**Energy program goes retro **
Professionals in the energy industry are arguing that it is not possible to spend a $400 million grant from the federal government in just one year.
The grant, included in the Conservative government’s new budget, is to reinstate the ecoENERGY Retrofit — Homes program for one year. The program, which previously ended on March 31, provides rebates to help homeowners make their homes more energy-efficient.
However, since the budget has not yet been passed and details of the program have not been implemented, there is concern that the actual lifespan of the program could be considerably shorter if it expires at the end of the current government fiscal year on March 31, 2012.
If the program gets rolled out in July, it will give people only nine months to complete an initial energy audit of their home, renovate and get a second, followup energy audit. Under the old program, which lasted 18 months, energy companies say that people were scrambling to get everything completed in that time frame, and some even needed extensions.
“At the very least, what we would want to see happen is that we have two fiscal years to spend that $400 million, not one year. In other words, operate the program till the money runs out, if you’re serious about putting that amount of money in it,” said Clifford Maynes, executive director of Green Communities Canada, a national association of nonprofit organizations that deliver environmental services to households and communities.
While it takes homeowners time to connect with subcontractors and obtain financing for retrofit projects, there is an additional challenge facing the energy industry.
Maynes said that many companies were forced to shut down or severely scale back operations in the absence of grants, since the old program expired. These companies will now need time to “start from scratch” and rebuild their operations to their previous capacity.
Two such companies that operate in conjunction with each other in Hamilton are Green Monsters and Energy Smarts. Of the three home energy advisers in Energy Smarts, one went on to get a full-time job renovating basements, another started working in commercial and industrial jobs that aren’t as dependent on government grants, and the third — Ryan Bender from Green Monsters, continued doing home energy audits without the grants, but work was considerably less than what it had been.
“If you want to have a career doing home energy audits, it’s very difficult to commit yourself. You have to commit your family, there’s equipment to purchase and a lot of investment. … For someone to take it on and make it their career and for us to hire employees, it’s almost impossible to do that,” said Toby Smith, the general manager of Energy Smarts.
Smith said that convincing trained energy advisers to return to their jobs when the federal program gets implemented is a challenge, not just because of the instability, but because some have already gone on to other more reliable sources of income.
Pete Wobschall, the executive director of Green Venture in Hamilton, said: “We’re excited that we get the extension. But at the same time, it’s kind of a band-aid in our eyes. It doesn’t support a vital sector in Canada moving forward.”
Mike Wallace, Conservative MP for Burlington, said that the program is not designed for energy auditors, but for homeowners.
“They (energy advisers) made a choice. That’s their industry and career choice that they’ve made. Whether we have a government program that keeps them in business or not is not my call,” said Wallace.
Natural Resources Canada, which will announce eligibility criteria and other program details in the coming weeks, declined to provide a comment in response to criticism from the energy industry.
The Save eco Energy Coalition argues that families spend $10 on home renovations for every dollar paid in incentives, and generate twice as much in tax revenue. It is lobbying the government to commit to a four-year renewal of the program, so the home-energy industry will have time to become more sustainable. It is also calling for an energy rating labelling system to be put in place for homes at the time of sale.
Maynes said that the government pulled the plug on the program at least once before in 2006, and that it is a “kick in the teeth” for the industry every time the program ends.
“This is symptomatic of the fact that home energy efficiency is treated as a bit of a political football, as a kind of on-again, off-again frill, rather than as a fundamental element of our energy policy,” he said. “We have to have a consistent long-term commitment to residential energy, not just something that comes and goes depending on which way the wind is blowing.”