A Misguided Canada

The Harper government’s latest plans to cut energy efficiency and renewable energy programs will set Canada back a decade in its efforts to reduce energy costs for homeowners and curb the environmental impacts of high energy use.

The cuts, implied in the federal budget and confirmed in subsequent media reports, seem all the more baffling in that no alternatives have been suggested. Why downgrade or destroy successful “made in Canada” programs like EnerGuide for Houses that clean our air and reduce the impact of high energy prices? It is Canadian homeowners who will suffer – in their health, environment and pocketbooks. Using energy more efficiently not only reduces emissions and cuts energy bills, it delays expensive investments in new power and gas capacity, makes our energy system (and country) more secure and provides new local jobs across the country – not just in energy producing areas. Consumers often lack the information necessary to make good choices; also the equipment, services and financing they need are often not available. EnerGuide for Houses provides a plan for energy efficient home renovation as well as a financial incentive. This removes many of these “market barriers.” Without EnerGuide, the renovation boom will continue across Canada but without these energy efficiency improvements- effectively losing an opportunity that will not come again for decades. This could have a destructive impact on the emerging energy efficient renovations sector. High energy bills are a major issue for low-income families. Why then is the Harper government canceling the EnerGuide for Low Income Households Program that received all-party support just last November? The term “energy poverty” was coined in the United Kingdom to describe a situation where a family pays more that 20 percent of its disposable income on home energy. For 10 years the U.K. government has run energy efficiency improvement programs just like the proposed EnerGuide for Low Income Households that have not only lifted many people out of energy poverty, but also resulted in measurable improvements in family health, child education performance and workplace absenteeism through improved housing quality. The rest of the world is also moving quickly to increase investment in low-impact renewable sources of energy through a variety of policies such as tax credits, legally binding targets and special tariffs for new power sources. Canada stands 9th in the Ernst & Young Renewable Energy Investment Attractiveness Index – up from 18th two years ago. We still rank below the U.S., Spain, Germany, Italy and France and even India and China, and the proposed Harper cuts to renewable energy programs will likely send Canada tumbling back down the index. Among the cuts implied in the federal budget was a full abolishment of the government’s Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative (REDI), which provided funds contributing up to 25 percent the total cost of solar thermal hot water systems for energy intensive, commercial applications. If this cut stands, Canada’s only program supporting solar energy at the federal level would be history, leaving only a few provincial programs to fill in the gap. Other countries are making investments in low-impact renewable energy because they see beyond the fossil fuel era and want to ensure that they have a mature and competitive renewable energy industry in place when the inevitable transition to renewable energy comes later this century. Renewable energy provides the only true “sustainable” source of energy – offering air, land and water quality benefits and stable prices, as well as increased local control, employment and security. No other energy source can provide these. The Harper government should recognize the value of energy efficiency and renewable energy’s contribution to clean air, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased competitiveness. The Pembina Institute and others have shown that home energy demand in Canada could be reduced by over 25 per cent through energy efficiency at a cost well below new energy supplies. Renewable energy could meet much of the remaining demand. The government should rescind last week’s cuts and then work with provincial governments and the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries to produce and implement National Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Strategies. Other countries are well ahead of us. Member states of the European Union are negotiating binding directives that would reduce energy use by 20 per cent across Europe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recently established a “Leadership Group” to prepare a national energy efficiency plan. China is implementing its comprehensive new Renewable Energy Law. The Harper government inherits a situation where provincial and municipal governments, industry, consumers and non-governmental organizations are eager to move forward on efficiency and renewable energy. There are existing structures in place like the Council of Energy Ministers and the National Advisory Council on Energy Efficiency. Stakeholder groups such as the Canadian Energy Efficiency and Renewable Alliances, the Canada Wind Energy Association, the National Association of Insulation Manufacturers, the Canada Green Building Council and the Green Communities Association are all ready to help. It’s time to get serious about energy efficiency and renewable energy. Canadians deserve it. About the author… Roger Peters is Senior Technical and Policy Advisor on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for the Pembina Institute. Roger is a professional engineer with 30 years experience in energy efficiency and renewable energy working for government, industry and non-government organizations. Roger guides the Pembina Institute’s work on renewable energy and energy efficiency policy and financing.

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