(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "PM's eco-uncertainty adding to the ener-confusion ")
For those in the home energy efficiency retrofit industry, it’s deja-vu all over again: another kick in the teeth.
Launched under the Liberals in 1998, the EnerGuide for Houses program subsidized homeowners retrofitting to reduce energy waste. An energy auditor would evaluate your home’s energy efficiency through inspection and a blower-door test, fed into complicated computerized calculations. Your report would include an EnerGuide rating for your house (just like new appliances) and suggested improvements. If you did retrofits and had a follow-up inspection, you received federal grant money to reimburse some of your costs. By 2005, 2% of Canadian homes had been audited and about 1 in 5 of those had done retrofits; program spending was $189 million a year.
This approach had many benefits. It cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduced air pollution, and lowered energy demand. It saved homeowners money: participants’ energy bills dropped by one fifth to one third. It also stimulated important job segments: skilled tradespeople and local small businesses. Energy retrofitting is one job which cannot be offshored. Each dollar of grant generated six dollars of local economic growth; with GST and income tax on all $7, the program was essentially free or even a net revenue generator.
Then, shortly after being elected, the Conservative government suddenly and without notice killed the program. This was catastrophic for small businesses that had purchased expensive equipment & software and incurred training, startup or expansion costs. Their industry essentially faced overnight collapse.
A year later, a new 4-year initiative was launched: ecoENERGY Retrofit - Homes. Basically the same as the old program, it had two main differences (besides the name): the grant process was a lot clearer and more predictable, and the funding was drastically cut, to only $39 million per year.
Many provinces joined in to help fund and promote the program; Ontario, for example, matched the federal grants, doubling your rebate.
So the reformed program went forward. Besides being touted as energy conservation, it served as economic stimulus to create local, green-collar jobs. But last Wednesday, again suddenly and without warning (even to the partner provinces), the program closed a year early. The government announced that anyone who had not already booked their audit would not receive grants. This despite an $80 million top-up in last month’s federal budget. Once more the audit and retrofit industries face collapse, even as many people are just completing expensive federally-subsidized training programs to enter it.
In response to a major outcry, the government is insisting the program is suspended and “just resting” rather than dead. But no matter how it’s described, the money has been cut off.
Is our government not capable of reviewing this popular and effective program while underway? Most other major developed countries are ramping up such programs with long-term plans and budgets, not cutting them off. This kind of on-again, off-again approach without notice is stunningly bad management, both economically and environmentally. Green jobs of the future will be lost, right here in Barrie.
On a related note, I am considering forming a solar panel buyer group to get a bulk discount. Thinking of installing solar panels on your home to take advantage of Ontario’s generous feed-in tariff program? If so, email me at ErichtheGreen@gmail.com and we’ll see if a bunch of us can get a better price together.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.