Monday, January 22, 2007

Don't Give Harper Too Much Credit For the New EcoENERGY Program

I was sitting next to the programmable thermostat in my dining room when I heard the news: the Harper government announced that they were investing $220 million over 4 years to help Canadians retrofit their homes to make them more energy efficient. I am a huge supporter of energy conservation, so I was very happy to hear that they had finally brought back the program that Harper had cancelled on May 12, 2006.

In December 2005, I wrote all about my introduction to the EnerGuide for Houses program. It is a brilliant way to incent people to invest in making their homes more energy efficient. The initial evaluation, partially subsidized by the program, was the biggest education that I've ever had as a homeowner. We learned what improvements would give us the best overall efficiency, so that we wouldn't waste money. Plus, we learned how to do it properly. Needless to say, I was crushed when the Harper team announced the program's demise. I had vowed to write to Stephen Harper and tell him exactly what I thought of his short sighted plan for the environment. But while rushing to get my retrofit work done before the deadline to qualify for the rebate, I realized that of course, they quietly cancelled the program (along with the One Tonne Challenge) so that they could relaunch a similar program and re-brand it with a blue Tory stamp. This way they can have a big press launch and tell everybody what they are doing for the environment. But, they don't tell you that they simply took the program from the Liberals and renamed it.

Yes the EcoENEGY program is very similar to the ENERGuide program, with one major change: they are no longer subsidizing the initial evaluation. I read online that the Tory's are not funding it because it "devoured" the program's budget, since only 30% of people who underwent the initial evaluation went on to apply for the retrofits rebate. I paid $175 for my initial evaluation, which was a very thorough 4 hour consultation with an energy efficiency expert. There is no way that his time is only worth that for four hours! I was happy that the government subsidy for the objective evaluation was subsidized. Had it been $300, I likely would not have done it. And in reality, the $2000 that we spent on insulating our house, and then the $50 final evaluation, will not be covered by the $605 rebate that we will be getting this year. It does not even come close. But it was a good incentive for us to do something about the energy efficiency of our house. Yes, we will save on energy every year which will slowly pay off the investment in the house. But even better, we are saving 1.5 tonnes of green house gas emissions every year by reducing our home's energy consumption. It is a win-win situation.

I am thrilled that the Tory's brought back the program. I'm even happy that it is making the news, because hopefully more people will hear about it as a result and they will jump on the retrofit bandwagon with me. But it annoys me that they have to trash one program and rename it, just to make themselves look good in the eyes of the voters. Imagine the wasted money on administration. They had to fire all the competent people who were running the old EnerGuide program, giving them generous severance packages. And then they had to hire new people who need to be trained to understand all about running such a program. Maybe they are even hiring the same experts back, so those individuals will be paid both the severance plus their new salaries. And I don't even want to get started about all the paper materials that were printed with the EnerGuide name and logo. I received numerous pamphlets and books that explain how homes are heated and insulated, all produced for the EnerGuide program. All the leftovers will be sent to recycling while graphic designers and copy writers will get to work preparing all the printed materials, with the new logos and name. Get those presses rolling. Is this really saving the environment?

All programs are riddled with overhead costs that eat into the program's real goals. I guess that is a fact of life that I need to accept. I just hope that when the Liberals take over from the Tory's next, they don't continue the waste by cancelling and renaming the program again, just so that they can hold a press conference. I really hope that the next government will create and fund a truly unique initiative that they can be proud to call their own. Hopefully Stéphane Dion and his dog Kyoto can come up with a program that justifies the overhead investment and expensive press conferences, and really makes an impact on energy conservation in Canada.

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