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Energy-saving program shut down too early, millions in rebates never paid out

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

The final tally is in on the popular eco-energy retrofit program that the Conservative government ended suddenly amid a storm of protest in January.

Throughout the five-year life of the program, which provided rebates for energy-saving home renovations, Ottawa paid $934-million in grants to nearly one in 20 Canadian households, or 640,000 beneficiaries. In its final year, however, the eco-energy program came in under budget, as the government paid out $190-million despite budgeting $400-million for it.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver – who was slammed by opposition parties for ending the program earlier than planned – declared it a success.

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"Our government has successfully exercised prudent use of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars, while encouraging Canadians to make energy efficient choices," he said in a statement Friday.

Mr. Oliver announced in January that the government had reached its target of 250,000 registered homeowners and was no longer taking applications even though the program was well under budget.

The cancellation of the program was a body blow to home-renovation business, said Jeff Murdoch, of Building Insight Technologies in Vancouver, which performs home-energy audits.

"The program is very much missed," Mr. Murdoch said. "The industry has slowed considerably since the beginning of the year."

The EcoEnergy retrofit plan provided grants to homeowners to help cover the costs of home energy audits and the installation of things like more efficient windows and doors, and additional insulation. It was often complemented by provincial subsidy plans.

Natural Resources Canada said the home-renovations plan helped homeowners save an average of 20 per cent on their home-energy use. Canadians who registered for the grant received almost $1,400 on average.

While Ottawa has not replaced the home energy-retrofit program, it is spending $195-million over five years to support energy-efficiency improvements through new building codes, housing standards and industrial practices.

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"The government is claiming the program worked – and that's a good thing – but makes it even more perplexing that they haven't continued it," said Gillian McEachern, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Defence group in Toronto.

Mr. Murdoch said Ottawa isn't alone in backing away from home energy-efficiency plans. Ontario ended its programs last year after a successful several years of encouraging homeowners to spend money to reduce their energy use. He said the federal and provincial governments prefer to subsidize energy production than provide incentives to reduce consumption.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More


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