The lights remain on in some federal government buildings in Canada’s capital region, although most officials have been working at home for nearly a year to stop the spread of COVID-19.
In response to photographs taken by CBC News showing lighted office towers before dawn, the Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) said that while occupancy levels are currently being reduced, federal buildings remain operational.
“As part of its commitment to energy savings, Canada’s public services and procurement turn off non-essential lighting where possible during non-business hours,” reads a statement from the department that operates and maintains federal buildings.
“During the pandemic (lower occupancy rate than usual), as a general guideline, the lights remained off during business hours, with the exception of lighting required in occupied areas to support cleaning staff or for safety reasons.”
But any efforts to reduce energy consumption have not resulted in any savings for the government.
“Although the details are not yet complete, consumption data for the year 2020 showed that total supply costs have remained stable relative to prepandemic values, due to buildings remaining in operation and maintenance continuing on normal schedules,” a Public Services spokesman said. Michèle LaRose.
After reacting to photos of a government complex that were illuminated early one morning this week, Conservative finance minister, critic Luc Berthold, said he was concerned that the Liberal government was not following its own commitments to improve energy efficiency in public buildings.
“The Liberals need to explain why they keep the lights on in these buildings while civil servants work from home,” he said.
Burak Gunay, an assistant professor of building science at Carleton University, said a certain amount of lighting must remain on for safety reasons and also to comply with building regulations.
“While vacant lighting controls with motion detectors are now standard practice for lighting automation systems in office buildings, and it is in the energy code, they are fairly old buildings without a centralized lighting automation system,” he said.
NDP environmental critic Laurel Collins reiterated his party’s call to make large buildings more energy efficient.
“It is disappointing to see that the government does not even take basic energy saving measures, such as turning off lights in government buildings when no one is there.”
Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May noted that the situation is a perfect opening line for Question Time: “Light up, but no one is home!”
May says it’s a bad example of leaving the light on all night.
“During COVID with so many people working from home, the message is even worse,” she told CBC News.
Scheduled for upgrade
Last December, Public Services published a statement on its website detailing plans to renovate Terraces de la Chaudiere, a government office complex in Gatineau, Que., Across the River from Parliament Hill.
Many important areas are intended for updates, including the building’s automation and lighting systems.
Public Services said the new systems will be more modern and use energy more efficiently.
“Our overall goal is for the building to have zero CO2 emissions.”
The department said these renovations are scheduled to begin in the fall.