Energy Efficiency Alberta gets national accolades for $850M in growth

The province of Alberta gets a thumbs up from a national agency for its success in avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. 

Future of two-year-old agency unclear with UCP government reviewing its programs

Energy Efficiency Alberta's annual report says its programs have saved 5.7 million tonnes worth of greenhouse gas emissions. (Reuters)

Alberta has been given a thumbs up from a national agency for its success in curbing greenhouse gas emissions, while the fate of the agency behind the programs remains in limbo under the UCP government. 

Energy Efficiency Alberta generated $850 million in economic growth for the province over two years, the agency's annual report suggested.

The report also highlights $692 million in energy savings, a total calculated as the "lifetime value" of those savings. 

Efficiency Canada — an independent non-profit that works with governments and agencies — noted the agency's programs eliminated a potential 5.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Corey Diamond, executive director of Efficiency Canada, said Alberta's energy efficiency sector is booming.

"Alberta's actually keeping up with many of the provinces," Diamond said. "Within just two years, to see them playing at a similar level as many of the provinces that have been doing it for 20 years, it's impressive to us."

Diamond noted that Alberta was the last jurisdiction in North America to have an energy efficiency program. 

Each province is doing solid work, he said, with B.C. and Nova Scotia doing "exceptional things" through a mix of strong policies and well-performing programs.

In the same period between April 2017 and March 2019, Alberta's programs returned $3.20 to the economy for every $1 invested. 

Future unknown

Yet the programs under a UCP government remain in limbo.

The former NDP government created the agency and funded it through the provincial carbon tax, which the UCP axed after it won the April election. 

In an emailed statement, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon said the government is reviewing the agency to determine "what is possible given the province's overall financial picture."

"Albertans have made it resoundingly clear that they are not interested in government spending their hard-earned tax dollars on low-flow showerheads and light bulbs."

Diamond said the UCP government should keep in mind the clear economic benefits of energy efficiency programs.

"Sometimes energy efficiency gets lumped into and gets caught in the political crossfire of discussions around big policy issues, like carbon taxes."

He noted most provinces and U.S. states don't typically fund their programs through a carbon tax. They look at programs from a savings perspective.

Corey Diamond, executive director of Efficiency Canada, thinks Energy Efficiency Alberta is doing excellent work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Corey Diamond)

"We see a massive influx of jobs being created in doing the work that's required," he said. "Also, every business in Alberta is better off if they're using energy efficiency programs, because obviously they're reducing their costs reducing waste."

Edmonton city council has been waiting to hear whether the province will continue funding residential and commercial retrofitting programs.

On Thursday, Mayor Don Iveson didn't reveal whether he has heard that the province will continue funding a key program for Edmonton called PACE, Property Assessed Clean Energy, which funds retrofits for homes and businesses.

"It's all opportunity, so we haven't arrived at an impasse yet and we'll continue to bring constructive solutions to the legislature."

"We've heard this on election night, that Alberta has to have a thoughtful position on climate in order to have credibility in the world as an energy producer."

Shortly after the election, city council passed a motion to have administration come up with a  back-up plan if the province pulls that funding. 

The city noted it had integrated its programs with Energy Efficiency Alberta, receiving $40 million in benefits. 

The city announced on Thursday its current energy transition strategy isn't strong enough to meet the global goal to stop temperatures from rising more than 1.5 C.

The city's energy transition team plans to revise the plan over the next 18 months.

Highlights from the Energy Efficiency Alberta annual report include:

  • $101 million investment in household programs, $534 million in energy savings and reduced emissions
  • $88 million investment in commercial, industrial and non-profit institutions, $200 million saved
  • 1,500 solar projects
  • $17.5 million investment in solar projects resulting in $37 million in residential and commercial savings
  • 214,000 people and groups participated in energy efficiency programs

Efficiency Canada is a grant-based research fund based at Carleton University in Ottawa with different streams of funding, some from foundations, government, utilities and "allies."