Manitoba

Efficiency Manitoba taking aggressive approach to energy conservation because it has to: CEO

The new Manitoba Crown corporation focused on energy conservation says it will act aggressively to find savings in electricity and natural gas usage — even asking children for help. 

Proposals to meet targets in Crown corporation's 3-year plan include more in-home checkups, efficiency kits

Efficiency Manitoba CEO Colleen Kuruluk is pleased the Crown corporation's first-ever plan includes legislated targets to reduce energy consumption, while operating on a leaner budget than Manitoba Hydro's previous Power Smart program. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The new Manitoba Crown corporation focused on energy conservation says it will act aggressively to find savings in electricity and natural gas usage — even asking children for help — because it must be aggressive to meet government orders.

Efficiency Manitoba CEO Colleen Kuruluk says although they present a challenge, she's excited to tackle the mandated targets — reducing electricity consumption by 1.5 per cent and natural gas consumption by 0.75 per cent annually over a 15-year period.

"Our targets were definitely difficult to reach, so we had to stretch into everything to get more savings," Kurulk said.

A three-year plan submitted by Efficiency Manitoba to the Public Utilities Board for approval — the first such plan for the corporation — says its energy conservation measures will include doing more in-home visits than before, expanding the appliance recycling program, and even asking children to check their homes and determine what energy-saving tools are needed. 

The energy reduction targets are "very aggressive targets," Kuruluk said, "and not only were we able to meet them, but we were able to meet them cost-effectively. I think that's the overriding positive to the plan."

The new agency is planning an average annual budget of $69.9 million over the next three years, which is nine per cent lower than what Manitoba Hydro budgeted for energy-saving programs under Power Smart in 2015-16. 

Permanent solar rebate program by 2022

Efficiency Manitoba says it will aim to employ 75 full-time employees — a number 30 per cent lower than Manitoba Hydro's Power Smart staff complement in 2015-16, before the utility was mandated to cut jobs. Efficiency Manitoba is also estimating spending $4 million less on incentive costs than Manitoba Hydro spent in 2015-16, while cutting staff and overhead costs by 37 and 32 per cent, respectively.

Efficiency Manitoba proposes spending $13.8 million to deliver its programming for 2020-21, which is 39 per cent higher than what Manitoba Hydro set aside for 2015-16. 

The three-year plan, which must still be endorsed by the Public Utilities Board, also proposes developing a online portal to guide customers on how to reduce energy use.

If a customer wants more help, a professional could provide an in-house checkup for a fee. A similar program existed under Power Smart, but only for low-income users, Kuruluk said.

A more comprehensive audit is also proposed, where the home would receive an energy efficiency rating.

Efficiency Manitoba will continue a retail rebate program for items like light bulbs, dishwashers and thermostats. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The corporation also wants to make efficiency kits, including items like shower heads, bathroom aerators and LED light bulbs, available for purchase.

It would also create simpler versions of these packages for kids. Students will be encouraged to walk through their homes and, based on what they find, Efficiency Manitoba will send them energy-saving products.

The corporation is planning to provide new offers for major home renovations, make a solar energy rebate program permanent in 2022, and offer incentives for wood-pellet and wood chip heating systems, as well as high-efficiency windows.

No cash for bar fridges

The corporation would still collect old refrigerators and freezers for cash — and now dehumidifiers, window air conditioners and bar fridges as well — but won't offer a cash incentive, the three-year plan says.

The agency also wants to work with the Manitoba Metis Federation to assist Métis customers.

Efficiency Manitoba will still support rebates and incentives on certain products, and will offer programs specific to low-income, Indigenous, commercial, industrial and agricultural users. 

The plan sounds good, says Curt Hull, project director with Climate Change Connection, but he wishes Efficiency Manitoba was guided by more than a two-pronged focus to cut electricity and natural gas use. 

If the corporation was mandated by law to cut greenhouse gas emissions, it might champion the push for electric vehicles, which would require more electricity, he said.

Sarah Guillemard, the newly appointed minister of the province's conservation and climate department, wasn't made available for an interview, but the government said in a statement Efficiency Manitoba is an "important partner in helping to ensure Manitoba becomes the cleanest, greenest, and most climate resilient province in Canada."

Efficiency Manitoba is planning to implement a solar energy rebate program beginning in 2022. (Submitted/Sycamore Energy)

NDP MLA Adrien Sala questioned why Efficiency Manitoba is falling short of its consumption reduction target in its first year. (It says it will reach the target, on average, over the three years). 

"Of course, they're suggesting that they'll overcome those shortfalls in years to follow, but why would we believe them, given the troubles that they've had getting the whole enterprise off the ground?" Sala said. The Progressive Conservative government promised the creation of the new conservation agency during the 2016 election campaign.

In a statement, Efficiency Manitoba said any shortfall or surplus in its targets can be carried into the next year, as per the legislation. 

Kuruluk said she wants Manitobans to treat energy efficiency as a valuable resource, which would reduce the need for expensive energy generation projects. She said it will take Efficiency Manitoba 12 years to save the amount of energy created by the massive Keeyask generating system in one year —  at a fraction of the cost.

"When you start looking at the numbers and start reflecting that we can build the same output as Keeyask for $540 million dollars, it's a pretty powerful plan."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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