Upgrade your home without breaking the bankNew loans from B.C. utilities can help

Blog - May 26, 2011 - By Claire Beckstead

Many people would like to upgrade their homes to make them more energy efficient; they just don't want to break the bank to do so. Fortunately, new amendments to British Columbia's Clean Energy Act are a good step in the right direction toward making energy efficient homes a possibility for more British Columbians.

The amendments to the Clean Energy Act require provincial utilities (such as BC Hydro and FortisBC) to provide loans for home energy upgrades. Homeowners and tenants would then repay these loans through their utility bills.

The basic idea is that a house needs less energy after an upgrade, meaning that the resulting energy bill savings can help pay for the upgrade over time. Families keep their energy bills manageable and reduce their environmental footprint by helping to lower B.C.'s total global warming pollution, 12 percent of which currently comes from homes and buildings

High up-front costs, access to financing, and long payback periods for some energy technologies are often barriers to implementing home energy upgrades. By providing these loans, utilities can help families overcome those barriers for projects that might not otherwise be accessible. The loan — as well as the energy savings — can also be transferred to future homeowners and tenants if the current owner or tenant moves before the loan is repaid. Hopefully this will encourage homeowners to implement energy upgrades that might not pay for themselves until after they've moved to a new home.

It's also good to see that both homeowners and tenants will have access to financing. Since tenants often pay the energy bills, it's important for them to participate in energy conservation programs.

As the details are developed, the government and utilities should be striving to design programs that:

  • Make participation as easy as possible for as many participants as possible (for example, a homeowner should be able to get financing for electricity and natural gas efficiency projects through a single program).
  • Protect utilities, homeowners and tenants (particularly low-income tenants) from undue risks.
  • Create more certainty within the home retrofit market.
  • Include a comprehensive communication and outreach plan.

Innovative financing programs — like the ones B.C. utilities will be making available soon — can help lower energy use and emissions, protect families against rising energy costs and ultimately create healthier homes. This isn't a silver bullet but financing programs are an important piece toward solving the energy-efficiency puzzle.

Tags:  Buildings

Claire Beckstead
Claire Beckstead

Claire Beckstead was a senior technical and policy advisor with the Pembina Institute's sustainable communities group until 2013.


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