Governments are failing low-income Canadians hardest hit by high energy costs

The current cost of living crisis includes the bills to heat your home and turn on the lights. Ontario natural gas consumers saw their price increase on October 1st.

Unaffordable energy bills mean people have to choose between paying for utilities or groceries. Inadequate heating or cooling leads to health problems and structural damage to buildings. Low to middle income Canadians are the most vulnerable.

The federal government is trying to manage these cost of living struggles while reducing the emissions that cause climate change. Now seems like the perfect time to increase energy efficiency, which reduces emissions and costs.

Improving the energy efficiency of low-income households requires urgent attention, as Canadians most vulnerable to rising energy costs are excluded from federal politics. The Canadian Greener Homes Initiative, which provides grants and loans to share the cost of energy upgrades, is not available to low- and middle-income Canadians who cannot afford the upfront costs or take on more debt. .

The federal government recently recognized the need to scale energy efficiency to remove these barriers when Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault announced funding to help low-income Canadians transition from oil. Yet restricting fuel oil support does little to reduce electricity and natural gas consumption, which account for 90% of low-income people’s energy costs, on average, according to the latest household spending data. from Statistics Canada.

Canada must develop an energy efficiency strategy to everything Canadians to achieve net zero emissions, while reducing energy poverty and fighting inflation. No-cost, turnkey upgrades would eliminate financial barriers for low-income households. The federal government can quickly bolster existing programs in provinces, territories and municipalities to achieve greater energy savings and switch to low-carbon heating sources.

Federal support can further prioritize improving home health and safety through measures such as mold remediation and replacement of hazardous electrical wiring. Tenants could trigger improvements in their buildings, especially if they need services like air conditioning to protect against extreme heat. Landlords would improve their buildings if they agreed to keep rents affordable.

Low-income energy efficiency makes sense from a macroeconomic policy perspective, because targeting new spending to those most affected by rising energy costs is a way to provide relief without incurring large burdens. increases in demand in the economy which could contribute to inflation. Reducing energy demand can also have an anti-inflationary effect on energy markets.

We can also reduce labor shortages in the skilled trades by actively recruiting people from traditionally underrepresented populations to design, administer and implement an energy efficiency program for low-income people. This helps reach more people in need by breaking down language and cultural barriers.

A strategic approach to energy efficiency for low-income people will also reduce supply chain bottlenecks that contribute to inflation. Since all upgrades are administered by the program, it is easier to coordinate bulk purchases of equipment and materials, plan upgrades with local market conditions, and provide certainty that suppliers need to invest in training and improving productivity.

Improving the energy efficiency of low-income households needs urgent attention as they are excluded from federal policy, write Brendan Haley @br_haley & Abhilash Kantamneni @akantamn @EfficiencyCAN #OurHumanEnergy #EnergyPoverty #cdnpoli #Climate

For these reasons, policymakers should not use inflation as an excuse to delay public investment in energy efficiency for low-income people. People need help now, and a well-designed approach can address sector-specific inflationary challenges.

Canada will not be alone in prioritizing energy efficiency for low-income people. In the United States, the Weatherization Assistance Program has been improving homes for low-income people since the 1970s. Funding for this program was recently increased in the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act was introduces measures to strengthen support for low-to-moderate income households. We can catch up with the United States and further upgrade the energy efficiency of low-income people to create a net-zero emissions economy.

As the weather gets colder, let’s make sure all Canadians can save energy, regardless of income level, where they live or what fuel they use for heating. Given the twin pressures of climate change and the cost of living, there is no better time for policymakers to support energy efficiency for low-income people.

Brendan Haley, PhD, is the Director of Policy Research for Efficiency Canada, an energy efficiency research and advocacy organization based at Carleton University.

Abhilash Kantamneni is an Efficiency Canada research associate specializing in energy poverty and energy efficiency for low-income people.

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