Albertans saved $300 million, reduced three million tonnes of GHGs in first year of provincial energy efficiency programs

Author: Mark Lowey


Publish Date: Monday, January 8, 2018



Alberta lagged behind other North American jurisdictions in implementing energy efficiency programs but is catching up fast, says the head of Energy Efficiency Alberta.

In the first year of provincially delivered energy efficiency and small-scale renewable energy programs, Albertans have benefited both economically and environmentally, CEO Monica Curtis says.

To date, those programs have saved Albertans $300 million in energy costs and kept almost three million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere, Curtis said at a year-end update of the provincial agency’s operations.

“Albertans are clearly embracing energy efficiency and are reaping the benefits, she said at a media event held January 5 in the warehouse of Calgary-based solar energy firm SkyFire Energy, amid shelves stacked with solar modules.

 Participation in Energy Efficiency Alberta’s programs “are higher than we’ve seen in places like Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Ontario where they have similar programming that’s been available for a longer period of time,” Curtis said.

“Alberta has done this, like everything else, bigger and I think better than anyone else.”

Energy Efficiency Alberta has launched five different programs, including a residential and commercial solar program, since being established in January 2017.

Since then, more than 1,100 home improvement companies and 200 retailers in 600 locations across the province have helped deliver energy efficiency products and programs, driving economic activity across Alberta, said Curtis, who joined the agency last April.

“Approximately 1,200 private sector jobs are expected to be created,” she noted.

Some 50,000 Alberta households have increased their energy efficiency through renovations or energy-efficient products.

Albertans received $45 million in instant savings and rebates to purchase more than nine million energy-efficient products, she added.

Participating Albertans also will have saved almost three million litres of water – enough to fill 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

More than 500 households and businesses have applied to participate in Energy Efficiency Alberta’s Residential and Commercial Solar Program. When all approved installations are completed, they will represent 16 megawatts of new energy – enough to power 2,700 homes for one year.

“It’s exciting to see an energy efficiency industry taking shape across the province as an important way to grow and diversify our economy,” Curtis said.

David Dodge, chair of Energy Efficiency Alberta’s board, said it makes sense to diversify the province’s economy with renewable energy since Alberta already has an energy-based economy. The province also has “the best solar and wind resource in all of Canada, bar none,” he said.

“There are so many clean technologies and so much innovation and so much change happening that it’s really an opportune time in history for us to take advantage of this,” Dodge said.


Businesses expanding, new companies attracted to Alberta

Megan Zimmerman, Calgary Economic Development’s (CED) business development manager in renewable energy and technology, said Energy Efficiency Alberta’s programs “are kick-starting the growth of an emerging industry in Alberta, with significant and long-term economic opportunities we can all take advantage of.”

In 2017, CED’s office worked with more than 10 Canadian and international energy efficiency companies, apart from those already working with Energy Efficiency Alberta’s programs, “who had [expanded] or are in the process of expanding their business to Alberta,” Zimmerman said. “And I know there’ll be many more in 2018.”

Colin Gnyp, president of Calgary-based Ideal Insulation & Roofing, pointed to insulation products made by an Alberta company at a factory in Innisfail.

“Using insulation, improving the energy efficiency of homes, is exactly what we do every day,” he said.

The company has grown its homeowner direct business sales by about 30 per cent and hired 10 to 12 more employees as a result of Energy Efficiency Alberta’s incentivizing programs, Gnyp said.

            David Kelly, CEO of SkyFire Energy, said his company has hired 20 additional staff as a result of the agency’s Residential and Commercial Solar Program.

            “In the 17 years that I’ve been in the solar business, we’ve seen the most dramatic growth in the last eight months,” he said.

            SkyFire Energy has completed about 65 residential solar systems through Energy Efficiency Alberta’s program so far, and got another 35 working their way through permitting and approval. “That doesn’t include all the work we’ve been doing in the commercial, agricultural, municipal and Aboriginal space,” Kelly said.

Rob Harlan, executive director of the Solar Energy Society of Alberta, said over the past year, 44 new solar businesses have been created in the province, “providing economic diversity and numerous high-quality, clean-energy jobs.”

John Gorman, president and CEO of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, said in less than a year, Energy Efficiency Alberta “has successfully demonstrated that supporting households and businesses to become part of Alberta’s renewable electricity future makes sense, not just for the environment but also for their pocketbooks and for job creation and economic development across the province.”


Good return on investment?

Reporters asked Curtis about whether Albertans were getting a good return on an investment of about $132 million in Energy Efficiency Alberta’s 2017-18 budget.

The agency and its programs, which are a component of the Alberta government’s  Climate Leadership Plan, is funded by the province’s carbon levy.

Energy Efficiency Alberta has spent $111 million of its first-year budget to date, mostly on program delivery but also on one-time costs to set up the organization, Curtis said.

The agency has undertaken a formal, third-party evaluation of its programs, and will make return-on-investment information and other data available when that evaluation is completed later this year, she said.

However, based on participation levels in the agency’s programs compared with other jurisdictions with similar programming, “we have every confidence that our cost-effectiveness is in line with those programs.”

Although Alberta is the last jurisdiction is North America to implement robust energy efficiency programs, “our marketplace was ready to take advantage in a very quick way,” Curtis noted.

There are contractors, installers, distributors, retailers and engineering firms in Alberta that have experience in working with energy efficiency programs in other provinces and internationally, she said.

“They bring to Alberta that experience . . . which equips both our contractor networks and our delivery partners as well as our marketplace once a program is available to them.”

Reporters also asked about whether Energy Efficiency Alberta expects its programs to achieve a larger ongoing reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) than the three million tonnes seen in the agency’s initial year.

Curtis said the agency hasn’t yet set targets for future GHG reductions. “We have undertaken a potential study that’s essentially an engineering study of energy efficiency opportunity in the province . . . we’ll be completing that late in the spring and we’ll be announcing targets going forward once we have all the data available.”

Energy efficiency and small-scale renewable energy programs can deliver “significant” GHG reductions “when you start to look at the cumulative impact over time,” she added.

Also, based on other jurisdictions’ experience over several years with energy efficiency programming, technology keeps changing and innovations present new opportunities to save energy costs and reduce GHGs, she said.

Energy Efficiency Alberta is initially focused on “low-cost, speed-to-implementation” kinds of measures, such as better insulation and LED lighting. But as the marketplace becomes more familiar with energy efficiency opportunities, Albertans can expect to see deeper energy savings, growing GHG emission reductions and larger investment opportunities, Curtis said.


Other highlights of Energy Efficiency Alberta’s first year:

  • A total of 400 window, insulation and tank-less hot water heater home improvement companies upgraded homes across Alberta as part of the Residential Retail Products Program. This included more than 15,000 windows, nearly 700 tank-less hot water heaters, and over two million square feet of insulation.

  • By making upgrades and installing energy-efficient products as part of Energy Efficiency Alberta’s five programs, Albertans are investing $140 million into their homes and businesses.

  • More than 1,200 organizations participated in the Business, Non-Profit and Institutional Energy Savings Program. Total rebates delivered to date are $3.5 million, or an average of $2,600 per project. This amounts to more than $11 million investments by Alberta organizations. The expected energy savings associated with this program are 40,000 gigajoules per year.

  • More than 90 non-profit and volunteer-based organizations registered for a free energy audit and detailed energy management plans, which will account for reduction of more than 10 tonnes of GHG emissions when upgrades are completed.

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