Energy Efficiency Alberta a work in progress as part of carbon tax plan

New agency dedicated to reducing energy consumption in the province ends Alberta's distinction as the only jurisdiction in North America without a sustained program to make houses and buildings more energy efficient.

Agency to use $645 million of carbon tax revenue to make homes, workplaces more energy efficient

Proponents of energy efficiency programs say they help delay investment and development of major infrastructure such as transmission lines. (CBC)

Newfoundland has one. West Virgina has one. Now, Alberta has one too.

Energy Efficiency Alberta is a new agency dedicated to reducing energy consumption in the province. Its creation ends what some have called Alberta's dubious distinction as the only jurisdiction in North America without a sustained program to make houses and buildings more energy efficient.

The organization, first announced more than a year ago as part of the province's Climate Leadership Plan, is set to take a $645-million chunk of carbon tax revenues collected over the next five years.

The money will initially focus on spurring in-home improvements by providing free LED lightbulbs, rebates on energy efficient appliances, and incentives for  high-efficiency retrofits for institutional buildings.

But despite the Jan. 1 implementation of the carbon tax, Energy Efficiency Alberta programs won't roll out until late March at the earliest.

"Setting up a new agency takes time, involving consultation with experts and partners to make sure programs are rolled out smoothly," said Brent Wittmeier, spokesman for Alberta Environment, in an email.

"We want to make sure these programs are done right."

The organization is currently searching for a CEO.

Efficiency offers return on investment

The Alberta agency is largely modelled on Efficiency One in Nova Scotia. But efficiency programs run in virtually every North American jurisdiction, either through utility companies that have been mandated to do so or through stand-alone agencies.

"For me, there was a bit of relief in knowing we wouldn't be one of the few without these programs and we wouldn't be trying to catch up with others," said Jesse Rowe, executive director of the Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance, a coalition of industry, municipalities, and non-profit groups.

"Over the last 15 years, we had been funding these types of programs when there was a budget surplus," he said.

"We look at other jurisdictions and they've been doing this for decades and they continue to increase their investment into these programs because they continue to provide a good return on investment to consumers."

Even poor jurisdictions such as West Virginia have offered energy efficiency programs for years through companies such as Appalachian Power.

"We were not mandated but we were encouraged," said Jeri Matheney, the company's communications director. "And as prices began to rise, we were more and more strongly encouraged. And we wanted to provide this for our customers when energy prices started to rise."

Appalachian Power also offers home energy audits, free weatherstripping, LED lightbulbs, and a rebate program for businesses that upgrade lighting, heating or air conditioning systems.

Details still needed on roll-out

Energy Efficiency Alberta will offer three initial programs, including the free installation of energy efficient products, such as LED lightbulbs, low-flow shower heads, and smart thermostats.

"It gets people thinking about energy efficiency. It creates some buzz around energy efficiency, and we'll follow that with standard rebate programs," said David Dodge, the organization's board chair, during an interview on CBC's Edmonton AM radio program on Wednesday.
David Dodge is the board chair for Energy Efficiency Alberta. (Nola Keeler/CBC)

"I call this success by a thousand cuts ... it adds up a lot."

The programs will be offered to all Albertans regardless of income, But it's still not clear if it will be done on a first-come, first-serve basis or if the programs will have capacity to accept all initial requests. It's also not clear how people will sign up, or how rebates will be delivered.

Several request for proposals have been set up for companies to run the programs, including one program focused on rebates, and a third focused on retrofits for energy efficient institutions, non-profits, and businesses.

Funding for Energy Efficiency Alberta is $45-million for this year and will increase to $90 million next year and $165 million the year after that. It's expected more sophisticated programs will develop in the future.

"We're going to spend this carbon tax on measures of reducing the carbon tax," said Dodge. "We're going to spend that money on things that will help you not pay a carbon tax in the future."

The official opposition Wildrose party did not respond to a request for comment on Energy Efficiency Alberta.