Growing number of households caught in Ontario energy crisis

January 20, 2005

As electricity rates increase, a growing number of the hundreds of thousands of low-income households in Ontario are at risk of losing their homes this winter. The Low-Income Energy Network (LIEN) has designed an energy conservation program to protect low-income consumers from unaffordable energy bills this heating season.

Low-income households are almost twice as likely as average-income households to heat with electricity. A drafty home with electric heat can use 2,000 kWh/month in the winter. In Toronto, this costs $177.78 a month. That is one-third of the maximum amount a single mother with two children receives from Ontario Works for all housing costs, including utilities.

"Electricity and heat are basic necessities and universal access is critical," says Mary Todorow of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario. "For many low-waged workers, seniors and others on income security programs, higher energy prices will mean a choice between heating, eating or paying the rent."

"These programs could permanently reduce low-income consumer energy bills by between one-third and one-half, while helping fight smog and climate change. Energy conservation is key to the proposed phase-out of coal plants in Ontario," says Keith Stewart from the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

Last year, the Ontario government encouraged Local Distribution Companies (LDCs) to invest in energy conservation initiatives. LIEN's program, which was developed with financial support from the Ontario Ministry of Energy and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF), would ensure that these initiatives reach low-income consumers. In response to LIEN's report, the Ontario Energy Board recommended last month that local utilities investigate initiatives to assist low-income consumers as they develop these programs.

LIEN's program provides relief directly to low-income homeowners and tenants who pay directly for their electricity. The LIEN plan includes weatherization and heating and appliance upgrades, when these are owned by the tenants. Tenants account for about 30% of Ontario households and comprise 62% of households in core housing need - a disproportionately large share. There are about 565,000 tenant households in core need in Ontario. Those households have already faced years of rent increases, often higher than the rate of inflation. The recent increases in energy costs risks driving a growing number of renter households out of their homes.

"Ontario is lagging 30 years behind other countries, like the U.S., in delivering energy efficiency and conservation programs that significantly reduce systemic energy poverty," says Edward de Gale from Share the Warmth. "Our experience shows that high energy costs are the second biggest reason for economic evictions in Ontario, right after unaffordable rents."

LIEN was formed in early 2004 to raise awareness of the impact of rising energy costs on low-income households and to recommend solutions.


A Summary of the Low-Income Energy Efficiency Program, prepared by the Low-Income Energy Network (click here for a copy):

Benefits of this program:

  1. Lower bills for those least able to afford higher energy prices: Energy use reduced by between 15% and 55%, depending on the home and the extent of measures undertaken (see below).
  2. Better for environment: Less energy use means less pollution from home energy use, which is the source of 15% of greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario.
  3. Potential savings are higher than in the average home: Low-income housing is typically older and less energy efficient.
  4. Savings won�t be achieved without this program: Barriers to energy conservation gains in low-income housing include:
  • Lack of capital to invest in big-ticket, big savings items such as improved insulation and draftproofing, new appliances and/or heating systems.
  • Most low-income households are renters who face split incentive:
    • They don�t own building/appliances so can�t benefit from long-term investment and can�t undertake significant retrofit without landlord approval
    • Landlord can pass on higher energy costs (whether tenant pays energy bill directly or not), so no incentive to conserve.
  • Proven success: Retrofits of Toronto Community Housing units done by Green$aver have achieved permanent 35% - 40% reduction in energy use, more comfortable homes, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of over 3 tonnes per house annually. Contact: Keir Brownstone, General Manager of Green$aver at 416-203-3106, ext. 225.


How our program works:

  1. An energy auditor assesses energy use (and waste) in the home and determines the best ways to reduce home heating/cooling and electricity use.
  2. The auditor does the basic, low-cost measures while they are there (e.g. install compact fluorescent lightbulbs, some basic draftproofing, provide a clothes line/rack, insulates the hot water heater and pipes; installs a low-flow shower head and faucet aerators, installs a programmable thermostat) and educates the residents on how these things work as well as other ways they can reduce energy use.
  3. Where the audit determines that significant savings are achievable, a second visit will be scheduled to implement more costly measures such as appliance replacement, increased insulation, and/or heating equipment replacement.

How much will it cost?

  • Basic measures will cost approximately $1000. More extensive measures (e.g. appliance replacement), will cost more (but result in higher energy savings) resulting in an average cost of approximately $3,700 per home. This is comparable to similar programs in the United States.
  • Energy bill savings will be ongoing, and the value of these savings will increase as prices rise.

Who is doing what?

  • Hydro One�s Conservation and Demand Management Program includes $4.5 million over the next three years for low-income energy retrofits. Contact: Giuliana Rossini, Director of Strategy and Development, (416) 345-6035.
  • Brantford Power has allocated $100,000 for low-income programs this year. Contact: John Loucks, Director of Engineering and Planning, (519) 759-4222.
  • Enbridge Gas is piloting a low-income energy retrofit program in Toronto this year. Contact: Erika Lontoc, Program Manager, Mass Markets, 416-495-5356.
  • Enersource Hydro Mississauga, Hamilton Hydro, Hydro Ottawa , PowerStream (serving Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Markham), and Toronto Hydro have allocated $2.129 million for social housing projects. The Ontario Energy Board has encouraged them to consider other low-income programs as they roll out their programs.
  • Low-Income Energy Network members are actively working with these on-the-ground initiatives.
  • Not all of the conservation plans have been filed with the Ontario Energy Board, so more low-income programs may be forthcoming.

For more information: contact Keith Stewart, Low Income Energy Network coordinator, (416) 596-0660.