Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Alberta restarts the provincial energy-efficiency rebate game

Canadian Contractor

Will similar programs across Canada be funded by new carbon tax revenue?

It’s been pretty quiet on the energy efficiency rebate front over the past ten years, as many provincial programs have long since expired. However, Alberta’s recent announcement of rebates for improved insulation, tankless water heaters, triple glaze windows and other efficiency products may encourage a new trend. Provinces are anticipating the collection of millions of dollars through newly-launched and generally unpopular carbon taxes imposed across the country. With provincial elections coming up, notably in Ontario, provinces may see rebates for energy efficiency as a means to win back electoral favour.

Alberta now joins PEI as the only provincial governments offering rebates for energy efficiency upgrades like windows and insulation.
photo: Certainteed Insulation Canada Inc.

Is the rebate worth all the hype?
While the $24 million Energy Efficiency Alberta program may look promising on paper, some are holding back their enthusiasm until further details are announced. Richard Lystang, President of Rococo Homes in Spruce Grove, AB has taken a quick look at the math, and offers these observations. “A window replacement in a three bedroom, 1200 square foot bungalow would be about $10,000-$12,000 with full installation and trim out,” he says. “The rebate is up to $1500, only 12 to 15 per cent.  This means the remaining $8,500 to $10,500 has to be made up by energy savings in the home. Amortised over a 25 year period this would require around $50 month in energy savings.  I am not entirely convinced that this will be achieved with just a window renovation.”

Lystang also feels that there will be a “period of adjustment” while homeowners identify legitimate installers. In its announcement, the province states that work must be “installed by a certified contractor registered with”, and those not currently registered must complete a short training course if they wish to be included.

Many of the program details will be handled by Ontario-based Summerhill Group from their offices in Calgary and Edmonton. The company has handled similar rebate programs for more than 40 utilities and dozens of other manufacturers and retailers in Canada. According to Lystang, Summerhill Group was recently selected by the province of Alberta to handle the distribution of free LED light bulbs.


Rebates for ENERGY STAR® windows will cover approximately 15% of the total cost.
photo: JELD-WEN Inc

The Alberta program lacks an overall efficiency calculation
However, as Lystang points out, the new Alberta program does not take into account the entire home energy efficiency package, as did previous programs that required an audit before and after energy-focussed renovations. “This was a true reflection of energy savings and suitable incentive to promote better quality and meaningful energy change,” says Lystang. “Let’s face it, 60% of energy is used for heating and cooling and this is not reflected at all in this program.” Nevertheless, Lystang and likely many others in the residential building and renovation industry applaud the move as better than nothing.

Slim pickings for provincial rebate programs in Canada…. for now
Beyond Alberta, current provincial programs dealing with the energy efficiency of residential structures are almost non-existent. According to Natural Resources Canada, Prince Edward Island stands alone with its Building Envelope Upgrade Rebate. Efficiency PEI offers rebates for the installation of insulation, ENERGY STAR® windows & doors and air sealing improvements. Insulation rebates are based on how much and where insulation is installed.

Some residential rebate and assistance programs for ENERGY STAR® certified items such as windows, appliances and water heaters are available from utilities like Union Gas, Hydro Quebec and Fortis BC. However, these have little impact on the residential construction industry since the purchases require contracts directly between the homeowner and their respective utility.

Ye-haw! It’s time to rebate those carbon taxes!
The hope for residential contractors like Lystang is that programs such as Alberta’s Energy Efficiency Alberta will encourage homeowners to undertake more than just the specific items on the program’s qualification list, and thereby provide work for the entire industry beyond HPAC and window specialists. In this respect, Lystang is optimistic. “This is good for our industry. We are excited about the announcement as it will get customers to consider further renovations to their homes.” It may also spur other provincial governments across Canada to jump on the rebate bandwagon and return money taken from their citizens through carbon taxes.

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