After six months of intense planning and preparation, our Energy team had the great privilege and pleasure of hosting Canada’s first-ever Energy Justice Forum, on April 12, 2023. It was an inspiring and productive meeting of minds, bringing together folks from diverse backgrounds to find ways to keep our homes healthy, climate resilient, and affordable to heat and cool.
It was a thrill to host this gathering with almost a hundred attendees coming together in Vancouver, BC, on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Territories. Together, we began to envision an end to energy insecurity, with a focus on British Columbia, where low-carbon home retrofits, energy affordability, and extreme heat resilience are increasingly seen as critical and intersecting policy issues.
“It was so refreshing to connect in person, after three long years. There were many folks at the Forum who I had never met outside a screen! At the same time, not everyone feels safe or comfortable to gather in this way yet, and we know going forward that it’s important to include these voices in the conversation.” Dylan Heerema, Senior Policy Advisor, Ecotrust Canada
We heard from an amazing group of over a dozen speakers, panelists, and participants. They represented all levels of government, First Nations communities and organizations, NGOs, industry, utilities, and academia. Some had lived or living experiences with energy insecurity. All of them shared the common goal of advancing energy justice in their own work, and the forum gave folks the opportunity to make new connections, break down silos, and gain fresh inspiration for work that can sometimes be frustrating and demanding.
“We saw amazing ideas and connections take shape at the Forum, and I’m looking forward to continuing the work with this group to turn our vision of energy justice for all into a reality.”- Dylan Heerema
It was particularly special to hear from two UBC students, Margaryta Pustova and Maya Korbynn, who worked with us to produce two new research reports to support discussions at the forum. Their fresh ideas provided a compliment to the wisdom and experience that was shared by experts with decades of working in the energy and equity field.
After hearing from our expert panelists, participants had the opportunity to workshop the ideas and recommendations that surfaced to refine them further, and to discuss their strengths and weaknesses. We found that there was a surprising amount of alignment around the path forward, despite the very diverse background and fields of practice that attendees each brought to their tables.
The main calls for action as we move forward
Attendees were united in their call for more public investment and a ramping up of programs to retrofit and build affordable, safe housing in BC. They advocated for a human rights and public health-centric approach, one that directs public money to those who need it most, rather than subsidizing wealthy homeowners and landlords who have the means to improve their homes and buildings.
They also spoke of a disconnect between the design of existing retrofit programs, and outcomes that support equity. Many suggested that energy efficiency and retrofit programs should be designed and delivered by the communities they serve – or at least, by a government or third-party agency rather than by utilities, who have historically failed to deliver meaningful results.
“Without intentionally considering equity in our approaches to energy cost burdens and energy efficiency, we simply won’t be able to reach our climate goals. This forum is a first step towards becoming aware of these inequities and then rolling our sleeves up to change what we do.” – Yasmin Abraham, President, Kambo Energy Group
Phasing out fossil gas appliances
Participants were nearly unanimous in their calls to end subsidies for polluting fossil gas appliances, halt new connections to gas, and equitably phase out gas infrastructure. They supported electrification as the most cost-effective way to decarbonize homes (to stop or reduce carbon gases, especially carbon dioxide, being released into the atmosphere).
They considered electric heat pumps as the top climate-resilient, energy-efficient upgrade for homes. Heat pumps provide for household heating in the winter, and cooling during extreme heat events. To help address labour shortages and accelerate electrification even further, they discussed a just transition strategy to retrain gasfitters as heat pump technicians.
“I’d like […] ideally get to a point where, if someone’s in an income-qualified home, they just say, “I want to put a heat pump in,” and then […] the utility comes, they install it, you get lower operating cost, and you don’t have to worry about having challenges.” – Chris Higgins, Senior Green Building Planner, City of Vancouver
Tenants’ energy rights
In the afternoon at the forum, we took a deep dive into tenants’ energy rights and different pathways to ensure that rental suites are affordable to heat, safe and comfortable to live in, and can be cooled during extreme heat events. While this is a relatively new area of policy development in BC, several possible pathways were explored, including regulating rental suites through building codes, the Residential Tenancy Act, and utility bill cost-sharing schemes between landlords and tenants. While opinions differed on the best way to reach this difficult-to-reach segment of the housing stock, attendees agreed that any policies or programs to improve energy performance must not lead to a loss of rental housing, or give landlords an opportunity to evict tenants and increase rents.
“It’s not just about improving the energy efficiency of homes, but making sure that people have a place they belong to, a place to call home that’s affordable and meets their needs.” – Abhilash Kantamneni, Research Associate, Efficiency Canada
We need a collaborative effort to achieve Energy Justice
As the Forum drew to a close, we heard from government officials, who reflected on the events of the day and recognized the call for a holistic, ambitious mobilization to end energy insecurity and provide safe, affordable, and clean home energy as one of the keys to addressing the climate, housing, and health care crises currently facing Canadians.
“In order to meet this challenge ahead of us and to create a built environment that is resilient, that is carbon-neutral, that gives us comfortable conditions to live in for the future and for years to come, it is going to require a national effort, and for governments and industry and communities across Canada to come together.” – Ben Copp, Senior Director, Office of Energy Efficiency, Natural Resources Canada
The entire room recognized that this effort would take a tremendous amount of time, money, effort, and heart, and that no one agency can address these issues alone. Yet, we all recognized that the consequences of inaction – uninsurable, unhealthy buildings, illness and death, escalating bills, and poverty – are untenable.
“Energy insecurity, affordability, and justice is a vital, pressing issue for many folks across BC, especially those on low incomes. The right to heating and cooling, affordable energy for cooking, lighting, and other fundamental, essential household tasks should be assured. Yet, this is not the case for many in BC.”- Rowan Burdge, Executive Director, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
Now, I get to dig deeper into the conversations of the day by reviewing each presentation and idea that emerged from the workshops, part of the process of delivering a full proceedings report on the Home Energy Justice Forum. Thank you to this incredible group of stakeholders, practitioners, and community members who continue to work on making home energy justice a reality in BC – and across Canada.
We’re adding presentations from panelists over the next week. Check out the 2023 Energy Justice Forum playlist on YouTube.