Ontario announced a $100-million program Thursday to help homeowners upgrade their furnaces, water heaters and insulation, but did not provide a start date, eligibility rules or rebate amounts.
The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and at the same time help create jobs and lower residential natural gas bills, said Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray.
"This investment will help homeowners upgrade their homes and save money, while keeping Ontario on the path toward a low carbon future," Murray said.
CBC News first revealed in December the program was in the works.
Sixty-two per cent of Ontario homes use natural gas for heating, compared with 28 per cent for electricity and just three per cent for oil.
About 37,000 Enbridge Gas and Union Gas customers will qualify for home energy audits, and after that can apply for financial help — how much is unknown — if they buy a new furnace, water heater or thermostat or install new insulation.
"These are kick-start programs that will get money out the door to families, support retailers, build investment in our communities and help people manage the change to a more affordable, low carbon future," said Murray.
The money comes from a $325-million fund the province set up as a "down payment" on future revenues from its cap-and-trade plan that will be introduced next year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Announcement 'made for byelection'
The opposition parties agreed homeowners need financial help to upgrade to energy efficient heating systems, but complained that too few would qualify and that eligibility rules and rebate amounts won't be known for months.
"The lack of details is really worrisome," said NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns. "It looks like it's an announcement made for the (Whitby-Oshawa) byelection so they can get a headline."
There are over four million homes in Ontario, and offering financial incentives to only 37,000 seems like a very small plan, added Tabuns.
"So who wins this lottery," he asked. "Why is it people who have electric baseboard heaters wouldn't qualify? Their electricity is partially made with natural gas."
The Progressive Conservatives said the Liberal government needs to tell people how much the cap-and-trade system will increase prices for many consumer goods, including electricity.
"We support helping Ontarians make their homes more energy efficient to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and electricity costs," said PC energy critic Lisa Thompson. "What we don't support is the Liberals' refusal to reveal how much their cap-and-trade scheme will cost Ontarians on their hydro bills."
Enbridge Gas and Union Gas already offer rebates for energy audits, heating system replacement, Energy-Star windows, air sealing and insulation of $500 to $2,000, depending on the amount of natural gas savings.
'Good first step'
Keith Brooks with Environmental Defence Canada called the home retrofit plan a good first step because it saves people money in the long run and reduces greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
Every building in Ontario will have to be retrofitted with better windows, insulation, thermostats and heating systems, and the government will use revenue from cap-and-trade to help pay for those upgrades, said Murray. They're starting with homes but will expand to commercial buildings in the future, he added.
"By May you'll pretty much know the whole plan, all the pieces will be out by then," said Murray. "It's a little overwhelming, so you're getting it in pieces."
The Environment Minister also said there will be more energy conservation plans, including one specifically for northern Ontario.
"There's a hint you might see something in the pipe soon around that because northern Ontario has a different climate, so you'll see very tailored programs coming forward," he said.