Kitchener residents can't access new Ontario home retrofit program

A new home energy retrofit program, announced by the Ontario Liberals Thursday, may not be accessible to all Ontarians. The $100 million program is in partnership with Union Gas and Enbridge Gas and doesn't indicate if non-customers can apply for rebates.
The new $100 million provincial fund would pay for upgrades, like installing new insulation, that would improve the energy efficiency of people's homes. (CBC)

The Ontario Liberal government has announced a new $100 million home energy retrofit program to help homeowners upgrade their furnaces, water heaters and insulation, but Kitchener residents will not be able to tap into the fund. 

The government said in a news release Thursday that the program is "in partnership with Enbridge Gas Distribution and Union Gas."

On Friday, Wally Malcolm, the director of Kitchener Utilities which supplies natural gas for the city, confirmed to CBC News that its customers would not be eligible for the program.

"We did not know it was coming. It was a surprise when we received it. Our mayor, Berry Vrbanovic, sent [the media release] off to us to advise us. He was the original one who received the notification, and we were surprised by it. We had no indication this program was even being looked at," Malcolm said in an interview with CBC News Friday.

"We're contacting Union Gas to find out the nature of their program and find out who they were dealing with at the provincial government. Once we have the information of their program, we're going to be contacting the government to talk to the minister or to someone in that department to find out how Kitchener residents can take part in this program." 

Kitchener not served by Union, Enbridge

While people living in Cambridge and Waterloo receive natural gas from Union Gas, Kitchener residents are clients of Kitchener Utilities, a city-owned utility. 

"This announcement is great news for Union Gas customers in Waterloo, Cambridge and the townships," said Mary Jane Patterson, executive director of REEP, a Kitchener-based environmental charity, in a news release.

"But we're wondering if homeowners in Kitchener will also be able to participate in this program since neither Union Gas nor Enbridge operates in the city."

Dan Moulton, the spokesman for Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, said in an emailed statement Friday afternoon that "the government is working with Enbridge and Union to explore opportunities to offer the program in communities outside of Union and Enbridge service territories, in places such as Kitchener and to homeowners that heat their homes with GHG (greenhouse gas) emitting fossil fuels, such as natural gas, oil and propane.‎"

Moulton added they are encouraging all customers to contact their providers "to discuss programs and opportunities to help save money and energy."

Government subsidies spur renovations

Patterson's group also sells energy evaluations, for people looking to apply for home retrofit programs.

She told CBC News that without government incentives, people delay costly and sometimes inconvenient upgrades, like re-insulating their home, that could be saving them a lot of money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

"When the federal government was offering incentives, for home energy upgrades, we used to do about 100 home energy evaluations every month, helping people to prioritise what their home needs and to access those incentives. Now we don't even do that in a year," said Patterson.

The Federal Government offered a similar home energy retrofit program, available to all Canadians, between 2003 and 2006. It was then cancelled and replaced by the ECOenergy retrofit program between 2007 and 2011, when it was cancelled a second time. The program was then briefly extended for eight months in 2012. 

For part of the ECOenergy program, the Ontario Government matched the Federal government's rebates. 

In Friday's announcement, the provincial government said it would help approximately 37,000 homeowners but didn't provide a start date or rebate amounts. 

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