Tackling energy poverty in an energy-rich province

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By: Helen Corbett
Dec 5th, 2013

As unseasonably cold winter weather socks Alberta, many of us wince as we open our monthly utility bills.

Imagine how rising electricity and gas bills affect you if you’re on a low – and fixed – income.  That burden is called “energy poverty” and it constitutes a growing area of concern for all levels of government and social service agencies.

Why? 
The inability to pay utility bills is the second leading economic cause of homelessness.  Living in drafty, under-heated homes leads to all kinds of health impacts, as well as the environmental effect of heating inefficient homes.  C3 and its charitable arm, All One Sky Foundation, looked into energy poverty after delivering a three-year, $50-million energy efficiency program for the Government of Alberta.  Our program results indicated we were missing a large chunk of Albertans – the people who lived under the poverty line and couldn’t afford the upfront investment costs of an efficient furnace, clothes washer or attic insulation.  We also knew that three-quarters of low-income Albertans live in the oldest (pre-1980), least-efficient housing.

Here’s what else we found:

  • In 2010, one in 14 Albertans (247,000) lives in poverty
  • Six per cent of children (46,000) live in poverty in the province
  • One in four seniors in the Calgary region receive social assistance
  • Low-income Albertans spent over 8 per cent of their income on natural gas and electricity, compared with 3.1 per cent for the average household.

In Canada, many provinces have low-income energy assistance programs.  With the exception of the HOPE program in Edmonton, Alberta has no such programs, despite our cold climate and the potential for savings in our housing stock.  There is need for action to address energy poverty in the province, particularly as Alberta seeks to develop its own energy efficiency strategy and lead the development of a wider national energy strategy.

C3 and All One Sky Foundation have come up with a two-part strategy to address energy poverty in Alberta.

Energy Angels – knowing that one in four Calgary seniors’ lives in poverty, we devised a demonstration program to weatherize and add energy efficiency technologies to the homes of low-income seniors.  Energy “Angels” is a nod to the highly-successful Snow Angels program run by the City of Calgary.  We are partnering with City Links, a City of Calgary agency that helps low-income seniors live safely and securely in their own homes.  City Links has 1000 clients they assist through their own staff, work/training placements and volunteers from Calgary corporations.

By visiting our energy angels page, donors can directly choose whatever level of weatherization/energy efficiency they wish to provide.  All One Sky Foundation then purchases the materials for City Links to install by trained volunteers.

Multi-unit Affordable Housing Properties – energy efficiency upgrades to multi-unit, low-income properties have never been modeled in Alberta before.  C3 and All One Sky Foundation are partnering with the City of Calgary (Calgary Housing Company and Environmental & Safety Management) on an energy efficiency study of a publicly-owned affordable housing building in Calgary that is already slated for renovation.

We’ll take the resulting research to create the business case for retrofitting the site to make it a leading and innovative example of energy efficiency and clean energy options in the affordable housing sector.  The Calgary Foundation and Alberta Real Estate Foundation are helping fund this $200,000 study and the associated outreach to the environmental/social services sectors.

 

Helen Corbett, Executive Director of All One Sky Foundation, has worked in the environmental non-profit world for over two decades, as a communications director, documentary filmmaker and journalist.

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