Provinces offer few energy efficiency programs for low-income households

Low-income households foiled on energy savings

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia are the top spenders to alleviate energy cost pressures on low-income households among Canadian provinces. Efficiency Canada’s newly released Provincial Energy Efficiency Scorecard reveals that the two Atlantic provinces provide significantly more dollars per economically stressed household — equating to $215 in PEI and $121 in Nova Scotia — than other provincial governments.

Nova Scotia, with a population of about 980,000, also has the second highest total budget after Ontario to help low-income consumers find energy savings. In 2019, Nova Scotia invested $17.8 million in targeted conservation programs, while Saskatchewan, with a population of about 1.2 million, spent $340,000.

Analysts with Efficiency Canada — a national not-for-profit organization championing the dual economic and environmental benefits of energy and water efficiency — based the interprovincial comparison on funds available to help low-income consumers capture savings and the number of households spending more than 6 per cent of their after-tax income on energy. That’s calculated for the most recent period for which 12 months of data is available, taking it back to a 2019 start-date for seven provinces and to 2018 for PEI, Ontario and British Columbia.

The 6 per cent benchmark to demarcate households struggling with energy costs is about double the national median for household energy spending. It’s also based on common standards that households should spend no more than 30 per cent of income on housing, while no more than 20 per cent of housing costs should be allocated to energy.

Roughly 20 per cent of Canadian households are presumed to carry undue energy cost burdens, but that average rises to 37 to 41 per cent across the four Atlantic provinces. On the flipside, the average falls below 20 per cent in Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

Meanwhile, financial stress is a barrier to implementing energy-saving measures that come with upfront costs. “While programs targeting traditionally underserved and hard-to-reach customers yield larger benefits, realizing them is more capital-intensive and requires different outreach and engagement strategies,” Efficiency Canada analysts submit.

The scorecard shows varying spending or cost-cutting thrusts among the provinces. In the latter category, Manitoba slashed its commitment to low-income energy programs by more than 50 per cent from the figures cited in Efficiency Canada’s inaugural scorecard released in 2019, reducing spending per household in need by $44.16. Even so, it still ranks third among the provinces with its new per-household rate of $43.80.

From there, provincial spending per household in need slips down to Ontario’s fourth ranked $33.68. The province is scheduled to begin a new four-year round of conservation and demand management (CDM) incentive programs in January 2021, and has stated that programs for low-income residential customers are a priority.

Saskatchewan increased spending by $2.77 per household in need, to push this year’s average up to $4.12 per household. That’s tied to the 2019 launch of a SaskPower pilot program for low-income households in Regina and Saskatoon. Qualifying customers were offered free home energy-use assessments and free installation of LED lights, smart thermostats, low-energy power bars and/or low-flow showerheads. Nevertheless, the province is deeply entrenched as the most frugal investor in low-income programs with a wide margin to ninth positioned Quebec, which spent $12.60 per household in need.

While Alberta’s total spending tally of $7.7 million — equating to $32.43 per household in need — is an increase of $8.83 per household from last year’s scorecard, the data encompasses regimens of two different provincial governments. The current government dismantled the former government’s energy efficiency incentive programs in October 2019.

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