Saving energy a priority, Manitoba government vows, despite funding halt to furnace replacement program
Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton says new Efficiency Manitoba programs will reduce natural gas use
The Manitoba government says it is committed to energy efficiency, after the province stopped funding a furnace replacement program — a move that appears to make it more difficult to reduce natural gas consumption.
The NDP slammed the government during question period on Thursday for efforts they perceive are undermining Efficiency Manitoba, a Crown corporation devoted to promoting energy conservation, before its three-year plan takes effect in April 2020.
The new regulatory changes, which were approved by government in August and take effect next April, say no additional money will be spent on a furnace replacement program.
The province also changed the terms of the Affordable Energy Fund, a pool of money supporting efficiency improvements, so its funds cannot be spent on improving the efficiency of natural gas projects.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew questioned how the government could reduce natural gas consumption while pulling funding.
'This is a bad move'
"This is going to mean a bigger carbon footprint for our province. It's going to mean more people using natural gas than they otherwise might," he told reporters.
"This is a bad move and it's coming at a time when we know we have to do more to create a safe, clean and healthy environment."
Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton would not explain the government's rationale for changing the regulations, but said Efficiency Manitoba has not lost sight of its mission to annually reduce electricity consumption by 1.5 per cent and natural gas consumption by 0.75 per cent, as legislated.
The new Crown corporation is preparing a three-year energy conservation plan that, with the approval of the Public Utilities Board, would take effect in April 2020.
At that time, the agency will unveil its own programs to cut back on energy consumption — as well as natural gas.
Reducing natural gas a priority: Wharton
"In that plan will be a number of initiatives, I'm sure," Wharton said. "I know that Efficiency Manitoba will continue to focus on energy savings for Manitobans, in Hydro and gas, as they go forward."
A government official said Efficiency Manitoba hasn't given up on cutting natural gas use. The agency's budget is funded through Manitoba Hydro, and within their mandate is an order to develop and support any initiatives that reduce natural gas consumption.
Meanwhile, Manitoba Hydro previously determined the current $3.8-million fund associated with the furnace replacement program is sufficient, and no more money should be collected from customers to cover furnace replacements or conversions any longer, spokesperson Bruce Owen said.
Efficiency was spun off Manitoba Hydro because of a promise made in the 2016 election campaign, when then-Opposition leader Brian Pallister considered it "an inherent conflict" for a utility producing power to tell Manitobans to conserve energy.
A recent mandate letter to the board dictated Efficiency should be as successful — if not more so — as the current conservation programs run by Manitoba Hydro, at a "significantly smaller percentage of the cost and materially less labour costs."
Efficiency was supposed to submit its three-year plan for review by Oct. 1, but the deadline was extended by a month because Wharton, new to overseeing the Crown services file, asked for more time.
Wharton dismissed the NDP's accusation during question period that he was improperly interfering in the actions of a Crown agency by asking for a delay.