Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Core homes go green for free

Savings in energy to pay off costs of hundreds of retrofits

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A new inner-city program, the first of its kind in North America, could see 400 leaky North End rentals get energy retrofits in the next year.

That's 400 down, 79,600 more to go.

This fall, thanks to a tweak in Manitoba Hydro's arcane legislation, two inner-city renovation agencies are hoping to go door to door, block by block, in the William Whyte neighbourhood offering renters thousands of dollars in renovations, effectively for free.

Hydro fronts the cost of new insulation, high-efficiency furnaces, low-flow toilets and a menu of other green fixes, and then adds the cost to the renter's monthly bill. Because the home is using far less natural gas and electricity, the renter's bill goes down as much or more as the monthly payback on the retrofits. And, for the first time, the loan stays with the house. A renter doesn't have to pay it off if he moves, and the benefit rolls over to the new tenant.

The idea has been percolating for years, especially among critics of Hydro's existing low-income retrofit program who said the program had limited reach, was paperwork-heavy and effectively excluded the renters who make up between 60 and 70 per cent of the inner city.

"This is huge," said Shaun Loney, executive director of BUILD, one of the pioneers of inner-city energy retrofits. "This would be a game-changer for poverty reduction and climate-change mitigation."

The problem is, there are an estimated 80,000 low-income homes in the province that need upgrades, a byproduct of an older-than-average housing stock. Many of those are concentrated in the North End, which is primarily made up of 100-year-old houses that have been turned in duplexes or rooming houses.

There is more than $5 million earmarked for low-income retrofits in Manitoba Hydro's affordable energy fund, and Hydro is hoping eventually 2,000 houses a year get retrofitted. But the program hasn't even been finalized yet.

"We're trying to be reasonable and manage expectations," said Lloyd Kuczek, Hydro's vice-president of customer care and marketing.

Still, Lucas Stewart, general manager of Manitoba Green Retrofit, one of the non-profits likely leading the charge this fall, says he is already ramping up. MGR and Inner City Renovations have committed to doing 400 homes in the first year, starting in November.

They'll get many of their workers from BUILD, which hires low-income, mostly unemployed aboriginal men and women who get months of on-the-job training, a head start toward a journeyman's ticket and perhaps a way out of chronic crime and welfare.

BUILD is busy retrofitting 66 Manitoba Housing townhomes in North Kildonan. There, several crews are upgrading the basement and attic insulation, replacing the toilets and faucets with low-flow models and even replacing light bulbs.

"My grandmother is kind of proud of me," said BUILD worker Deloraine Houle as she framed in some basement insulation. "I'm the first girl in my family in carpentry."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2012 B1

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