How energy efficiency helps low-income Canadians

A cross-country snapshot

Kirstin Pulles

Community Organizer
Efficiency Canada

March 22, 2021

Guest Blog | News

Efficiency Canada is highlighting why low-income energy efficiency must be part of the federal government’s upcoming budget so all Canadians see the transition to a net-zero economy as a benefit rather than a burden.

The people who currently deliver low-income energy efficiency are best placed to tell the story about the positive impact their programs make in people’s lives, what factors contribute to success, and what more could be done. 

We collected a snapshot of stories from Canadian energy efficiency experts, from the programs that currently operate in nearly every province.

Low-income energy efficiency helps those most in need

The people who deliver low-income energy efficiency services have first hand experience with the impact energy efficiency has on people’s lives. 

“A participant, a single mom, recently wrote to tell us how important the insulation upgrades were to her – she felt she could sleep easier knowing her children would be warmer at night because she often worried about how cold they were in their rooms. It is just one of the ways the program upgrades make a tangible difference in the daily lives of our participants.”

– Brenda Willington, program manager at BC Hydro for the Energy Conservation Assistance Program.

“Certainly the biggest impact is felt by those who need it most. For example, widows who fear they will not be able to stay in their homes without the upgrades, or single parents who need the work done for the comfort and safety of their children.”

– EfficiencyPEI’s energy programs assistant, Maureen MacNevin.

“I’m always heartened to hear the benefits that participants cite when they access our program – everything from lower monthly electricity costs, to a warmer and cozier home, to the relief of no longer needing to decide between whether to pay to replace a leaky old refrigerator or cover a bill.”

– Stephen Lachan, a Program Advisor with the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

The factors that contribute to program success

Key success factors include a turn-key process for customers, partnerships with local community organizations, a customized approach that builds trust, and learning across jurisdictions.

“We offer a turn-key process for customers. We have dedicated staff to guide customers through the entire process, including identifying eligible improvements, connecting them with a contractor, and taking care of the payment. We also accept alternative documents for income verification purposes for those who may not have their income tax documents. In addition, we engage in community outreach through our work with Neighbourhood Renewal Corporations, non-profit housing organizations, newcomer groups, and other community organizations such as the Salvation Army.”

– Vanessa Russell, an Efficiency Specialist with Efficiency Manitoba

“The (Alberta) Empower Me Home Upgrades Program helped people know that someone cares. By spending time with families, asking them questions, and understanding their situation, people feel that someone is there for them, to help make their homes safer and more comfortable.”

– Tim McCormick, Construction and Housing Services, Kambo Energy Group.

“We have established successful partnerships with Community Social Services Organizations throughout the Province like food banks, Metis Nation BC, Trail Fair, Lower Similkameen Community Services Society to name a few.”

– Nola Sperle, Energy Efficiency Representative, FortisBC. 

“We have had the opportunity to learn from other utilities. Many jurisdictions across Canada have well-established lower-income programming. During the planning stage, I spoke to a lot of utility program managers across the country who very generously shared advice and lessons learned,”

– Kathleen Wilson, Program Delivery Consultant for SaskPower.

“[We] created a program delivery infrastructure that developed trust, education of customers on energy efficiency and a comprehensive multi-media marketing plan that includes community outreach tactics in locations such as food banks, tax clinics, and partnerships with local United Ways.”

– Angela Hantzis at Enbridge Gas Inc.

“Grassroots promotion tends to be the best way of communicating this program across the province.”

– Sam Gross, Customer Solutions Leader, SaskEnergy.

 

What more could be done

Funding from the federal government could help reach more low-income Canadians and remove more barriers. Several programs are over-subscribed, are seeking to achieve deeper savings to have a meaningful impact, and recognize the need to couple efficiency with health and safety upgrades to break down barriers and expand benefits.

“As the first program of its kind in Alberta we only touched the surface to support the number of families who need help. The program was full within 5 weeks and we unfortunately had to turn hundreds of families away. A long term program that supports deep retrofits and health and safety measures for a significant number of Alberta’s families in energy poverty would certainly go a long way to helping struggling Albertans.”

– Tim McCormick of Construction and Housing Services for Kambo Energy Group

“We are looking for ways to provide deeper savings for customers. We are currently running a small pilot installing ductless heat pumps in manufactured homes. Initial feedback from participants is that the heat pumps have made a dramatic improvement in the comfort of their homes.”

– Brenda Willington, the program manager at BC Hydro for the Energy Conservation Assistance Program

“Ensuring health and safety in homes is a priority – understanding what other supports (outside of energy efficiency) we may be able to provide or refer to is key to ensuring we can deliver the greatest benefit to participants.”

– Stephen Lachan, a Program Advisor with the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

“We realized that sometimes we were missing really good opportunities for energy efficiency in customers’ homes because there were factors about the home that were stopping us from proceeding with direct install work (ex. mould issues, vermiculite, etc.).”

– Nola Sperle, Energy Efficiency Representative, FortisBC. 

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