Efficiency Manitoba falls short of targets to cut energy usage in 1st year
Pandemic a distraction for customers who would have otherwise tapped into energy conservation: official
The new Manitoba Crown corporation devoted to conserving energy has fallen short in its inaugural year of operation.
Efficiency Manitoba has a legislated target of reducing electricity consumption by 1.5 per cent and natural gas consumption by 0.75 per cent annually — and missed both targets in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Net electricity usage was cut by 69 per cent of the corporation's target and net natural gas usage by 60 per cent, according to a news release this week.
The pandemic, which began just before the start of the fiscal year, hampered those efforts, said vice-president of corporate performance and engagement Dori Chudobiak.
Understandably, the usage patterns for electricity shifted as pandemic measures kept more people at home. But missed targets were also due to potential customers for energy efficiency measures being preoccupied with other matters, like their health and safety, Chudobiak said.
"Manitobans were unfortunately not in a position to engage because of those disruptions," she said.
Efficiency Manitoba is not penalized for failing to hit its targets. It carries any shortfall or surplus into the next year, as per the legislation.
Spent 43% of budget
"When Manitobans are ready and positioned to come to us for their energy efficiency needs, we're pretty confident that over the long haul, we're going to make up any bits of losses that were the reality during the first year," Chudobiak said.
While 2020-21 was the corporation's first operational year, it was originally promised by the Progressive Conservatives in the 2016 provincial election campaign.
A bill was introduced in 2017 to create the new corporation, intended to take over Manitoba Hydro's existing Power Smart program, with the government arguing it was an "inherent conflict" for Manitoba Hydro to sell electricity while also encouraging Manitobans to conserve energy.
Efficiency Manitoba says it saw net electricity savings of 227.4 gigawatt-hours and net natural gas savings of 7.01 million cubic metres in 2020-21, through a range of programs and offers for homeowners, businesses and communities.
Since the pandemic limited the corporation's efforts, the corporation spent only 43 per cent of its annual budget of more than $60 million.
Asked why the agency didn't spend more to ensure targets were met, Chudobiak said Efficiency Manitoba has an overarching objective to be judicious in its financial choices.
"This isn't just about spending money for the sake of spending money," she said. "The underspend on the budget is directly tied to the participation in programs."
Efficiency Manitoba has made adjustments in its second year, such as a new limited-time bonus for businesses to buy energy-efficient lighting products, she said.
Glen Koroluk, executive director of the Manitoba Eco Network, said more incentives work in Efficiency Manitoba's favour.
It's tough for low-income people to pay for environmentally friendly investments on their home, he said.
"A lot of us are living from cheque to cheque and we don't have the money to save to make these retrofits," Koroluk said.
Still, he said the agency should be credited for making progress, even if not to the extent he'd like.
"It isn't bad news," he said. "It's great to see that, while they didn't meet their targets … their programming is in fact being taken up."
Minister of Conservation and Climate Sarah Guillemard said in a statement she's confident Efficiency Manitoba will meet its targets in the long term.
Ranked 8th in Canada
NDP Hydro critic Adrien Sala accused the Progressive Conservative government of being slow to act on energy conservation.
He cited the 2021 edition of the Provincial Energy Efficiency Scorecard, released Thursday by the research organization Efficiency Canada, which ranked Manitoba in eighth place among the provinces.
While acknowledging the struggles in launching a new Crown corporation in a pandemic, the report said the Manitoba government is falling behind for still using the 2011 version of the National Energy Code for Buildings and failing to properly promote electric vehicle purchases, as well as active transportation.
- Saving energy a priority, Manitoba government vows, despite funding halt to furnace replacement program
"Manitoba has a huge opportunity using a public Manitoba Hydro to make our province more energy efficient, but we're squandering that opportunity right now," Sala said.
In 2018, Manitoba Hydro was criticized for ending a two-year solar energy rebate pilot program without indicating what, if anything, would replace it. Chudobiak said the corporation remains on track to bring that program back in the 2022-23 fiscal year.
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