July 16, 2018

Winnipeg
12° C, Clear

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Opinion

Energy programs inefficient

BUILD proposal would help retrofit homes most in need

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2011 (2452 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Georgina Spence often keeps one eye on the slippery sidewalk and one eye on the icicles dangling from the roof when she comes and goes from her North End home in the winter.

"Sometimes, those icicles are as thick as baseballs," says the 54-year-old, who receives social assistance and works a few days a week.

A red flag the rental home she lives in badly needs new insulation, the icicles often snap off and occasionally narrowly miss the people below.

The aging house seems like the ideal target for the recent spate of rebates and other incentives offered by the federal and provincial governments to encourage energy efficiency upgrades to homes in Manitoba. But the $6,000 in combined grants offered through the federal government's ecoEnergy Retrofit program, and more recently Manitoba Hydro's Power Smart program, are financially out of reach for Spence and many other residents of low-income neighbourhoods across the province.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 60 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 60 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 60 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2011 (2452 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Georgina Spence often keeps one eye on the slippery sidewalk and one eye on the icicles dangling from the roof when she comes and goes from her North End home in the winter.

"Sometimes, those icicles are as thick as baseballs," says the 54-year-old, who receives social assistance and works a few days a week.

Georgina Spence in front of her North End home, which is covered with icicles every winter. Spence would benefit from BUILD’s proposal.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Georgina Spence in front of her North End home, which is covered with icicles every winter. Spence would benefit from BUILD’s proposal.

A red flag the rental home she lives in badly needs new insulation, the icicles often snap off and occasionally narrowly miss the people below.

The aging house seems like the ideal target for the recent spate of rebates and other incentives offered by the federal and provincial governments to encourage energy efficiency upgrades to homes in Manitoba. But the $6,000 in combined grants offered through the federal government's ecoEnergy Retrofit program, and more recently Manitoba Hydro's Power Smart program, are financially out of reach for Spence and many other residents of low-income neighbourhoods across the province.

Manitoba has an estimated 80,000 single-family dwellings owned by low-income families, and many are in need of energy-efficiency upgrades, says Shaun Loney, executive director of BUILD (Building Urban Industries for Local Development).

The award-winning non-profit social enterprise provides upgrades for low-income residences in Winnipeg. But BUILD mostly works on public housing projects because many of the numerous incentive and rebate programs aren't much help to the thousands of low-income families living in houses that need upgrading.

"They could have 10 programs and low-income people are still not going to be able to access them," Loney says.

The existing programs are costly for government and not very effective, he says.

"The energy-efficiency world is moving beyond rebates and incentives because it's a recipe for high government costs and very low penetration rates," he says. "A completely new approach is needed."

With that in mind, BUILD recently submitted a proposal to the province to fund energy-efficiency upgrades to homes in William Whyte and other low-income neighbourhoods.

The beauty of the proposal is the residents, who benefit most from the cost savings, would be able to pay for the upgrades themselves, he says.

Similar to the Power Smart loan program, Manitoba Hydro would likely provide low-interest financing to pay for the upgrades.

But BUILD's proposal has a twist. Instead of the loan being tied to the homeowner, it would be linked to the residence itself.

"With Hydro's plan, a lot of low-income people aren't going to be able to get a loan because it's tied to the individual," Loney says. Many have bad credit and don't qualify for a loan.

But even for those who do qualify for loans, the current program has the disincentive that when they move, they have to repay the outstanding balance, even though the benefits of the upgrades stay with the house.

Loney says the BUILD proposal would amortize financing costs over 15 years, and whoever is paying the utility bill would bear those ongoing costs. But the benefits to the bill-payer would be immediate. Even with the financing component included in the monthly bill, the overall costs would decrease for the consumer because the energy savings would be that substantial.

"You put the charge on the utility bill and people paying the bill are cash positive from Day 1."

Loney says the program would be far more effective in reducing the number of energy-inefficient homes in Manitoba than current programs because it would allow low-income individuals — those most often living in these residences — to access funding for the upgrades.

The current incentive and rebate programs, in contrast, are mostly beneficial for higher-income earners.

"The grants are great for people with the economic means to take advantage of them," Loney says. "I'm doing some stuff at my house, such as putting in geothermal, and there are $9,000 in incentives available."

None of the current government programs, however, will take a large bite out of the tens of thousands of low-income residences requiring upgrades, largely because many residents can't afford to pay for the renovations to get the grants.

"They're too cash constrained because their utility bills are too high — not to mention they have other priority issues they're struggling with day-to-day," Loney says.

Furthermore, like Spence, many low-income individuals are renters. They do not benefit from rebate programs unless their landlords decide to upgrade.

Indeed, the grants are great incentives for homeowners with economic means who, for instance, are thinking about purchasing a new furnace.

Installing a high-efficiency furnace fetches a federal grant as high $790, and a 20 per cent top-up from the province. But furnace and installation cost between $4,000 and $5,500.

Marty Gaudet, manager of the ecoEnergy Retrofit program, says the federal program isn't aimed at subsidizing costs so much as it tries to nudge homeowners toward energy efficiency.

So far the program has proven effective in that regard, he says. The government has received more than 500,000 applications for grants, from about one in 20 homes in Canada.

The rebates provide incentive, but the true benefits are long-term savings and a newfound awareness of energy efficiency — the result of mandatory energy audits before and after the upgrades, he says.

Loney says the audits, which Manitoba Hydro subsidizes, are likely the most effective aspect of the incentive program, because auditors tell homeowners what upgrades provide the best economic return.

"They almost never recommend replacing your windows, for example, because windows are very expensive."

Auditors are more likely to recommend a new furnace and better insulation, which offer better bang for the buck.

But Loney says the rebate portion of the programs isn't nearly as effective as stated in news conferences because even homeowners with no economic barriers aren't necessarily going to chase the financial carrot dangled by the government.

One in 20 homes in Canada may have applied for federal grants, but that still leaves 95 per cent of residences out of the loop.

Loney says a program like the BUILD proposal would have a more significant take-up in the neighbourhoods it targets.

"It would allow us to go into these low-income neighbourhoods and go up one side of the street and down the other, doing only measures that have an economic payback."

Moreover, he says he sees no reason why the program — if successful — couldn't be expanded to all utility payers in the province.

So far BUILD has yet to hear much official response after submitting the proposal to Manitoba Hydro and Employment and Income Assistance in February (though it did receive a brief mention in the 2011 budget speech).

The executive director of the energy division at Innovation, Energy and Mines, however, says the government is seriously considering its potential benefits.

"We are certainly encouraging the partners — and by partners I mean Family Services (Employment and Income Assistance) and Hydro — to take a hard look at it," division head Jim Crone says.

"Going from an ad hoc method — a house here and a house there — to a whole community, neighbourhood or street-by-street approach seems to have some merit."

giganticsmile@gmail.com

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

History

Updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011 at 11:14 AM CDT: adds fact box

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.