'Energy poverty' - when it costs too much to stay warm

BY BRIDGET DOHERTY

Imagine you have two children. You work full time at the store down the road. Your husband is a cook at the local restaurant. When the bill for heating and lighting your home arrives, you receive quite a shock. The utilities cost more than the rent.

You have to make a tough decision. Do you heat the home or feed the family? Not heating the home may result in child services knocking on your door.

Or you're a senior citizen who has lived in the same house all your life. It's a beautiful, but worn, brick home. Built at the turn of the century, there is not a stitch of insulation in the walls. You have always been a good saver and collect a pension. You're on a fixed income and have learned to budget - but rising utility costs have meant that you're dipping into your savings. Your income is relatively good but this cold winter has resulted in utility bills that have made you decide to keep the home much cooler than you would like. You are worried that the added sweaters have not adequately kept you warm and think it may be the home that is making you sick.

There are many citizens for whom these or similar scenarios are a reality. In Canada some 1 million people are affected by "energy poverty," and the numbers are rising.

According to the Ontario government's Long-Term Energy Plan, revised in 2014, residential electricity bills (including taxes and other charges) are projected to see a large and compounded rise.

Solutions required to address energy poverty include increased income for poor Canadians; and a permanent rate-affordability program which would ensure all Canadians have access to affordable energy and conservation programs that improve energy efficiency in homes. Together these measures would eradicate energy poverty in Canada.

Bridget Doherty makes connections between energy, ecology and poverty in her work with the Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation office.

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