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Alberta goes green before our eyes

PACE energy-efficiency financing is the latest in green initiatives aimed at home owners and businesses


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April 17, 2018 by John Bleasby

Mirror, mirror on the wall — Who’s the greenest province of them? In a series of recent announcements, Canada’s leading oil-producing province is throwing increasing amounts of money and PR optics at green initiatives!  Last August, Alberta announced a $36 million installation and rebate program for homeowners and businesses (see Canadian Contractor coverage). In early April, Alberta announced the extension of a consumer rebate program that gives Albertans instant savings of up to $15 per item for in-store purchases of easy-to-install, energy-efficient products like programmable thermostats, low-flow showerheads, smart power bars, LED light fixtures, and LED yard lights with motion sensors.

Albertans have snapped up over 9.5 million energy-saving devices since instant rebate programs have been introduced.

“Our government continues to make it easier and more affordable for Albertans to embrace energy efficiency,” said Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks and Minister responsible for the Climate Change Office in a media release. “Our popular programs are putting money back into households, supporting local jobs and reducing millions of tonnes of emissions – that’s a win for Alberta families, a win for the economy and a win for the environment.”

Instant savings funded in part by Ottawa
The Instant Savings campaign is one of a series of recent energy efficiency announcements, part of the Residential Retail Products Program being funded by $26 million from Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan over the next three years, aided by $25 million from the federal government’s Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund. Last year, Albertans received over $24 million in instant rebates by purchasing bought over 9.5 million energy-efficient products such as programmable thermostats, and energy-efficient washing machines, refrigerators and light bulbs.

PACE: No money down! Pay back though your municipal taxes!
This small product rebates pale in comparison, however, to the proposed legislation announced this past week. If passed, the An Act to Enable Clean Energy Improvements would give municipalities the option to establish a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, an initiative that would allow home and business owners to make their spaces more energy-efficient without putting any money down. Typically, PACE programs pay for 100 per cent of a project’s costs. The home or building owner repays this amount over the next several years as an annual assessment added to the property tax bill. PACE financing may stay with the building upon sale — the next owner picks up the tab — and is easy to share with tenants.
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Do you think governments at all levels should offer more direct incentive programs to improve energy efficiency?
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Under proposed PACE financing programs, municipalities will be able to off easy financing to home and business owners for energy efficiency improvements like triple pane windows.

According to a media release, the province believes that the energy savings resulting from the energy-efficient upgrades or renewable energy systems such as solar panels, high-insulation windows and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems could be greater than the annual repayment. That’s a familiar line often used by energy efficiency pundits. However, it’s far too vague to carry much meaning, since all homes — old and new — are different. The big attraction for governments like Alberta, of course, is that PACE costs the province nothing. It’s just an easy-financing plan for municipalities to offer if they choose. Great optics, but no money at stake.

No evidence found to support Alberta’s claim regarding PACE in Canada
PACE programs were implemented in California ten years ago and have since expanded to most regions in the United States, generating a reported $6 billion in economic activity. However, while the Alberta release claims that the province is following Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec in adopting PACE legislation, Canadian Contractor could not confirm the existence of any program by the name PACE in either Ontario or Quebec. Nova Scotia is the only province we can confirm that offers municipalities the PACE financing option.

PACE has the support of major building organizations
“BILD Alberta is pleased to support the PACE program and the opportunity for Albertans to access energy efficiency upgrades with less financial burden,” said Wendy Jabusch, chair, Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) Alberta. “PACE will allow BILD Alberta renovator, developer, builder and supplier members increased ability to offer consumers efficient and renewable energy choices in a more affordable way.”

Retrofitting older buildings to meet higher energy standards though the PACE program is also supported by the Alberta Construction Association. “The ACA feels strongly that PACE programs offer a financially viable way to retrofit older buildings, or for new buildings, to meet future environmental standards. It also offers a method for investment which does not create costs to the taxpayer,” said Paul Verhesen, past president, Alberta Construction Association. That’s a curious comment —  the owner is in fact paying by means of an additional property tax assessment.

If passed, the legislation would come into effect in early 2019 and would see government consult with municipalities, lenders, real estate associations and other stakeholders to develop regulations covering such issues as the scope of eligible projects, disclosure requirements for purchasers of property, and financial criteria for property owners. There would also be consumer protection and quality assurance requirements. However, municipalities would need to pass a PACE bylaw before making the program available to residents. Effective? We’ll see!

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JBleasby@canadiancontractor.ca

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