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(Elena Elisseeva)
(Elena Elisseeva)

Home Cents

There's no efficiency with this energy retrofit program Add to ...

My basement has always been cold. And now that two windows have sprung cracks, and the coldest winter that Western Canada has seen in two decades is projected, my husband and I have finally decided it’s time to make our downstairs cozy and energy efficient.

That was about the same time contractors trotted through offering an array of quotes and the federal government’s “ ecoENERGY Retrofit” program commercials featuring $20 bills being sucked out leaky windows with the promise of up to $5,000 in rebates caught our attention.

We could recoup a lot of this cost we thought. Or could we?

In fact, this rebate program is going to cost us, the homeowners, $10, on top of the several thousand dollars for new windows.

Last summer, federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced that the government’s popular home renovation program would be renewed as a way to help Canadians cut their energy costs and reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Ottawa, the average grant would ring in at $1,400 and an estimated 250,000 homeowners could take part by retrofitting everything from heating, cooling and ventilation systems to installing hot water and water conservation equipment and improving insulation and air sealing or by putting in new doors, skylights and windows.

The program has already done the country a favour by injecting $7.4-billion into the economy, according to Ottawa. Little wonder contractors, the construction industry, suppliers and energy auditors cheered the initiative, which extended the program by almost 10 months.

Since the federal government launched the initiative in 2007, Ottawa has earmarked more than $1.1-billion to it, including $400-million for this current fiscal year, which is currently on target to be completely gobbled up in rebate cheques.

More than 510,000 homeowners had previously taken part and saved an average of 20 per cent on their energy bills, while greenhouse gas emissions have been cut by 1.8 megatonnes, according to Ottawa.

It all sounded good to us: help the environment, help the economy, save money, get money back. But taking Ottawa up on its offer isn’t that simple.

First, participants have to register with the program – a new nuance.

Next, they have to pay for an pre-retrofit energy audit with a company approved by Ottawa. Then, once the renovations are complete, homeowners have to schedule a post-retrofit evaluation to confirm eligibility in the program and receipts must be produced that show the products and equipment were purchased and installed after June 6, 2011 – the official start of the program. And all of it has to be done by the program’s end date: March 31, 2012.

And so we began the ecoENERGY process.

I called most of energy audit companies on the list approved by Ottawa and learned the pre- and post-retrofit evaluation would cost about $450, but I could get $200 back through a parallel program offered in Alberta. (Provincial and territorial rebates are also available.) While most companies were booking weeks away, I managed to find one company that could inspect our home next week. (Ottawa advises people to book fast since auditors are busy doing other evaluations. Plus, everyone knows how renovations can drag on and on and on and this program has a deadline to meet.)

A $250 expense didn’t seem terrible. Then I scanned the federal table of rebate amounts. The grant amount is $40 per window. I have six windows. That’s $240. And so, that’s why we would have to spend $10 we wouldn’t otherwise spend just to participate in the program.

And none of this accounts for the hours that need to be set aside to be home when the energy auditor visits, twice.

Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation went through the same math as he was considering replacing his aging hot water heater, but found his windfall would amount to $65. “Unless you retrofit your whole home, this program is useless to you,” he said.

Or say, if you suddenly wanted to spend around $25,000 to install a geothermal heating system, then a homeowner would be in line for a $4,375 federal cheque.

Mr. Hennig also questioned Ottawa’s claim that it’s creating a boon for the economy, and pointed out that economic stimulus only exists if people spend money they wouldn’t otherwise spend.

But there may be one tiny sector of the economy enjoying the ecoENERGY benefit. “The real people making money off this are the energy auditors,” Mr. Hennig said.

Jacinthe Perras, a spokeswoman with Natural Resources Canada, which is stick handling the program, said the system allows Ottawa to track real improvements in energy consumption while at the same time offer incentives to consumers.

“The goal of the program is not to issue rebates for single renovation measures for which a homeowner may have previously planned or required, but rather to act as an incentive to encourage them to invest in multiple measures they may not have otherwise considered,” she said.

It didn’t work on us. We decided to forgo the energy audit and forge ahead with the window replacement. We’ll need that $10 to help pay for the renovation.

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