate. Tell Metrolinx: Ditch the gas plant and go solar.

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