Polling: Canadians support low-income energy efficiency

Even so, the federal government still has no strategy to help most low-income Canadians in need

Brendan Haley

Director of Policy Research, Efficiency Canada

Abhi Kantamneni

Research Associate, Efficiency Canada

June 28, 2022

Blogs | Low-Income Energy Efficiency | News

  • New polling data shows strong national support for low-income energy efficiency. However, the federal government still has no strategy to help most low-income Canadians in need.
  • 72% of Canadians either “strongly support” or “support” government funding to expand energy efficiency in rental and low-income housing.
  • This is more support than the current policy that provides $40k loans to help homeowners (63% of Canadians support). Both policies are needed to help low-income households.
On June 17, 2022, the federal government finally announced that Canadians can now access up to $40,000 in interest-free financing to make their homes more energy efficient. We celebrated the announcement and welcomed the extra support to achieve deeper energy savings.

In this blog, we highlight who is still being left out and how we can better support them.

Loans can help remove financial barriers for middle and upper-income Canadians. However, they are not an appropriate solution for Canadians with lower incomes who should not be expected to take on additional debt burdens. Even at zero interest, loan payments can make paying for other necessities more difficult or negatively impact credit ratings in the event of payment difficulties.

The Greener Home Loans program is not a good match for Canadians with low to moderate incomes. The full loan amount will only be received after a post-retrofit evaluation, which still requires a homeowner to pay out of pocket. Participants may also be excluded based on credit scores or other debt payment obligations.

A portfolio of energy efficiency solutions is required for different communities (or “market segments”) that face unique barriers. This is why comprehensive energy efficiency program portfolios include dedicated programs for low- to moderate-income Canadians. As described in our recent Efficiency for All report, most income-qualified programs in Canada offer no-cost and turn-key solutions delivered by trusted organizations for homeowners, as well as a mix of strategies for renters.

Turn-key solutions: home energy retrofits installed by qualified professionals that are fully ready to operate and requiring little to no additional work from the resident of the home to start using the energy saving measure or equipment.

There is currently no federal strategy to expand energy efficiency for low- to moderate-income Canadians. Previous federal budgets have earmarked funds for affordable, nonprofit and cooperative housing, which are worthy areas for investment. However, only 1 in 5 renters below Canada’s “official poverty line” live in a building subsidized by affordable housing providers. There are 1.6 million low-income homeowners and 2.2 million low-income renters in private market housing that could also benefit from energy efficiency.

Strong support for low-income energy efficiency

The federal government has strong public support for expanding low-income energy efficiency, according to polling conducted by Abacus data for Efficiency Canada in September 2021. We asked Abacus to compare support for the following two policies:

  • Government providing funding support to ensure that rental housing and housing occupied by lower-income people is built or renovated to improve energy efficiency
  • Government offering zero interest loans of up to $40,000 to help homeowners retrofit their homes to reduce emissions

The results show that there is even stronger national support for helping low-income Canadians improve energy efficiency than the existing policy of offering zero interest loans. 72% of Canadians either strongly support or support government funding to support energy efficiency in rental and low-income housing compared to 63% support for $40k loans to help homeowners.

Support for low-income energy efficiency is strong across rural and urban populations, owners and renters, all income groups, and all regions. It also receives strong support amongst voters for all political parties, although strongest for NDP and Liberal voters.

Efficiency 4 All!

This strong and broad support for low-income energy efficiency calls for a policy solution that is accessible to all Canadians in need, regardless of housing or fuel type. 

Unfortunately, existing policies and proposals appear to be moving away from universal national support. As noted, previous budgets restricted low-income energy efficiency funding to affordable housing, which leaves out most low-income Canadians who own their homes or rent on the open market.

In the last election, the Liberal Party platform called for “helping low-income Canadians get off home-heating oil.” However, such a policy would be restricted to a relatively small number of buildings in Canada and neglecting lower-income Canadians who heat with fuels like natural gas and are facing energy price increases in jurisdictions like BC and Ontario. A narrow focus on fuel switching could also neglect the building envelope upgrades that lower bills overall and protect Canadians from extreme heat and power outages.

Building envelope: A building’s physical separation between the conditioned and unconditioned environment, including walls, floors, ceilings, windows, doors, etc.

The Supply and Confidence Agreement between the Liberals and NDP includes a shared priority to “move forward on home energy efficiency programs,” “with investments to support multiple streams including low-income and multi-unit residential apartments.” This language suggests a more expansive national approach, however it has yet to be fully implemented.

How can the federal government deliver energy efficiency to low and moderate income Canadians? Earlier this year, we wrote a report that surveyed existing provincial level programs and identified key gaps that federal policy can fill. By expanding the scale and scope of provincial programs, the federal government can solidify low-income energy efficiency within provincial and federal policy systems and encourage additional provincial and utility funding.

Canadians support low-income energy efficiency and there is a clear role for the federal government to play. There is also an urgent need for low-income energy efficiency with increasing inflation and extreme heat events. So let’s leave no one behind and make sure energy efficiency is available to everyone!


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