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REMARKS - Environmental Commissioner of Ontario 2011 Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report (Volume One)

Tuesday, June 5th 2012 10:23:46am

Today I am tabling the first volume of my annual energy conservation progress report with the Speaker. It is entitled “Restoring Balance” because it is a review of the first three years of the implementation of the Green Energy Act and I have observed that government policy activity and public discussion have not been balanced with respect to the “two equally important thrusts” promised in the government’s original news release. We all know that the Green Energy Act was about facilitating renewable energy projects, but there has been little attention given to the other objective of “fostering a culture of conservation by assisting homeowners, government, schools and industrial employers to transition to lower energy use.” So in the interest of restoring balance this report focuses on the government’s progress in cultivating that culture of conservation.

I have looked at four major energy conservation commitments that the government made in that announcement 3 years ago and today I am giving my assessment of how well they have done in meeting those commitments. There is some good news. The government promised to make energy efficiency a central tenet of Ontario’s Building Code and I think they have done the job. The Code has been improved substantially with respect to energy efficiency and we currently await further quite aggressive Code improvements which have been proposed and submitted to public comment. There have been some lost opportunities because of the five-year review cycle presently followed for the code. Fluctuating energy costs as well as rapid changes in technology and construction practices argue strongly for a faster review and implementation cycle and so I have recommended that MMAH look at that.

There was also a promise to green Ontario government and broader public sector buildings. And, with some exceptions, they have made considerable progress in this regard. They have the broader public sector measuring, planning and reporting on their energy consumption. There are no targets or provincial benchmarks for energy consumption in public buildings set yet, but as data is collected I expect these will be created. This will help operators of all public buildings learn from the actions of the best energy performers, and raise their game to similar levels of efficiency. The monitoring needs to be expanded to include other energy consumption like transportation fleets. And so I have recommended that the public sector be able to voluntarily report this information and that later it be made mandatory. An odd anomaly in this GEA promise is that while the government requires the broader public sector to publicly report on energy consumption of buildings, it has yet to require ministries to publicly report on the energy consumption of its own buildings, something I recommend they correct.

Another commitment in the Green Energy Act was to raise the minimum standards for energy efficiency of household appliances to the levels of the ENERGY STAR product labelling. Basically that would mean that Ontarians would only be able to buy dishwashers and clothes washers and such that were high efficiency. It was a good idea and not a great imposition for consumers because in most cases, ENERGY STAR appliances were being chosen by a majority of purchasers anyway. But the ball was dropped and it didn’t happen and now instead of leading the pack, Ontario is a follower in appliance efficiency standards.

But the big disappointment for Ontarians with respect to both saving energy and consumer protection was the failure of the government to meet its commitment to implement mandatory home energy audits prior to the sale of homes. The appropriate language was put in the legislation but it has never been proclaimed into law. This is important legislation and I don’t understand why they have failed to implement it. We don’t buy a refrigerator without knowing how much energy it consumes. We don’t buy a new car without knowing its fuel consumption. Young people are already stretching their financial capacity to the limit in order to buy a home. Why do we expose them to unknown risks with respect to energy costs? Regular people don’t have the expertise to look at a house and assess its energy efficiency. That’s why jurisdictions in Europe, the U.S. and Australia have put in place various kinds of mandatory energy use disclosure policies on real estate. By bringing this information into the light, we protect consumers and help place a market value on energy efficiency, which will hopefully drive additional conservation actions. If the Government wants to foster a culture of conservation in our society, making people conscious of the energy consumption of our homes is an essential first step. We need mandatory home energy efficiency disclosure in Ontario as promised.