Extreme weather, heat waves, wildfire smoke, and high energy prices have become the new reality in British Columbia, and it is not just the wealthy who deserve safe and resilient homes that can meet these challenges. In April 2022, the BC Government’s Energy Affordability Working Group, comprised of representatives from three ministries and BC Hydro, asked anti-poverty and climate justice groups to weigh in on the future of the Customer Crisis Fund, and other programs designed to assist households that are struggling to pay their energy bills.
Our response was a collaborative effort between five organizations with shared values, and years of experience working directly with households that experience energy insecurity. We all believe that no one should have to choose between paying their utility bill and feeding their family.
This submission, Household Energy Affordability in BC, was led by Ecotrust Canada, with contributions from the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, Kambo Energy Group, Create Climate Equity, and Allison Ashcroft.
As the impacts of climate change and inequity in BC grow ever more damaging, our organizations believe that transformative action must be taken. Basic services like heating, cooling and lighting are a human right, and protecting access to energy for lower-income households benefits the whole of society.
Our recommendations include continuing the Customer Crisis Fund as emergency support for households that are unable to pay their most recent bills. We argue the program should also provide ongoing support for lower-income households that face chronic issues paying their utility bills, or who routinely forgo other basic needs to keep the lights on.
We believe such a program must operate with inclusive and transparent eligibility criteria. It must reach racialized, Indigenous, and other disadvantaged groups equitably, and with highly informed cultural context and safety. For these reasons, we believe that the BC Government or an independent agency would be better prepared to administer the Customer Crisis Fund than BC Hydro, which has a poor track record of transparency and inclusivity in running the program.
In our submission, we note that a bill protection program like the Customer Crisis Fund — even if it provides ongoing support to those that need it — does not improve a home’s health, safety, and comfort over the long term. Therefore, we believe this must be coupled with investments in programs that provide home energy retrofits at little or no cost to income-qualifying households.
We find the long-standing Energy Conservation Assistance Program run by utilities, to be inadequate. The program has operated for over 13 years with little meaningful impact on energy bills for the households that participate. A reimagined low-income retrofit program is urgently needed, one that results in tangible impacts on energy bills, and a safer home environment over the long term.
[May 16, 2022]