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Okotoks, Alta., one step closer to clean energy improvement program

Energy efficiency program could help homeowners in Okotoks make improvements without paying upfront costs.

Homeowners will be able to make improvements without paying upfront costs

Several Alberta municipalities are adopting clean energy improvement program (CEIP) bylaws. Okotoks plans to move forward with its program this fall. (Yuriko Nakao/Reuters)

Instead of footing the bill upfront, residents in Okotoks, Alta., will soon be able to access a low-interest loan for their household energy improvement projects.

The Town of Okotoks passed a bylaw this week for its clean energy improvement program (CEIP). It's a first step toward implementing a four-year pilot project to help property owners make energy-efficient improvements like adding solar panels, investing in better insulation or buying appliances — without the sticker shock. 

Sheri Young, the town's climate change and energy specialist, says she's been fielding more calls from residents eager to improve the energy efficiency of their homes

"I think people are home and looking at their four walls and going, 'how can I improve my house?'" said Young. "So I think it's a really good time for this."

From a market study, Young said demand was pegged at about 20 projects a year. Okotoks is planning to finance the program through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which has created a community efficiency financing initiative. 

Low interest, no money down

"I mean, no down payment, right?" Young said. "Low monthly payments … because we can get a lower interest loan than a regular homeowner. As a municipality, we get to leverage some of our credit."

For some, Young said, the upfront cost of a solar project, or even upgrading a furnace or windows, can be a barrier. This program would allow people to invest in improvements that could up the value of their homes and save costs. 

The province introduced CEIP legislation in 2018. This is Alberta's version of a property assessed clean energy (PACE) program, which first gained popularity years ago in the United States.

How it works:  

  • Municipalities must create and pass a bylaw, which includes a capital plan.
  • The Alberta Municipal Services Corporation then helps create the program and supports the municipalities through administering it. 
  • Homeowners apply for the program. If approved, they can hire a qualified contractor to complete their chosen project. 
  • Instead of paying the contractor, the homeowner pays off the improvement on their regular property tax bill over up to 25 years.
  • If the property owner decides to move, the bill stays with the home and will be charged on the new resident's taxes.

Other municipalities eyeing program

Steven Ottoni is the director of the the Clean Energy Improvement Program for the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

Ottoni says while no municipality has a program up and running, several are well on their way. 

So far, five municipalities have passed bylaws, with a couple more in the process. Ottoni expects some of these municipalities to have programs running by the end of the year. 

"Alberta is going to be playing kind of a leadership role, which is exciting," Ottoni said. 

Young hopes Okotoks will move forward with its program this fall. 

"I hope this is one more feather in our hat for being the sustainable destination for people who live in southern Alberta," Young said. 

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