Eco-reno fund closed to new applicants

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Provincial grants still available

The federal government brought its home energy retrofit program to a sudden end last week, a decision that’s brought both cheers and jeers from local renovators.

Natural Resources Canada announced last week that it would no longer accept new applicants to its ecoENERGY home retrofit program as of March 31. The program gave homeowners up to $5,000 if they made their home more energy efficient, and required people to have a pre- and post-retrofit energy audit.

Anyone who had a pre-retrofit audit before March 31 is still eligible for a grant if they finish and audit their renovations before next year, said John Rilett, vice-president of Climate Change Central. If you haven’t done your pre-renovation audit by this time, though, you’re out of luck.

This announcement came completely out of the blue, said Rilett. “We work with the government and have data sharing agreements with them,” he said on April 1. “We found out yesterday.”

The announcement does not affect any of the Alberta government’s home-renovation grants, he emphasized, or the availability of federal energy audits. “Nothing changes in Alberta right now. You can still get your home evaluation.”

Cheers and jeers

The ecoENERGY program for homes was introduced in 2007 as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and is thought to reduce a home’s emissions by about 30 per cent.

This was a popular program, said Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber, and there will be some who are disappointed by its passing. The government is re-evaluating all its programs, he explained, and decided to end this one to help balance the budget.

The grants got St. Albert’s Gaia Energies some business, said project manager Thomas Barr, but not much. Most of their clients were already interested in renewable power or heat, so the federal grants were just an added bonus. “It’s a bit of a bummer, but for any industry to exist, you can’t rely on subsidies.”

Net-zero home designer Peter Amerongen slammed the decision as remarkably short-sighted.

“Eighty-five per cent of the buildings we’re going to have in 2050 are already built,” he said, and buildings account for about a quarter of Alberta’s emissions. “If we’re going to do anything about the carbon footprint of buildings in Alberta … we are going to have to retrofit old buildings like crazy.”

Rilett said he was also disappointed, citing ecoENERGY as one of the government’s most effective climate change programs. About 94,000 homes got grants under it from 2008 to 2009, according to Natural Resources Canada’s annual report.

Leigh Bond, president of Threshold Energies, a renewable energy firm in St. Albert, criticized the program as a waste of money. It was too bureaucratic, and offered incentives for many actions people would have done, such as replacing old furnaces. “Paying people to do it when you have to do it anyway doesn’t make sense.”

Those “free-riders” do make incentive programs less effective, Rilett said, but don’t negate them completely. “You spur significantly more action when you have these programs in place,” he said. Alberta saw a five-fold increase in ecoENERGY audits when the province brought in its grant program, he noted.

Rathgeber didn’t think this decision would discourage people from renovating their homes. “People are going to continue to do it because it saves them money in terms of heating costs and [because of]environmental consciousness.”

Residents have until March 31, 2011 to finish their post-renovation audit and apply for an ecoENERGY grant. For details, visit www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.