Here at Ecotrust Canada, we believe that nobody should have to choose between heating their home and feeding their family. Over the last three years, our Community Energy team has been hard at work with community partners, proving home energy retrofit projects on the ground, and influencing policies that help make energy cleaner and more affordable for rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. As we move into a new year for the program, with a number of new and exciting projects in the works, we want to reflect on some of the progress that has been made over the last couple of years, and the hard work that remains.
Calculating the community impacts
Despite the upheaval and uncertainty the pandemic has caused over nearly two years, our community projects have continued apace. Working with the Heiltsuk, Quatsino and ‘Namgis First Nations, we have helped to fundraise for and facilitate the installation of 220 heat pumps in homes across coastal BC, raising over $3.5M and contributing to nearly $7M in energy bill savings for households, some of whom are saving nearly $2,500 per year. Even more rewarding has been hearing from residents that they feel healthier, happier and more comfortable in their homes, with one elder making the poignant observation that they had “forgotten what it felt like” to be warm in their home.
We have also been busy with policy and research work, producing three major research reports and contributing to a host of other policy discussions, including through engagement with BC’s major utilities companies, all levels of government, and allied organizations that are working to advance clean energy, Indigenous energy sovereignty, and energy efficient buildings across the country. In the short time our Community Energy program has existed, we have seen the issue of energy poverty move from a policy niche, poorly understood and overlooked by most decision-makers, to one of the most important and emergent considerations in energy efficiency program design across Canada.
During the past year in BC, we have seen government step in to rescue the Customer Crisis Fund, an important emergency relief measure for utility customers facing disconnection, from being cancelled by BC Hydro. We have also (finally!) seen the introduction of a dedicated stream of rebates and incentives that make it much easier for low- and moderate-income British Columbians to perform home energy retrofits, like improving insulation or moving to a clean and efficient heat pump. We are also seeing direction from government to begin phasing out the use of polluting natural gas as a heating fuel now that clean and efficient alternatives exist, taking advantage of BC’s clean electricity grid. Across Canada, we are also seeing momentum on retrofits growing, through the federal government’s Greener Homes Grant for home retrofits, and thanks to the efforts of national advocacy organizations like Efficiency Canada.
Continuing our advocacy work
Despite this amazing progress, there remains a great deal of work to do in order to realize our vision of energy security for rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. We will continue to advocate for changes to outdated and ineffective policies, including: the mandate for utility regulators that is currently out of step with modern goals of equity, climate justice, and reconciliation; and, utility programs for vulnerable households that fail to deliver. BC doesn’t have any form of ongoing energy bill assistance for those that need it the most — leaving thousands of customers at risk of high bills, disconnections, and the poor health outcomes that are associated with having inadequate access to energy for heating, cooking, and lighting. We hope that 2022 will be a year that brings further relief to the 270,000 BC households living with energy poverty as a daily reality.
On-the-ground retrofit work with communities
We will be busy as ever with our community retrofit work this year, with ongoing efforts to transition every home in the Heiltsuk Nation to a heat pump, home energy retrofits in the ‘Namgis and Quatsino Nations, and new partnerships with the Hupačasath and Tla’amin Nations. We have also greatly expanded our capacity to work with settler communities, bringing on Josephine Schrott to the team to work on developing local energy efficiency financing programs for rural districts and municipalities including Powell River, Port Hardy, Port McNeill, and Prince Rupert.
Finally, our work to improve local access and capacity for home energy assessments through the EnerGuide program will take a big leap this year, with plans to develop a locally-based training program for energy advisors in the Central and North Coast of BC. These regions are critically underserved by energy advisors and include several remote Indigenous communities, as well as larger centres like Prince Rupert. Our aim through this program is to embed local capacity and create new jobs in energy efficiency, while opening access to rebate programs for residents that require EnerGuide assessments. Stay tuned for updates on this and other initiatives from our Community Energy team as we launch into a cleaner, more affordable 2022.