Opposition Leader Dwight Ball peppered Tory cabinet ministers Wednesday with a volley of questions about why the government cut spending on energy conservation programs, with members later voting to consider additional support for such initiatives in Newfoundland and Labrador.

CBC Investigates logo CBC

CBC Investigates brought the issue of energy efficiency to the forefront on Tuesday.

It has been the main issue in question period since the house opened two days ago.

The largely symbolic private members' motion, brought forward by the Liberals, read: "This house urge government to consider developing and introducing energy conservation programs for all ratepayers in our province."

Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley said he was supportive of the spirit of the motion "without question," but proposed an amendment: "urge government to build on the initiatives it has already taken in developing and introducing energy conservation programs for all ratepayers in our province."

The motion passed in the house on Wednesday.

Liberal Tom Osborne, who brought the motion forward, said the current government has not delivered on promises from its 2007 energy plan.

"They promised to establish an energy conservation and efficiency partnership to develop a co-ordinated and prioritized five-year energy conservation and efficiency plan by March of 2008. We did not see that. Other provinces have done that, Mr. Speaker, but we in this province did not see that."

Osborne said other provinces, like Nova Scotia and Ontario, are well ahead of Newfoundland and Labrador in terms of available programs.

"If we are going to offer true energy conservation initiatives, we need to offer it on things like appliances, on light bulbs, on insulation, on smart metering and on time of day usage of electricity," he said. 

Dalley said the amendment was an important move.

'I think it is important to recognize our government has been committed, and we certainly want to build on that going forward.'- Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley

"I think it is important to recognize our government has been committed, and we certainly want to build on that going forward," he said.

Dalley said that government is committed to conservation, pointing to the establishment of the Climate Change and Energy Efficiency office and the Energy Efficiency Action Plan.

"I will say, full support going forward that we continue to find ways to support the ratepayers in this province and support the seniors who are at home and are challenged to meet some of those bills. That is a firm commitment that we make as a government," he said, referring to the Residential Energy Efficiency Program (REEP), a program for low-income homeowners that was cut by 50 per cent in last year's budget.
 
Ball said Dalley's amendment is not as strong in language as it should be.

"I want to speak to... the amendment to the motion now that this house urge government to build on the initiatives. Well, it is not hard to build on the initiatives," he said.

"This particular government has said that conservation — they talk the talk about it, it is part of the energy plan, they have not delivered. It is no problem at all to build on the programs, because there is not a whole lot there right now.  You need to put the foundation in place, put the programs in place."

Question period

No less than three different ministers answered Ball's queries at the house of assembly during question period on Wednesday.

Ball said the recent cuts fly in the face of the 2007 energy plan, which emphasized a "culture of conservation" that would promote more efficient use of energy. 

"How does cutting the only program you have in Budget 2013 and offer no incentives to the vast majority to conserve, how does this help create a culture of conservation?" Ball said. 

Environment and Conservation Minister Joan Shea said the issue remains "extremely important," adding that government still maintains programs to promote awareness of efficiency, as well as climate change. 

"There are various initiatives across government to encourage people to understand what energy efficiency is, to understand why it is important to conserve energy, and a lot of information for homeowners and people to take on initiatives to help support this cause," she said. 

'Dangerous position' 

Ball was not persuaded, and argued government should have done more on conservation before sanctioning the Muskrat Falls megaproject. 

"We all know that government did not follow through on the energy conservation plan and they placed our province in a dangerous position of limited power supply," he said. 

Kevin O'Brien, the minister responsible for the Residential Energy Efficiency Program, said last year's cut to the program was a tough but necessary move.

"Sometimes you make difficult decisions in any budget year," he said, adding that the next budget — scheduled for March 27 — will reveal whether the pilot program will be funded beyond this year. 

Ball also questioned whether the governing Tories could have done more to prevent the rolling blackouts and outages that affected most electricity consumers in Newfoundland in early January. 

"If energy conservation could have helped prevent the blackouts in January, why didn’t you ask the public to conserve days in advance when you knew about it first?" Ball asked. 

Dalley said a review now underway through the Public Utilities Board will address some of the issues raised during the blackouts. 

"We, too, have questions about the event in January and we will work very hard to restore the confidence of the people of the province in our auxiliary system," Dalley said.