It has always bugged me that energy conservation programs are almost exclusively targeted at the relatively well-to-do, who need the help the least. Well, for 270 lucky low-income Toronto households, that is about to change. And with a little effort, we could be fixing up all of the poorly insulated, low-income homes in the city as part of Toronto’s climate change plan in order to cut back on both greenhouse gases and the energy bills of those least able to afford to heat the great outdoors.
Anyone who’s tried to run an environmental program knows that the coveted ‘early adopters’ (those who are cheapest and easiest to reach) tend to be mostly white, university-educated, middle- to upper-income, and native English speakers. This is, of course, the same group that is mostly likely to vote, and hence foremost in the minds of politicians. But it’s not who’s most in need of help, or where you get the biggest greenhouse gas savings.
Programs like the old federal Energuide for Houses program give middle-class home owners a rebate for making their homes more energy efficient. When the Harper government canned the program last year, they soon discovered that it was much-loved and have resurrected it with a new name.
Lost in the fuss was the cancellation of the brand new, $500 million Energuide for Low-Income Homes, which had been won by groups like Green Communities Canada and the Low-Income Energy Network as part of the Layton-Martin budget deal in the last minority Parliament and would have reached the (usually older and poorly maintained) houses and apartment buildings that really need it.
That bit of federal environmental backsliding should be neither forgotten nor forgiven, but picking up some of the slack is a new pilot program from the Ontario Power Authority. It is free and open to both renters and owners, although you have to be paying your electricity bill and you should have electric heat. I should confess that the OPA did ask me for my thoughts on how to do this, and my only complaint is that they should go faster and get the gas and oil companies involved as well.
The non-profit group Green$aver will be delivering it in Toronto. One of their principal challenges will be connecting with low-income households so if you think you’re eligible or work with people who are, give them a call at 416-203-3106.
I’m hoping it’ll be oversubscribed in no time, and then we can bang down the doors to make it a key part of Canada’s (and Toronto’s) climate plans.
photo by Bouke Salverda