BY TARA KAINER
The Green Communities Canada conference, Time for Action: Tackling energy poverty in Canada through energy efficiency, September 29 – October 1, 2008, brought together 250 delegates from across Canada. They represented energy consultants and utilities companies, social housing providers and private landlords, policy analysts and business consultants, First Nations’ organizations, low-income community advocates, and politicians.
David Miller spoke about Toronto’s Tower Renewal Project, a plan to retrofit the city’s 1,000 high-rise concrete residential buildings and rejuvenate the surrounding neighbourhoods. Ontario’s Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, George Smitherman, joked about his government stealing the good ideas emerging from the conference to build a green future in Ontario with low-income people as a “powerful component of the process.”
The overarching goal of the conference was to bring those players together who could create a road map for a national low-energy efficiency partnership by discovering shared goals and principles and by providing the basis for future cooperation and sharing. From the outset all participants seemed to agree that in coordination with all three levels of government energy efficiency and conservation in industry, building, and transportation are the quickest, most cost-effective, and most environmentally-
beneficial means of securing our energy supply and creating a sustainable future. But more than that, the conference explored increasing energy efficiency as a means by which to lift the disproportionate burden of electricity, natural gas, and other utility costs off the backs of low-income consumers. The combination of high energy costs and low incomes means that our most vulnerable citizens are sometimes forced to choose between heating/cooling their homes and eating.
Delegates argued convincingly that “energy efficiency equals economic development.” In other words, municipal, regional, even neighbourhood-specific programs to develop renewable energy and enhance energy efficiency and conservation, will create jobs that stimulate the economy and at the same time mitigate income disparities. When utility bills are lowered through energy efficiency, families have more money to spend at the grocery store and other local businesses. That increased spending creates more jobs for people who in turn spend their incomes on more products and services, which will lead to the creation of yet more jobs. Eliminating or alleviating the energy crisis of poor people is a cost-effective means of fighting poverty and moving people toward self-sufficiency.