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Utilities to launch energy programs

Conservation plans across the GTA come with rate hike
Old beer fridges and air conditioners targeted under plans

Toronto Star - December 11, 2004
by John Spears

Six of the province's biggest electricity utilities have been given the go-ahead by the Ontario Energy Board to spend $70 million on energy conservation.

But an advocate for people with low incomes says he's disappointed that the board didn't order the utilities to mount conservation programs designed to help the poor — who are the most likely to heat their homes with electricity, and would benefit most from energy savings.

The six big utilities including Toronto Hydro, Hamilton Hydro and GTA utilities Powerstream, Veridian and Enersource, presented similar but not identical conservation programs. Combined, their customers account for 40 per cent of the province's electricity use.

Energy Minister Dwight Duncan lifted a freeze on rates charged by the local utilities on condition they spend the money on conservation programs.

Gunars Ceksters, chief executive of Mississauga's Enersource Corp., estimated that rates will rise 2 to 3 per cent to pay for the conservation effort — but that the programs will give consumers the opportunity to shrink their hydro bill by showing them how to reduce electricity use.

"We're going to be providing mass marketing to all our consumers — the same message across the board, but the specifics will be tailored to each utility," said Ceksters, speaking on behalf of the six utilities.

That means a joint campaign to push energy-efficient equipment such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and "Energy Star" compliant appliances. Other proposals by some, but not all, the utilities, include:

  • Offering to buy up old, power-guzzling "beer fridges" that some people keep in their basements.

  • Installing devices that would allow utilities to flick off electric water heaters or air conditioners when the power system is under strain.

  • Hooking up stand-by generators owned by hospitals and private firms to help produce power during peak periods.

  • Better energy management in social housing developments.

Michael Janigan, a lawyer who represented low-income consumers at the energy board hearings, noted the board encourages — but does not require — utilities to devise programs specially geared to low-income consumers. "We're disappointed the board did not see fit to mandate that," he said in an interview.

The majority of low-income earners rent apartments from private landlords, he noted, so they won't benefit from the social housing programs. They're also big power users, because one in four families in the lowest 20 per cent income group in Ontario has electric heat.

That's double the over-all proportion in Ontario.

Janigan had presented a proposal for utilities to target low-income earners, offering to provide advice and to install energy-saving equipment such as improved draft-proofing, programmable thermostats and efficient light bulbs. A low-level program would cost about $1,000 a unit; a more elaborate plan of replacing furnaces and large appliances could be mounted for $5,000 or $6,000 a unit.

Ceksters said the utilities are "looking closely" at ways of helping the poor, but want to explore the best methods of delivering the programs.

Some utilities, for example, are interested in co-ordinating with Enbridge Gas Distribution, which already has a program that sends staff into homes to offer conservation advice and install equipment.

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