Nfld. & Labrador

Province says conserve, but cuts aid for energy efficiency

While officials preached the importance of conservation during this year's blackouts and electricity shortages, the provincial government has actually cut back on programs to help residents use less energy.

Conservation questions

9 years ago
Duration 3:51
N.L. government preaches energy efficiency, but has cut cash contributions to help consumers

While officials preached the importance of conservation during this year's blackouts and electricity shortages, the provincial government has actually cut back on programs to help residents use less energy.

The issue of energy conservation in Newfoundland and Labrador hit front and centre during a cold snap in January, when power use peaked and capacity was down.

As a result, the public faced a series of rolling blackouts. The problem re-emerged in early March.

At the time of the initial blackouts, everyone from then Premier Kathy Dunderdale to the heads of Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro had one clear message to deliver.

"Conserve, conserve, conserve," said Earl Ludlow, the president and CEO of Newfoundland Power, at a press conference held in the midst of January's rolling outages.

"It's been my line for a week, and I want to keep it going. We've got to have it happen."

Click here for an interactive page with energy efficiency tips for your home. (CBC)
But the Newfoundland and Labrador government currently doesn't offer any programs to directly help average homeowners improve their energy efficiency.

The hydro companies have their own programs to help with programmable thermostats, insulation and windows, under the banner of TakeCharge NL.

But many older homes have oil heat, and don't qualify for those incentives.

Lone program

The only provincial government program that still exists is the Residential Energy Efficiency Program (REEP), which is designed for low-income homeowners — those who make up to $32,500 annually. 

REEP mostly focuses on seniors and widowers, who get $3,000 on the island (or $4,000 for residents in Labrador) to help with energy-efficiency retrofits in their homes.

The program, which began in 2009, is delivered by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation (NLHC), and is fully funded by province.

Kevin O'Brien, the minister in charge of the Residential Energy Efficiency Program, says cuts to that program are part of tough choices that government had to make. (CBC)
The retrofits have resulted in an average household energy savings of about 35 per cent, and a savings of about $800 a year on homeowners' power bills.

In the 2013 budget, the province slashed the program in half, to $2 million. This year, only 500 homes received the grant, down from 1,000.

Funding for the program for the 2013-2014 fiscal year has already been fully committed, and the NLHC said the program will be reviewed in the upcoming provincial budget.

Kevin O'Brien, the minister in charge of REEP, agreed that it's a good program.

But he says the province is facing tough choices.

"If you don't cut that program, then you're going to have to cut another program — maybe a program in health," he said.

"It comes down to difficult decisions."

Turning the tide

The provincial government has placed money into TV and print ads and a website that encourage the public to conserve energy. But there is no money offered to help with those efforts.

Turn Back the Tide is a public awareness campaign on climate change and energy efficiency that was launched in September 2012. 

The province has to date spent $450,000 on the campaign. Officials say the site has generated more than 115,000 page views, and web videos there have been viewed more than 1,800 times.

But it's a very different situation in Nova Scotia, where there haven't been any power shortages.

Efficiency Nova Scotia offers advice as well as incentives for energy conservation, including savings on LED light bulbs and high-efficiency fridges. (CBC)
Efficiency Nova Scotia offers incentives as well as advice. That includes savings of $8 on an LED light bulb, $100 on a high-efficiency fridge, and $1,500 on a heat pump.

The non-profit organization will even visit a homeowner for free and insulate a water heater, or install fluorescent bulbs or low-flow shower heads.

There are no similar incentives available in Newfoundland and Labrador.

O'Brien said other priorities rank higher than energy efficiency, given all of the other demands on government.

"We spend more per capita on each individual in this province for health care than any other province in Canada," he said.

"So our priorities are a little different, our challenges are a little different than in Nova Scotia."

Heat loss detectives

Gerry Locke and Brad Dunn are energy advisors with AmeriSpec. Their job is to go into homes to figure out the areas where there is heat loss, and how to stop it.

They took CBC Investigates into a downtown St. John's home to illustrate the common issues they find when they inspect a home.

One of their tests uses a blower fan to check for air leaks, while their infrared camera picks up cold spots, which could be caused by missing insulation behind walls or drafts coming in through a fireplace. 

There could also be heat loss from other unexpected places, like power outlets. To stop the cold air from leaking in, Locke said there's an easy fix: using a foam gasket.

Gerry Locke, an energy advisor with AmeriSpec, says it's the little things that can help reduce heating costs. (CBC)
"Add it all together. It's the little things that help reduce our heating costs," Locke said. 

"You can see how much air leakage of course is in this area. So if we [did] this for every receptacle, yes, it's going to add up to be a lot, and it's a very inexpensive fix."

Locke and Dunn have done thousands of inspections for the REEP program, and have seen first-hand the positive effects it can have.

"This $3,000 grant made a major impact in many people's lives," Locke said.

"It made houses warmer, and made the cost of living a lot easier."