Charlottetown neighbourhood energy project encourages greener homes

A City of Charlottetown pilot project encouraging neighbours to learn more about home energy efficiency together was a success, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Home owners reported a big jump in their knowledge, and signed up for more rebate programs than before the Better Homes project.

'Definitely there's a peer pressure side of things'

Mary Beth MacLean and Allan Hughes were part of the pilot project starting in 2019. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC )

The City of Charlottetown is encouraging neighbours to learn from each other to make their homes more energy efficient. 

The Better Homes Neighbourhood Energy Project started as a pilot in the fall of 2019, a partnership between the City of Charlottetown and efficiencyPEI.

The city's climate action officer, Katrina Cristall, said the project offers support to a given neighbourhood in doing energy upgrades to their homes.

"Although efficiencyPEI has all of these great energy efficiency rebates, there were still barriers to people accessing them, so we wanted to understand more about those barriers, and help people to address them," Cristall said.

"I think definitely there's a peer pressure side of things. We want people to understand that this is something that a lot of people are doing, and that it's really important."

Katrina Cristall says the city was pleased by the results of the pilot, despite some elements having to be dropped because of the pandemic. (Shane Hennessey/CBC )
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The pilot project took place in an older neighbourhood in Sherwood, a suburb of Charlottetown, starting with a community meeting in the fall of 2019.

Cristall said the city was pleased by the results of the pilot, despite some elements having to be dropped because of the pandemic. 

"COVID definitely threw a bit of a wrench in it, but we saw some really exciting results," Cristall said. 

"Participants in the project were two times more likely to participate in efficiencyPEI rebate programs. And really interestingly, they were actually four times more likely to tap into the home insulation rebates, which we were really excited to see."

Increased knowledge 

Cristall said there was a big jump in energy efficiency knowledge after the neighbourhood project.

"We saw a 60 per cent increase in those reporting that they had a high level of energy efficiency knowledge," Cristall said.

"I think that alone really demonstrates the success."

Many of the homes in the Sherwood pilot project were built in the 1960s. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC )

However, Cristall said it was challenging to measure exactly how much energy and money homeowners saved, because of the pandemic.

"With the first cohort during COVID, people were at home so much more," Cristall said. 

"But it's definitely something we'll be looking at when we're able to with the second cohort."

Energy savings

Mary Beth MacLean and Allan Hughes were part of the pilot project starting in 2019. 

"There was quite a few people at the original meeting, and there was quite a bit of excitement in the area," MacLean said. 

"I thought that was great, and we noticed a lot more solar panels and other things appearing in the neighbourhood." 

Hughes and MacLean said the project gave them extra knowledge to make smart choices around improvements to their home. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC )

The project included an energy audit on their 60-year-old home, as well as some smaller upgrades done by efficiencyPEI, including LED lights, insulation around doors, windows and outlets. 

The energy audit recommended insulating the basement, installing a heat pump and solar panels, which MacLean and Hughes were already exploring.

"In my opinion, the solar panels are no-brainer once you did the math because they're offering zero interest payments to pay back the loan to purchase the solar panels," Hughes said.

"Essentially all you're doing is replacing your electrical bill with a loan payment. And at the end of that, you have up to 25 years of life of the solar panel. So you have basically free electricity after that period of time."

Insulating the basement alone brought their energy consumption down, from a 153 rating before they started, to 107. (Nancy Russell/CBC )

Insulating the basement alone brought their energy consumption down, from a 153 rating before they started, to 107.

"The main thing out of the energy audit was to insulate our basement, and so essentially we went from no insulation down there to R-24," Hughes said.

"Because I was able to do most of the work myself with a friend, there's a rebate that covered most of the costs as well."

Cristall said homeowners were encouraged to put up lawn signs in Sherwood, showing that they are part of the project. (Submitted by Katrina Cristall )

Their oil tank and furnace are now gone, meaning they don't have to grapple with the rising cost of furnace oil, driving many Islanders to consider home energy efficiencies of their own. 

"They have to be tremendously motivated these days. For us, we don't have an oil bill, we don't have an electric bill," Hughes said.

"It's pretty nice, especially when you see the price going up all the time." 

We don't have an oil bill, we don't have an electric bill. It's pretty nice, especially when you see the price [of oil] going up.—Allan Hughes, Better Homes Neighbourhood Energy Project 

Three years later, their home is almost net-zero, requiring little additional electricity beyond what they generate with their solar panels. 

"We bought an electric vehicle, and an energy efficient water heater," MacLean said. 

"We need a few more panels, and then we would be pretty much net-zero. The house is, in terms of its energy efficiency, almost like a new house." 

A second phase is underway right now in the 500 lot of Charlottetown, involving about 20 homes. It started a year ago, and will wrap up in a few months.

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled "Our Changing Planet" to show and explain the effects of climate change. Keep up with the latest news on our Climate and Environment page.


Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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