A recent federal program that aims to provide up to $5,000 in individual grants to as many as 700,000 homeowners across Canada for home energy retrofits is facing difficulties in the Northwest Territories as the sole home energy auditor faces a major backlog.
In May, the Government of Canada announced the Canada Greener Homes Grant, which provides $2.6 million nationally over seven years to help homeowners retrofit their homes to lower energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
But accessing the money is on a first-come, first-serve basis and due to an eligibility requirement in the grant, which requires an EnerGuide home energy evaluation, NWT homeowners are unlikely to get a grant in the short-term because the sole provider for evaluation service — the Arctic Energy Alliance (AEA) — is dealing with overwhelming demand for audits. As of Aug. 5, the AEA was facing a backlog of 95 homes awaiting an energy evaluation within city limits and 53 homes outside municipal boundaries.
“We have seen a substantial increase in demand for home energy evaluations since the announcement of the Canada Greener Homes Grant program, which has compounded the increase in wait times for these evaluations,” explained Mark Heyck, executive director with the AEA in an Aug. 5 email. “We currently estimate the wait time to be six months to a year for an evaluation.”
He said there are other factors that have contributed to the backlog. For one, audits could not be performed during the pandemic.
He added that the alliance also has its own program — the Deep Energy Retrofit Program — launched two years ago, which also requires evaluations and which has also compounded demand.
The organization also provides home energy evaluations to help new homeowners meet the city’s building bylaw energy efficiency requirements.
Heyck said the AEA had no say in the federal program’s entry requirements.
“We were not consulted on either the program design or the program launch, which has posed a major challenge for our organization since it’s been determined that a service we provide (one that’s subsidized by the Government of the Northwest Territories) is an essential component of this federal program,” he said. “We support the general goals of this program and continue to add interested residents to our list for a home energy evaluation, however, for the reasons mentioned above, there will be a substantial wait before our residential energy advisers are able to conduct the evaluations being requested.”
Each audit is complex under the Greener Homes grant because it requires two inspections: one before the retrofit and one afterward.
“For a single home, that could involve up to 20 hours of staff time from an AEA residential energy adviser, who visits the home and assesses all aspects of a home’s energy efficiency then assembles a comprehensive report and recommendations,” Heyck said.
Michael McLeod, NWT member of Parliament, said that any home retrofit assistance tends to be popular in the NWT, largely due to cost pressures. He said he foresaw obstacles almost as soon as the program was rolled out.
“In my experience, anytime there is opportunity to improve the quality of homes, especially for energy purposes and to address the amount of money people spend on fuel, people do move forward and they take initiative to apply,” he said. “There is a need for more auditors.”
McLeod said he raised the issue with Seamus O’Regan, federal minister of Natural Resources, and he explained the need for more evaluators in the North.
“(O’Regan) reassured me that his department would be seeking solutions to try to to find a way forward and that it will be ideal to start training younger people in the NWT and in Nunavut and Yukon also,” said McLeod.
Alycia Sevigny, a media relations spokesperson with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), said the department is aware of the demand and shortage of energy advisers in the NWT. Therefore the federal department is open to revising the program due to the challenge.
”Increasing the capacity of energy advisers across Canada, and particularly in under-served regions like the Northwest Territories, is a key priority for NRCan in support of the successful implementation of the Canada Greener Homes Grant,” she said. “We are examining strategies, including special support to send energy advisers to rural and remote areas to undertake EnerGuide evaluations.”