Multicultural energy efficiency program helps newcomers manage bills

A program is helping newcomers to Calgary understand the importance of energy efficiency and how it could save them money on their utility bills.

Program educates immigrants in first languages and with cultural sensitivity

Korean newcomer Beung Yun Park had a home visit from Empower Me which helped him with insulation, setting his thermostat and improving his water temperature. He says everything here is different than in his home country. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A program is helping newcomers to Calgary understand the importance of energy efficiency and how it could save them money on their utility bills.

Empower Me uses home visits and workshops to connect with immigrants and refugees.

"They have lots of barriers like trust and language issues," said Yasmin Abraham, senior vice president of Empower Me. 

Abraham says energy efficiency isn't always high on the list of priorities for newcomers but it should be.

"If you've come from somewhere like India you might not have ever had a furnace or air conditioner before, you probably don't know how to read your utility bill and you probably don't know who Enmax or Epcor is," she said.

The program is supported by Energy Efficiency Alberta, Enmax, Epcor, and the cities of Calgary and Edmonton.

Yasmin Abraham with Empower Me says her program offers energy efficiency education to under-served multilingual and multicultural newcomers who don’t receive this type of information in their own language, as well as families who struggle to pay their utility bills. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"What are you paying for on your bill? How do the different charges work? How can you reduce your bill? What are some things you can actually do?" Abraham said.

As well as advice and education, participants receive a free energy-saving kit with items that help improve their home's energy efficiency, including: window film, weatherstripping, a low-flow showerhead, LED light bulbs and night lights.

"The heating system is different from my home country, Korea. We don't use hot air to heat our homes," said Beung Yun Park.

"It was important to get a better understanding of how it works and how to maintain it," said Park.

Park says Empower Me has helped him learn more about saving energy and about safety in the home.

Empower Me helps newcomers with things like improving water temperature to make sure their homes are running as efficiently as possible to keep bills and consumption under control. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"They programmed my thermostat so it's running according to the temperature and the time so we can save energy," said Park.

"That saves money as well," he said.

Yasmin Abraham says a big part of what they do is build trust with newcomers to allow them into their homes to help.

"We recently worked with a family of 10 people in one home from Syria. They have a lot of mistrust of government and outsiders but they heard through their network that we can help so we were the first outsider to be invited into their home," said Abraham.

"They invited us for a meal afterwards, which was really touching and so heartwarming," Abraham said.

Abraham says with one in five Albertans struggling to pay their bills right now, the program is more important than ever.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey


Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: or tweet him @DanMcGarvey